A Random Desi Romance: Film Review

Random Desi Romance Still - H 2013
Yash Raj Films
Atmospheric Indian touches can’t gloss over the fact that this “random romance” is a very average rom-com.

Sushant Singh Rajput and Parineeti Chopra star in Maneesh Sharma's Bollywood romantic comedy.

Yash Raj Films’ most recent effort, A Random Desi Romance, is hyped as hip, trendy and oh-so-timely.

But despite the refreshing aspect of the film’s underlying message -- that young Indian singles don’t have to rush into marriage -- the film is a pretty typical rom-com.

That shouldn’t hurt its prospects, though, among romance-starved filmgoers and others curious about the film’s Canadian premiere as the sole Bollywood offering at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 11.

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At the San Francisco Bay Area screening I attended, non-Indians outnumbered desis, suggesting that the film might pull an audience outside the regular diaspora channels.

The story is a pretty basic love triangle between three young people trying to scrape out a semi-legal living in Jaipur, India’s famous “Pink City” -- beautifully shot here by Manu Anand.

We first meet Raghu (Sushant Singh Rajput) the evening before his wedding day, as he boards a chartered bus to a remote Rajasthani wedding venue and finds himself seated next to the vivacious, and a little promiscuous, chain-smoking Gayatri (Parineeti Chopra). Confiding his prenuptial jitters to his pretty seatmate, Raghu ventures a kiss, a brazen act that ends uncomfortably.

The next day at his wedding, as he is about to drape a flower garland over his beautiful, but arranged, bride, Tara (a striking debut by model Vaani Kapoor), Raghu freaks out and disappears. Later, when he runs into Gayatri again, the two decide to try a casual live-in love affair; when things get serious, another betrayal and some tough choices are in store.

Rajput is an established TV star, and his acting style -- delivering his lines here with a grin and a quiet, bass-note mumble -- proves quite appealing in the role of Raghu, a man you will probably want to slap a few times for his endless diffidence and indecision.

Chopra has a girl-next-door quality; the former investment banker-turned-public relations consultant for Yash Raj Films was discovered when her audition tape ended up in the hands of company head Aditya Chopra. She is not related to the other Aditya Chopra, but there’s a family connection to films: She is a cousin to Bollywood star, Planes voice and “Exotic” songstress Priyanka Chopra.

Rishi Kapoor is excellent as a local businessman who serves as a go-between for the lovers while offering wry advice. But the biggest surprise in this otherwise unsurprising project is Vaani Kapoor, an elegant looker whose regal carriage and confidence bring to mind a younger Shilpa Shetty. Kapoor has reportedly signed a three-film deal with Yash Raj, so keep an eye out for her.

Director Maneesh Sharma, born in Delhi but educated at the California Institute of the Arts, already has a deserving fanbase following for his 2010 comedy Band Baaja Baarat, which earned viral success and is still held up as an example of how to do a quirky love story just right. His screenwriter and lyricist, Jaideep Sahni, is rightly praised for his screenplay for the heartwarming 2007 Shah Rukh Khan vehicle Chak De! India, about an unlikely girls field hockey team.

Random Desi Romance gets off to entertaining start, and Sharma crafts several artfully directed scenes, including a sweet and saucy montage set to the song “Gulabi” (Pink). At times, the film effectively captures that out-of-control rollercoaster feeling that young love delivers.

But it’s a stretch for any romantic comedy to stick around for two-and-a-half hours, and an annoying character quirk of making Gayatri a cigarette smoker wears out its welcome after the first scene, when it becomes apparent that Chopra is clearly faking it -- on top of that, she smokes so many cigarettes during the course of the movie that I actually wondered whether her character would come down with cancer.

The characters’ modern lifestyle, with its penchant for premarital sex, and lots of it, is a selling point for the film in India, where someone out there in Internet-land has taken the trouble to count how many kisses get planted on Sushant Singh Rajput. In case you’re wondering, the answer is 27.

But despite its pedigree and effective performances, this random desi romance is just another bland Friday date night love story, one which could just as easily take place in Jersey City as Jaipur.

Opened: Sept. 6, 2013 (Yash Raj Films)

Production company:

Cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Parineeti Chopra, Vaani Kapoor, and Rishi Kapoor

Director: Maneesh Sharma

Screenwriter: Jaideep Sahni

Producer: Aditya Chopra

Executive producer: Aashish Singh

Directors of photography: Manu Anand

Production designer: T.P. Abid

Costume designer: Varsha Shilpa

Music: Sachin-Jigar

Editor: Namrata Rao

Unrated, 150 minutes