Saturday, November 7, 2009

With friends like these...

Disclaimer: This is a blog post in which I take a fairly simple movie and pick it apart to see why exactly I didn't like it as much as I wanted to or as others have. I know in doing so, I have to take a comedy film seriously. I don't care that I'm doing so. When a film entertains, it's not necessary to analyze why it does so. When it doesn't, it's not so easy to pinpoint why, and one has to dig in deeper. Everything I express here are my own personal views, and I'm in no way suggesting everybody who enjoyed it watched a different movie. Please don't read it if you don't think you'd enjoy reading such a post. And please, I beg of you, don't post a comment along the lines of "this is just a silly comedy, why are you taking it so seriously?". Oh and it's a rant and there will be SPOILERS.

I rewatched Dostana a few weeks back and have been itching to write about it ever since. I don't particularly enjoy facing uncomfortable truths about movies I really enjoyed on the first watch, but I feel like I have to. Essentially it's what Ajnabi stated in her review, the closer you look, the more problems there are.

Because while the film still has its charms (Abhishek occasionally, fantastic soundtrack/picturizations) and its funny moments, it just rubbed me the wrong way on the rewatch. And that really, really sucks.

At the core, Dostana is the least genuine story of friendship in Bollywood perhaps ever. The screenwriter depicts it as the friendship of the century, but that's simply not the case. It's a story of two douchebags who want to bone a really hot girl, so they get close to her by continuing to build on a lie, and essentially mess up her life to selfishly win her for themselves, making her a prize to be won in a challenge between the two of them. When she finds out, she's understandably upset and eventually they win her back by sacrificing their masculinity by doing something that's maybe a bit gay. She accepts them as 'friends' again. End of movie.

None of this is what friendship is about. Friendship is about honesty - being able to express your thoughts and feelings openly to somebody. Friendship is about trust - trust that somebody is there for you when you need them, trust that they won't tell everybody what you told them behind your back. The movie seems to think it'll convince the audience that if you just say it's friendship enough, people will believe it really is friendship. I know Bollywood isn't a big fan of "show, not tell"-methods of storytelling, but in this particular case, that's not how things work. If I can't believe in something, it really doesn't matter how explicitly it's stated on-screen.

Another problem I have with Dostana is that for a "naughty" comedy, it mostly ends up feeling sleazy. It's not explicitly sleazy, it's not one of the B-films or C-films with graituitous french-kissing, lots of skin and verging on softcore (not that I've seen those films but I've run into clips of them on youtube). But it's sleazy enough to feel sleazy, to make one feel uncomfortable. One of my friends watched the movie with me during this rewatch, and she had this take on it, "It's like how Indians see Western people." As in, skimpily clad, sexually promiscuous, laying the innuendo on thick. I'm not sure if I agree with her interpretation, but it's one way to look at it, I guess. And look, I'm far from being a prude of some sort. I'm all for innuendo and sexuality explored in Indian films of all types. But style is important - make it funny and don't make it gross. I can think of some examples of this from American sitcoms but for an Indian example, Pyaar Ke Side Effects comes to mind.

I suppose I could write more about the manipulation on the second half but I think everybody's in agreement that was the movie's true lowest point. And I won't touch on gay stereotypes since as discussed recently on Filmi Girl's blog regarding Bollywood blackface and other examples, popular cinema thrives on stereotypes, some more offensive than others. Needless to say, both things bugged me, on top of the "friendship" and the sleaze.

Some of you will obviously be in strong disagreement, and that's fine. I'm not sure if I can argue my points more elaborately since I've sort of run out of steam while writing this rant, but if you have something to say besides "stop taking it so seriously!", by all means, say it.


ajnabi said...

Sad to say, I pretty much agree with you. I gave it a pretty positive review on the first viewing, but now I have to disagree with myself on the "suitable for repeat consumption" quip... because I can never make myself watch the thing past interval. Kunal and Sam are SUCH JERKS. And I keep on feeling sorry for the kid.

Filmi Girl said...

Yeah - for me Dostana is best watched in short clips that emphasize the Abhishek/John slashy aspects.

I would enjoyed the movie a lot more if the Priyanka story had been erased from it. Minus the female love interest to muck up the story of the dostana, it would have been a better movie, I think.

And I really, really loathed the Bobby Deol line towards the end where he says something like "I wouldn't even kiss a dude for you." or something. *eye roll*

We'll see if the problems are solved in Dostana 2.

Sonia said...

I never liked Dostana. I was fast-forwarding the whole time when I was watching it.....

Kiran said...

Very well put. I too never liked Dostana & couldn't understand how it turned out to be such a hit. The only good thing about the movie for me is the "Jaane kyun" song.

veracious said...

Hey no violent opposition so far. Thanks for the comments!

ajnabi - Yes. The script writer(s?) really lost the plot on how the make the heroes likable.

Filmi Girl - It would've been better if it had been more gay. There's going to be a Dostana 2? Whoah.

sonia - I rarely fast-forward movies.. Only really boring ones. Welcome to blog, btw!

Kiran - Yes, I love that song. Really nice soundtrack, I believe by Vishal-Shekhar?

Andromache said...

I actually had almost this same experience. Well I don't hate it (yet?) but every time I see it I like it less. No matter how hard I try, I can't reason away the blatant misogyny. As much as I like the blatant suggestion at the end that Sam and Kunal get together, they're both such douches that I kind of want them to be alooone forever. And the existence of Dostana 2 is probably going to make them straight anyway. So what's the point? Rant. Rant rant rant.

Pessimisissimo said...

Veracious, I've only seen Dostana once, but I agree with you that the movie is highly problematic. Like many Bollywood films, it tries to have it both ways: it's supposedly promoting a gay-positive message, but to do so it employs the sort of queeny gay stereotypes that I thought had gone out with The Boys in the Band.

I too was appalled by the second half--not only were the manipulations of Kunal and Sameer incredibly mean-spirited, we're supposed to believe that Abhimanyu (a highly sophisticated fashion magazine editor, after all) would fall for their cruel advice?

Fundamentally, as you say, if Kunal and Sameer were Neha's true friends, they wouldn't have spent the entire second half of the movie trying to destroy her happiness with Abhimanyu. These sequences leave a bad taste that lingered through the obligatory happy ending. Where on earth can they go with these characters in Dostana 2?

Rosalind Francis said...

For some reason I approached this film like it was called "Dostana" as in *airquotes* Dostana. I mean, it's two guys who barely know each other pretending to be a couple in order to live in a fabulous apartment.

I basically agree with you - this isn't a movie about friendship - or if it is, it's about how you *shouldn't* conduct a friendship.

If I was all powerful,I'd remake this film as two guys pretending to be a couple to move into a fabulous apartment - both fall in love with their female flatmate and compete with each other for her affections (hilarious consequences) only for them to realise that they're projecting their love for each other onto her (happy ending!)

veracious said...

Andromache - Yes, I also liked the bit at the end .. but I'd like it so much more if my sympathy for the characters hadn't essentially come undone on the 2nd half.

Pessimissimo - Good point about Abhimanyu. He sort of goes from a smooth, smart guy into a total fool on the second half. As to Dostana 2.. another girl for them to fight over? Two girls to fight over? Don't know, don't particularly care.

Rossywar - I adore your version/sequel. :D