For a film that calls itself Katti Batti, Kangana Ranaut's latest is hardly breezy romcom stuff. The Nikhil Advani film pretended to be irreverent candyfloss all through its promotional stint, a sort of gutsy genre-bender about live-together romance. The real deal is far from as much. What you get is basically convoluted kitsch mired with maudlin excesses.
The test of audience patience is further augmented by character clichés. Kangana is, well, Kangana all through - basically, the rebellious-PYT-gone-slightly-off-her-bonkers before a tragic context about her character is revealed (yawn). Imran is very much Imran - the soft urbane mushy type who would be lost in a crowd.
The questions that hit you watching this lost labour of love are obvious. Why can't Bollywood ever get its romances right? Why do our filmmakers stumble every time they set out to make a "different" love story?
The love story, more than any other genre, has been the most frequently tapped one in Hindi mainstream. It has also ironically been the one where filmmakers have insisted on playing it safe. Decades down the line, the focus for romantic filmmakers continues to be the same: the package must overall appear routine, to reach out to viewers across age groups. Somehow, love as a theme is always equated with family viewership.
Which is why last week's rehashed Hero must have seemed a preferred idea to launch Sooraj Pancholi and Athiya Shetty - B-Town's latest baba and baby - over, say, an unconventional story about teen sex. Hero, incidentally also directed by Advani, was every bit a masala romance with no pretence of reimagining love.
Watching Sooraj and Athiya play out plastic protagonists who have not much to do but look cool, you are reminded of an interesting observation Karan Johar made a while back in a magazine interview, on why the Bollywood love story never grows up. For the love story to become mature, Johar contended, you need to introduce the element of sex. He contended that sex was after all the all-encompassing high that kicks in every shade of black, white and grey.
Yet sex by and large continues to be taboo in Indian society and also its cinema. The love story as a genre in turn accords cardboard cut-outs. Vidya Balan in Hamari Adhuri Kahaani, Deepika Padukone in Cocktail or Katrina Kaif in Jab Tak Hai Jaan may be playing romantic heroines that start off seeming interesting, but they must fall into the safety-net of clichés by the time the film ends.
Of course, there have been Masaan and Margarita, With A Straw lately - unflinching genre-benders tackling love in ways far removed from what Bollywood normally imagines. The intent driving these films was different, though. Masaan used romance as a tool to comment on cast divide. In Margarita, With A Straw, the lesbian love story of a girl struck by cerebral palsy with a visually-challenged girl was aimed at understanding the mind of the marginalised.
Love in Bollywood, it seems, is not ready for a redefinition yet.