I grew up on romantic comedies. I've loved them throughout my life probably because they're the most basic combination of two simple, escapist passtimes; romance and comedy.
However, it has to be said that it's not easy to make a good romantic comedy. I realized this at some point in life, when I was watching the whatever umpteenth Meg Ryan film I've seen and had to conclude it was tired, unfunny, formulaic. Because yes, there's a formula to these films (as there are to any films), but that doesn't mean the formula always works, nor does it mean the formula can't be worth watching.
Enough vagueness. I suppose when I first watched the Kunal Kohli film Hum Tum starring Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukherji, I thought it was merely good, okay. It was quite early on in my Bollywood-watching days - I suppose I wanted more glamorous song-and-dance or something. But with rewatches, numerous rewatches, I realized what a total gem the film was despite its flaws. The When Harry Met Sally inspired storyline is a rare love story in which people grow to love each other; the immature hero has to wisen up to deserve the heroine.
I think Hum Tum became the perfect romantic comedy in my eyes because while it's masala, it's not as masala as many other Bollywood films and the emphasis is on the two; romance and comedy. At comedy it excels, and I think I laugh harder with every rewatch. With romance, it completely delivers; some scenes on the second half leave my heart genuinely aching. Now, cut the cartoon stuff and one song and you've more or less got the perfect Bollywood romcom.
But! Hum Tum has a rival...
Pyaar Ke Side Effects surprised me completely. How was it possible that I had previously not seen one of the most delightful Hindi films of the year 2006? I blamed the cast - Mallika Sherawat was not somebody I heard praised often and Rahul Bose had mostly done artsy films that weren't on top of my to-watch lists. Regardless, when I saw PKSE, I fell in love.
If Hum Tum is the romcom that gets the romance right, PKSE is the romcom that gets the comedy right - oh so very right. It borrows from Hollywood, it borrows from the romcom genre itself largely, telling the classic Hollywoodian love dilemma; the girl wants marriage, the guy doesn't. But while borrowing from Hollywood, PKSE exceeds Hollywood. It's like I said in my initial review, "Pyaar Ke Side Effects is like a Hollywood romantic comedy. Except it's funny. And it's romantic!"
Both leads do an excellent job at portraying modern Indian city youths - Rahul manages to be a lovable neurotic commitmentphobe and Mallika absolutely shines (I do hope she makes more movies like this one!). The dialogues are Hinglish all around but I don't blame anybody; it seems to fit the characters' mouths, and the comedy works great along with it. What PKSE also does great is consistency - it doesn't drag, it doesn't take a dramatic turn halfway through, it doesn't feel like a different movie on the second half.
And for all those who complain about how this isn't how Hindi cinema is supposed to be, take a walk. To me, Hindi cinema is what it is, and the only thing I can hope for is that it continues to produce great movies. Or you could think of it this way - Hollywood made a genre, and now India's making the best of it.
If Hollywood wants its romcom formula back, they have these films to top.