Luv Ranjan hasn’t grown up; it is time we do.
IN MY DARKEST MOMENTS, when suffering from a crisis of confidence, I try envisioning the probable ways Luv Ranjan, a filmmaker who has made a lucrative career out of making one misogynistic film after another, convinces actresses to star in his outings. Here is my version:
Scenario one —
Luv Ranjan: In this film, you will call out your boyfriend’s slacker friends for blowing his money, and insist on splitting everything.
Actress: So, I am a self-righteous girl?
Ranjan: No, you are a gold digger, but we will come to that later.
Scenario two —
Luv Ranjan: In this film, your fiancé has an intruding best friend who projects his own unresolved feelings on you and works overtime to convince everyone that the marriage must be called off.
Actress: Well, that’s ridiculous.
Ranjan: No, he is right. You are devious, but we will come to that later.
Scenario three —
Luv Ranjan: In this film, you are a modern girl who wants to live separately with your partner because he is a rich, spoiled man with an overbearing family.
Actress: This makes sense. He needs to start taking responsibilities.
Ranjan: No, you are a house-breaker who should realise that a man cannot stay away from his family even though women have been doing this for centuries. But we will come to that later.
If these invented snippets read like WhatsApp forwards, it is for a reason. Most Ranjan films — he has directed five till now — unfold like long messages which are written by men, sent to more men, and are prone to be read aloud by a drunk uncle at family gatherings while his wife is busy frying fritters for him in the kitchen. Barring his sophomore film Akaash Vani, all his outings have been made with the pointed purpose of representing the male population of the country while smugly disregarding the fact that if anyone has been depicted in pop culture and otherwise, through time and timelessness, it has been them.
His single-minded focus of giving voice to the already vocal populace has had a common casualty: women. This fatality does not manifest in shrinking depiction. Instead, it results in misguided, crude portrayals. Luv Ranjan’s films are not as pro-men as they are anti-women. His rendering of the other sex is imbued with such inexplicable vengeance that dignifying them as characters will be doing injustice to the labour of imagination. In his outings, women are a concept stitched together with men's locker room fantasies and male engineering students’ frustrations. If I am generalising, that makes the two of us.
Unsurprisingly, in a country where women have forever been the punchline of jokes, his films find takers with the same readiness a male billionaire, who spends all his time sharing sexist jokes on Twitter, garners followers. With the recurring theme of young men finding refuge in each other after being betrayed by manipulative women, Ranjan’s films are the starter pack of the mannist discourse, the invisible preface of Andrew Tate’s unwritten biography.
In that sense, Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar, his latest directorial venture after the commercially successful Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety in 2018, is a departure. It is a romantic-comedy that prioritises the premise of a man and a woman falling in love, over a man and a man bonding over alcohol. It also marks the first time the filmmaker has cast stars and expressed marginal curiosity about the modern-day dating scene — which, hinging on the hypervisibility of social media and elevated virtual identities, necessitates breaking up on cordial terms — instead of reducing it to a meet-cute moment. But he undertakes all that effort to drive home the same point he has been making for over a decade: men are as gullible as sheep, women are as vicious as feral cats (that the film stars man-child veteran Ranbir Kapoor and the light-eyed Shraddha Kapoor has not influenced this analogy).
Rohan and Nisha (Kapoors; both from Delhi) meet in Spain. It is a bachelorette trip and they are best friends of the betrothed couple (Anubhav Singh Bassi and Monica Chaudhary essay the respective roles; she has one proper line). With a week remaining to the wedding, Anubhav’s character gets cold feet and eggs Rohan on to help him call it off. But on seeing Nisha (she is introduced to a song whose lyrics are, “Maine pee rakhi hain”), he sinks in love. Two songs later, so does she. So far, so Tamasha. They even replicate and subsequently ruin the iconic heads-resting-on-a-table scene.
ON COMING BACK to Delhi, families meet. Rohan’s family, comprising his mother (a luminous Dimple Kapadia), father (Boney Kapoor making his debut), grandmother, sister (Hasleen Kaur) and her family are boisterous and liberal. Nisha’s family is large and reserved. There is no problem. It is here that Ranjan lightly touches upon the root cause of the dying genre of rom-com: the lack of conflict. But anticipating any commentary from a film that voluntarily calls itself Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar is as foolhardy as expecting the present government to be reasonable. But I digress.
Having said that, even as a strictly frothy rom-com, Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar remains furthest from being convincing. It expects us to buy into a romance where the two lovers, supposedly inseparable, cannot recognise each other’s voices over the phone. But more worryingly, the lead actors, both exceedingly attractive, share zero chemistry and plenty of awkward kisses. Ranbir Kapoor, the 40-year-old actor, essays the role of a 30-year-old man. This is a problem because the weariness shows. Ranbir has played the overly dependent man-child before. As a result, his iteration feels too borrowed. The actor flits between his Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008) and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016) portrayals, revealing the emotional depth he is capable of only in fleeting moments. In certain scenes, he quivers his face, harking back to Shah Rukh Khan in the late 2000(s) and not in a good way. Shraddha shoulders the impossible task of being a likable heroine in a Luv Ranjan film. Which, if you haven’t been following, is an oxymoron. She is a limited actor and it does not help that the filmmaker’s lack of depth shows more vividly in her characterisation. Nisha is a classic instance of a woman written by a man, which is to say that her character is plagued by inconsistencies which are designed as seductive attributes. It is not that Rohan does not understand Nisha — even Nisha cannot understand Nisha. As an extension of this unfathomable mystery, she is always dewy-eyed, like mourning for the lack of self.
But complaining about Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar being an ineffective romantic film is akin to knocking at the wrong door. It is neither a deviation in Ranjan’s filmography nor a course-correction. If anything, it is a reiteration of the beliefs his previous films have only blatantly espoused. Except this time, he offsets brazen sexism with perfect patriarchy, using humour to gloss over the fact that one is, in fact, a subset of the other.
Women in the Luv Ranjan universe are either wrong or they are wrong. The director has never showcased any interest in understanding them. Instead, he has preoccupied himself with depicting them as menacing cliches. The method is less harsh here but the result is the same. He frames the story around a family and portrays the woman in shades of antagonism for her desire to make a life of her own, separate from them but not separated. And when it comes time to redeem her, the film swiftly overturns the autonomy of her decision in the face of quirky filial love. The man, on the other hand, is understanding, sensitive and considerate. He stands to lose nothing.
But I will also say that for someone whose career depends on massaging the inflated vulnerability of a certain section of the population, Ranjan displays perplexing ignorance in his understanding of men. He feels, or his film does, that grown men stay with family because of love. They don’t. They stay because it is convenient, because every woman in the family exists to indulge and take care of their needs. Or maybe the director does know this. And yet, he chooses to present a sanitised, misleading picture. Because, as I overheard someone uninhibitedly declare at the interval, Luv Ranjan simply hates women.