By Subhash K. Jha
Film: "Turning 30"; Cast: Gul Panag, Purab Kohli, Sid Makkar; Director: Alankrita Shrivastava; Rating: ***
It's that sassy, spunky, urbane chick mouthing that 'f' word again! Last week it was Rani Mukerji in "No One Killed Jessica". This time it's the delightfully spontaneous Gul Panag, who's playing a working-girl in an ad agency and is on the verge of 30. But things are not quite working out for her and she is watching her life come apart at the seams.
This is "Sex & The City" transposed to Mumbai.
Abandoned by her well-to-do boyfriend, Naina weeps with unabashed self-pity in front of the bathroom mirror and pleads, begs and whines with him to "take her back".
In one of the film's best sequences, Naina's ex-boyfriend comes home to collect his things. Gul Panag's body language and her desperate attempts to provoke him into emotional and sexual submission echoed Shabana Azmi's celebrated 'party' sequence in Mahesh Bhatt's "Arth" where she pleaded with her husband to take her back.
"Is she better in bed," Gul asks with poignant aggression.
The problem, you realize in telling the tale of an urban girl's adventures in the big bad city is the language. While debutante director Alankrita Shrivastava, in control of her narration and characters, gets the mood right, the dialogues often appear to be straining for effect.
Which woman of today, hitting on a guy in a bar or for that matter anywhere, uses a term like "fuddy-duddy"?
The chick flick, as it is rather crudely called, is an alien genre in Bollywood. The first time director gets the tone and spirit of urban female bonding far more accurately than in the recent "Aisha". "Turning 30" goes for the inner wear-and-tear.
The music is loud and played at just the right decibel. The characters seem to be grooving in rhythm most of the time.
Once Purab Kohli makes a late entry into Naina's life, the film kind of loses its ebullient spirit. The narrative gets lazy and Naina's 30th birthday party just goes on and on… Naina and her friends play 'truth or dare' where two girls confess they're lesbians… and there is laughter, acceptance and warm hugs.
But at the end of it all, we do care about what happens to Naina's adrift life. How Naina gets back her groove makes an interesting if at times sluggish story.
The situations created in the script appear straight out of the urbane chaos of designer labels and self-preserving image-creation... The narrative has an endearing fluidity and fluency to it. Girls here wanna have fun.
The unabashed references to the protagonist's sex life and physicality are new to Hindi cinema. Gul Panag plays Naina with a disarming mix of transparency and confusion. She lets the character's strength and vulnerability hang out in the same line of vision, creating a world that is at once lived-in and unexplored.
It's a wonderful experience just watching Gul light up the screen once again after "Dhoop" and "Dor".
The supporting actors are all like people you've bumped into in Mumbai in an elevator or while waiting in line to get into a multiplex to watch a film like "Turning 30".
New cinematographer Akshay Singh shoots the characters in a way that they appear in a far better light than they would otherwise. Fresh, feisty and well-designed with above-average technical virtues, "Turning 30" is more chic than a 'chick flick'.