Qarib Qarib Singlle: Great leads in a travel romance that goes nowhere
For so much movement, the film never takes us or the two characters from one place to another.
The opening scene of Tanuja Chandra's Qarib Qarib Singlle (written by Kamna Chandra) exudes awkwardness. This could be intentional or unintentional. Jaya (Parvathy), who is attending her friend's wedding, is on the stage to meet the couple when her friend introduces Jaya to her groom (and us) as that Jaya who lost her husband. It is awkward because the first question in our mind is what kind of person would do that to her friend on a stage. At her own wedding! As far as plausibility goes, this is slightly out there and throws us off a bit. Or it could also be to introduce us to the bundle of awkwardness that is Jaya. She is a South Indian in Mumbai. Her potpourri Hindi can give it away. She's still not over her loss and she is somewhat of a private person. She avoids friends, colleagues, and family with equal gusto, possibly for good reason. Her work mirrors her life - she is into insurance and her life is as dull and humourless as the sector. Even Jaya's friend who visits her at the office is so consumed by all the dead air that she's resigned, resting her head on Jaya's shoulders while giving her advice.
Cast: Irrfan Khan, Parvathy
Director: Tanuja Chandra
Jaya meets Yogi (Irrfan) through a dating site. There is more awkwardness due to Yogi's enterprising nature clashing with Jaya's baby steps. In what can be called fit of rage for Jaya and fit of challenge for Yogi, they decide to take a trip to meet three of Yogi's ex-girlfriends, astounding us and themselves. From here on, the film becomes what is supposed to be a travelogue romance/self-rediscovery. But the dead air seeps in to engulf it all. For a film that is so peripatetic, it often seems like the characters are all in the same place. They go from Rishikesh to Bikaner to Gangtok, the geography and direction of which seems inefficient. Or this could very well be a feature, that at Yogi and Jaya's ages - they fall at 35-40 - the more you try to change, the more you remain the same. But this does not translate well on screen. It is good to see a more grown up, mostly platonic relationship well represented, something rare in our movies, but not much is done with it. For so much movement, the film never takes us or the two characters from one place to another.
There is another unexplored angle that could have paid great dividends. We get Jaya's mother as part of a phone call in the first scene and never again (or possibly once after). But we keep getting Jaya's Skype conversations with her brother, who is studying or working abroad, and with whom she seems close. This is again an angle we seldom get in these films. She lies quite easily to everyone else before her trip with Yogi, but with her brother, it doesn't come easy. I kept wishing Chandra would do something with it, but it is sadly used only for light laughs. The same with the sleeping pill that Jaya, as dependent on it as she is, always runs out of at the last minute. She buys a different brand on the pharmacist's suggestion and ends up inebriated when Yogi is meeting his second ex-girlfriend. This is Parvathy at her best, skipping and hopping over her not-so-fully-formed Hindi, to say farmaiye in a million different ways, confounding Yogi, who is a natural as a poet but is suddenly caught devoid of his repertoire.
Irrfan's Yogi is the kind of role he has played a million times now. The easy-going, direct, to the point man who always lived by his wits. It's a problem when the film suddenly becomes about him. Qarib Qarib Singlle begins with Jaya, her background, her work life, her friends, her brother. Only later does Yogi walk in, like an afterthought. The trip is an escape for Jaya, but the purpose itself is to meet his ex-girlfriends. Jaya even complains in the end how he makes everything to be about him and this becomes a form of meta-criticism. The Jaya we wanted to get to know in the first half hour of the film is lost by the end and the afterthought has taken centre stage. When Yogi misses a train, and is hitching an 8-hour cab ride to meet Jaya who is already at their cottage, she meets up with a French tourist, and we see her comfortable, laughing, striking up easy conversations. Later, once she spots Yogi, she gives a hug and parts with the tourist. I couldn't help wondering, what if Yogi never made it back. What would that movie be like?