As Kai Po Che proved, in the hands of a talented filmmaker 2 States could have been a classic little rom com drama. With diretor Abhishek Verman the 2 States we've been presented with feels like a fairly fun rom com drama that's been overtaken by uninspired acting, generic plotting, overlong running time and a lethargic pace.
The plot is precisely what you expect, point by isolated point – guy and girl (Arjun and Alia) meet at IIM-A, fall in both lust and love, are trying to get married, and face a Herculean task because they’re from .. 2 different states. It’s an interesting concept for a comedy but unfortunately it’s all premise and no plot. We get some puppy-love romance, a handful of scenes which showcase the modern free spirited sexually liberated desi youth, one dozen music montages that give a respite from the banal exchanges between the leads and an unapologetically happy ending to keep the target audience appeased.
This is supposed to be a feel good family entertainer, and on that front 2 States is targeted towards its audience with an ultra precision sniper. There’s plenty of dynamics between South vs North India, and daddy issues to keep the target audience on their tenterhooks. There is a ton of ladai-jhagda between the in-laws to pander to the cultural mismatch between Chennai and Delhi. But the observations are clichéd and simplistic, and there’s a paper-thin superficiality throughout which makes the film a Swiss cheese layer.
There are key scenes where the guy impresses the girl’s parents, and vice versa. And there are key scenes where the cultural gaffes of both the South and North, like general pretentiousness and dowry are established. The latter is when you notice the slipshod tonal shifts that Verman employs while desperately aiming to pad the screenplay with every cliché under the sun. Thanks to the tonal shifts 2 States goes from light romance to simplistic social issue pandering with no consistency. We never really get to see the defining moments of the guy and the girl’s blossoming romance, which is both odd and silly because we never really care for them to remain together. Content detailing their love for one another is shown in music-montages, yet huge chunks of running time are dedicated to emotional wrangling.
It is also jarring to see the film dabble in broad, obvious, and unflattering caricatures of its characters. I'm not saying Delhi-ites and Madrasis have no sense of humour, but if you're going to bomb us with stereotypes it's probably better to do so with some creativity or wit. Banana leaf and Punjabi daroo offer a few stray giggles but 2 States never comes close to being creative or witty. It's just a goofy impersonation of both cultures, not a classy roast of them. We’re also meant to take the melodrama as sincere and effective, but it just comes across as manipulative. So the equation is this - spend one hour mildly chuckling as limp campus romance between Arjun and Alia is paraded, and then spend the other one and a half hour getting weepy-eyed as Arjun and Alia try to turn a hallmark greeting card into something with actual heart and soul.
And the actors certainly don't help matters. Aside from Alia’s occasionally fiery performance there's the virtually complete ineptitude of Arjun Kapoor’s puppy faced good guy shtick. The bloke just doesn’t emote in any scene, and can neither pull off the charming lover nor the frustrated punching bag stuck between both sides. Alia’s role here is not as well defined as in Highway, and her performance clearly shows that she’s a director’s actor. She does the occasional South twang, thankfully without overdramatizing it, but spends most of the film doing a cutesy smile. She does the cutesy smile even in a scene where her fiancé tells her the biggest emotional conflict of his life. Weird.
The parents are actually sort of good – Shiv Kumar and Revathy are subtly effective, despite being stereotypical. There’s also Amrita Singh’s stereotypical North Indian mother, and the stereotypical North Indian drunkard father played by Ronit Roy. The latter manages to smoke everyone else out of every single scene, mostly because he’s played the character for the third time in a row.
Dharma’s trademark visual style and a few moments of comedy aside, 2 States is mostly a chore and periodically infuriating. The filmmakers had a chance to go against all odds and make a classic and they blew it. Critical appreciation might not be the film’s target anyway, because it’s been marketed well enough to make a truckload of money.
(First published in Firstpost)
(First published in Firstpost)