Anjaana Anjaani: no harsh judgment of characters' mistakes and lots of shirtless Ranbir, so paisa freakin' vasool
I saw Anjaana Anjaani and Endhiran within 90 minutes of each other today, so please forgive me if I start talking about Ranbir-bots or confuse the dimmer moments of the characters played by Miss Worlds. Thanks to Movie Mahal for bringing both films to central Illinois! I'm writing this one up first because it's simpler.
I know there are going to be a few of you out there who might want to kick me for saying this, but: the more I think about this movie, the more it's gelling into a sort of multi-hour and more melodramatic episode of Friends that compiles bits of Ross and Rachel over the years their relationship was depicted. And given that the story is set entirely in contemporary America and is about 20-something characters who exist mainly as individuals outside of any dominant family or community group, and one of the characters even grew up in the US, this is completely appropriate, and I enjoyed it. The main characters (Priyanka Chopra as Kiara and Ranbir Kapoor as Akash) drink and talk about sex (and possibly have sex without being married, though I wasn't clear about that) with no punishment or judgment. (This is also true of director Siddharth Anand's screenplays for Salaam Namaste and Hum Tum, if memory serves.) Heck, they even lack mothers and have only vaguely present fathers, and neither has any sort of parental stand-in à la Rishi Kapoor for Saif Ali Khan in Love Aaj Kal. Better yet, people learn from their mistakes and express genuine contrition. It's refreshingly uncomplicated and straightforward.
Remarkably, I also have no criticisms of its portrayal or use of the United States. This is probably helped by there being so few characters there there could be no side discussions of politics or incidents reflecting current events or cultural misunderstandings, but remarkably there isn't even a maliciously lechy white dude to frighten Priyanka or token hip-hop dance troupe as the lead pair walks around New York. Priynaka's friend, played by clearly American-sounding Pooja Kumar (who was great in Bollywood Hero!), isn't a skank and offers good advice. Everytown USA Christmas decorations are showed at their glowing, cheery finest and the expansiveness of the US southwest looks beautiful and provides a suitable backdrop for the mental and emotional space the character require to change and grow. And true to American cultural type, a car - a vintage red convertible at that! - can probably count as the third major character, squeezing out even Zayed Khan's small and bland role as Kiara's ex.
I've seen all of Ranbir's films since Saawariya and I think this might be the least exciting of his performances. It befits the role and story and overall feel of the film, but between you and me I prefer him with a bit more twinkle. Similarly, any problems with Priyanka were actually with the character, who teeters very close to Manic Pixie Dream Girl in the beginning of the film. There's not a lot of sparkle off these two, but it's also not a particularly sparkly story or situation. I do wish Akash's back story was more fully elaborated*, because the idea of a greedy stockbroker losing it all is not terribly compelling, and it took me awhile to care much about what happened to his character. His blah-ness and Kaira's MPDG are an annoying pairing at the beginning, but by the time the first song comes around he has begun to act human enough that I wanted him to heal himself and right his wrongs. The drama of the situation of their first meeting - a lonely New York bridge on a cold December night, from which they both intend to jump - is almost unnecessary, but I suppose it gives the plot the setup and momentum it needs to maintain the characters' personal development over the run time of the film. It pleased me very much that both Akash and Kiara improved their lives mostly inspired by their own decisions and shared experiences. Maybe not a very filmi way for things to proceed, but sweeping emotions and big confrontations would have been completely out of place here. This wasn't the film I was expecting, but for what it was, it succeeded very well.
Plus, you know, Ranbir looks really good in all those sunglasses and wet t-shirts - that is, when they bother to have him in any shirts at all.
* The audience in my 3/4 full cinema laughed uproariously through most of the rushed exposition of Akash's financial shenanigans, especially when his friend Deven fussed at him in the office and at the hospital. I can't imagine those scenes were written for laughs - did I miss something other than generally simplistic dialogue?