Full of fizz
Direction: Homi Adajania
Actors: Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone, Diana Penty
If Bollywood conferred titles on its filmmakers, then Yash Chopra would be The High Priest of Romance and Imtiaz Ali would be his heir apparent. Imtiaz, who has directed love stories such as Jab We Met, Love Aaj Kal and most recently Rockstar, is a keen observer of heartache and the manners of beautiful people in big cities. In Cocktail, he functions as a co-writer. He creates a love triangle that references Archie's comics, the 1980s television show Three's Company and the oeuvre of Aditya Chopra-Karan Johar (foreign locales, decadent Western lifestyle, superior Indian values) and yet feels new.
It helps that the material is directed by Homi Adajania, whose first film Being Cyrus was a dark, twisted look at a dysfunctional Parsi family. Adajania keeps it crisp. He reins in the melodrama, until the last half hour when emotions go ballistic and the plot gets needlessly convoluted, and the actors — Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone and Diana Penty — bite into their roles. Cocktail is a fun, romantic romp.
To discover this, you must get past the somewhat flat first twenty minutes, which feel like a rerun of all the shiny rom-coms of the past fifteen years. There's Saif reprising his role as an urbane, flirtatious rogue called Gautam; Deepika Padukone as the party girl Veronica who dances on bar tops in minimal clothes; and debutant Diana Penty as Meera, the fresh-off-the-boat desi girl, who wears salwar kameezes, can cook and even prays. The three become friends, start living together and traipse through the usual glam spots abroad — beaches, shops and night clubs. But you know that this is the new millennium version of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai because Gautam and Veronica enjoy casual sex — she even raves about how good he is in bed. All of which changes when Gautam's mother, played by the fabulous Dimple Kapadia, arrives unannounced and mistakes Meera for her prospective daughter-in-law.
The polarity between Meera and Veronica is superficial and oddly old fashioned. Veronica calls herself a rich bitch. She drinks a lot and makes moves on men but she never transgresses into truly dark territory because that would cloud this inherently sunny film. Meera, of course, shuns alcohol and lovers. Imtiaz and his co-writer Sajid Ali moor these clichés with dialogue and texture. So when Veronica asks Meera to stay with her, she says, "Everything that's in the house is on the house." And, at one point, Gautam declares, "Tum lonely ho aur main characterless."
The writing is enhanced by the performances. The big surprise here is Deepika, who moves beyond her usual statuesque mannequin pose and gets into the skin of the emotionally raw and needy poor little rich girl. This is easily her best performance to date. Saif is an old hand at these sorts of roles but here he really ramps up the charm and even pulls off a scene that has him doing a Tom-Cruise-on-a-couch jump as he wears red lipstick and a negligee. Diana is saddled with the most colourless character but she infuses her role with a quiet poise and holds her own.
This cocktail is full of fizz.
(You can watch Anupama Chopra review the latest releases on The Front Row, every Friday at 8.30 pm on Star World)