Shruti (Anushka Sharma) and Bittoo (Ranveer Singh), two graduates from the University of Delhi, reluctantly enter the business world together by creating a wedding planning enterprise, a venture which proves to be tumultuous.
The intermission – the traditional 'half-time’ break in a film that has long since vanished from western cinema but which is still utilised by Indian filmmakers – does Maneesh Sharma’s Band Baaja Baaraat no favours at all. Like the cricket team at 0/200 that returns after the tea break only to lose all their wickets for 50 runs, the jaunty, spirited romantic comedy that makes Band Baaja Baaraat’s first hour so enjoyable gives way to a dour, boring second half full of melodramatic angst.
Sharma, helming his first film after apprenticing on Bollywood hits such as Kunal Kohli’s Fanaa (2006), shows a natural flair for pacy, funny situation comedy in setting up his light-hearted love story. His teaming with fresh-faced leading man Ranveer Singh and the lovely, talented actress Anushka Sharma suggests he created a delightful atmosphere on-set from which charming performances effortlessly emerge.
The fruits of this combination are there for all to see in the first half of Band Baaja Baaraat. Singh’s Bittoo is a laddish Uni student, goofing off in his final year at school without a single thought about his future beyond where to meet the next pretty girl. That girl comes along in the shape of Sharma’s Shruti, though she is no pushover – she has her sights firmly set on a career as the self-employed owner of a wedding planning business and is determined not to be waylaid by romance.
The two enjoy the deftly-handled meet/cute and soon find themselves with a flourishing operation. Though very little plot or characterisation emerges from the first 70-odd minutes of Band Baaja Baaraat, the never-ending procession of lavish weddings makes for a cinematic feast of colour and movement – the two things Indian cinema does best. It is impossible not to be swept up in the spirited staging of several dance numbers and party shenanigans. (The all-Indian crowd at the screening with SBS Film whooped it up with obvious enjoyment.)
The unlikely business arrangement exists only because Shruti agrees to the coupling-of-convenience on one condition: 'Jisse vyapaar karo, usse kabhi na pyaar karo." (Translation: Don’t mix business with pleasure.) This, of course, proves impossible and, after their most successful wedding and primed by excessive alcohol, they fall into each other’s arms (and one of their beds).
Director Sharma then makes the unfortunate decision to switch the tone of his film from delightful to dire. The free-wheeling Bittoo becomes a heartless commitment-phobe; the strong-willed Shruti becomes a simpering, doe-eyed victim, before turning on Bittoo mercilessly, kicking him out of the business and her life. All the fun of the first half of the film is drained away, and we are left with the same two shallow goofs but who now want the audience to take everything they do and say very seriously.
Neither actor can pull off this about-face. Singh, so adorable as a David Schwimmer-like romantic fool, furrows his brow to little effect in the film’s third act; Sharma, whose character has bounced back with a long-distance love affair she keeps secret from Bittoo and the audience, never defines the emotions Shruti is experiencing. There are lessons learnt and the inevitable rom-com ending is staged (though a particularly downbeat one by Bollywood standards), but the magic is all but gone by the 110 minute mark.
Band Baaja Baaraat is purely romance-driven, barely touching on the more serious social themes (ambition, class struggle, financial hardship, etc) that the young-people-in-love-and-business storyline may have afforded a more serious-minded filmmaker. Maneesh Sharma’s strengths are in bottling the bold colours and beautiful young people of modern India, giving it some fizz and then letting it explode. But once he pops his movie’s cork, he allows the story of Shruti and Bittoo to get lukewarm and, ultimately, go flat.