In all honesty, I probably shouldn't have watched Cocktail, Homi Adajania's breezy NRI romantic drama. There were just too many things that I knew, from the get-go, would not work for me. The trailers looked bland as all hell (and as a big fan of Mr Adajania's debut film, the twisted black comedy Being Cyrus, I was puzzled as to why he decided to go mainstream with something so dull). Saif Ali Khan looked too old for the two heroines, Deepika Padukone and newcomer Diana Penty. Overall the film just gave me try-hard vibes - it was attempting cool, easy-going, modern, and not quite pulling it off, even with Imtiaz Ali behind the script.
Then people came back to me with their takes on it, Rum titled Saif's wooing of the girls "Uncle Pyaar" and Beth was also less than impressed. This review from FirstPost largely coloured my initial impressions of the film - in fact, I think I still agree with it. However, folks also mentioned Deepika's performance as a major positive, and so I was curious, and eventually that curiosity won over.
The film starts off with Gautam (Saif Ali Khan), flirting with every good-looking girl he sees, to the point of irritation and almost to the point of sexual harassment. He runs into Meera (Diana Penty), who has just landed in London for the first time. She clueless wanders around the city until she finally locates her new husband Kunal (Randeep Hooda), who unceremoniously dumps her because he only agreed to the match to get some money from it all. Meera, heartbroken, runs into party girl Veronica (Deepika Padukone) who allows her to stay the night, for as long as she needs to.
Veronica really was the highlight of the film. While the characters are largely unfortunate stereotypes (the flirty stud, the proper old-fashioned Indian girl, the reckless party girl), a combination of the writing and Deepika's acting carve the most real character out of Veronica. Yes, her behaviour does seem mostly derived out of her distant, cold relations with her family - her only contact to her father are checks he sends to support her - but there's something more there as well, a certain care-free life philosophy and attitude that is real and refreshing to see. There are some minor discrepancies, like I'm sure every girl, whether she's English, Punjabi or Brazilian, realizes it's a good idea to put on more than a shirt when your boyfriend's mother drops by for a sudden visit.
The friendship we see between the two girls is also wonderful, and I was beginning to hope Saif's role would be a mere cameo, so we could just focus on the two. It's an unlikely friendship, but one that feels genuine and relatable all the same, and it's one I would've gladly seen more of.
Diana Penty does fine in her debut performance, but there were some moments in the story where the meekness of her character required more to be shown in her eyes or general appearance, and she just quite doesn't deliver. Towards the end, I began to see Meera as more of a stereotype, less of a character, and the fact that the script makes her do some pretty dumb choices (in my opinion) doesn't help much. The fact she ever even falls for Gautam seems unbelievable to me.
The music fits the kind of modern, cool, love triangle drama the people behind this movie probably set out to make, but didn't quite accomplish. I liked the music a lot, in fact, and the song picturizations tended to inject the flick with some much-needed life, especially on the second half.
Honestly, the less said about Saif as Gautam, the better, but let me expound on this regardless: even if I was to look aside the age factor, and the unappetizing "flirting" he does in the beginning of the movie, I would loathe this character. He's supremely unfunny, a complete douchebag, his character growth is not very believable and he's also just kind of gross? The other male characters are a tiny bit better - Boman Irani does a short but likable stint as Gautam's uncle, and Randeep Hooda's character turns out to be not quite the inhuman asshole you first see him as. In fact, Kunal is almost ludicrously underwritten - we never get to see how or why Meera sort of forgives him, why he's an asshole at first but okay later on, why he always looks like he's just come from a barfight.
Cocktail is one of those films that doesn't really impress while watching, but starts to come apart even more when you actually think it through more - why did this character do that, or accept this, or have a mature discussion about that problem, but not this one. It gets to the point where I just want to push it aside entirely, for whatever redeeming features the film has got, however few. Kudos to Deepika, and hopefully she finds more substantive roles like this coming her way.