A sparkling romantic comedy at last

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS

imageFilm: "Dil Maange More"; Starring Shahid Kapoor, Soha Ali Khan, Tulip Joshi, Ayesha Takia, Zarina Wahab, Gulshan Grover, Kanwaljeet, Smita Jayekar; Directed by Ananth Mahadevan.

If you've been wondering when we would get another all-in-one human entertainer in the mould of Amitabh Bachchan, Sridevi and Hrithik Roshan, there's heartening news. Shahid Kapur has it in him to be a complete actor.

He makes us giggle and frown, gambol and lounge, laugh and even cry if the need arises. Happily, in Ananth Mahadevan's full-fledged romantic comedy there isn't much room for tears. Moving many steps ahead of his directorial debut in "Dil Vil Pyar Pyar", Mahadevan at the year-end gives us the first and only real romantic comedy of 2004.

"Dil Maange More" isn't great cinema. But it's funny, sassy, sweet, tender and intelligent. That's a lot more than what we get in most cheesy love stories.

Playing the most likable small-town guy since Aamir Khan in "Raja Hindustani", Shahid Kapoor gives the film an endearing spin as Nikhil Mathur from an imaginary hill resort named Samarpur who follows his dreamer-girlfriend Neha (Soha Ali Khan) to Mumbai and gets into a bizarre but never corny or sleazy quadrangle.

Faintly reminiscent of the 1960s Dev Anand starrer "Teen Deviyaan", "Dil Maange More" is a lot more clever and articulate than the genre would suggest. Mahadevan constructs a wispy pyramid of postcard-pretty pictures where the people actually appear real. The Indian hill station is an idyllic haven shot at an alpine location.

Thanks to Amit Roy's smoothly scenic cinematography and Mansi Mehta's tasteful artwork, the characters are never reduced to people posing in paradise.

There's a constant flow of delectable dialogues, filled with puns, which make the characters appear more filled-out and complete than they generally do in blithe romantic musicals in our country.

Besides the utterly winsome protagonist, the music-shop owner A.R. Rahman (Gulshan Grover) is also a likeable creation.

The small-town boy's bonding with his boss and with his bellicose neighbour Shagun's (Ayesha Takia) Gujarati mother (Zarina Wahab) implants a certain moistness to the cut-and-dried theme of one guy sandwiched among three demanding and exasperatingly unpredictable women.

Thanks to the cool and crisp narration and Shahid's author-backed performance, we never tire of the film. Mahadevan's above-average aesthetic sense surfaces in improbable ways. Nostalgic music and songs played a big part in his first film. So it is here as well. The songs and voice of Mohammad Rafi are a recurrent and eminently engaging motif. Shahid's character encompasses a genre-defining zest for the past and present.

A lot of the best scenes are played out at a music store bustling with song talk. And when Mahadevan takes the narrative to the dance floor or the scenic location for lovers to emote and dance to Himesh Reshammiya's tunes, we aren't distracted at all.

There's music in the soul of this film. It may not be discernible right away, as the film's theme and characters swim in shallow waters. But to mistake the characters' trivial pursuits as signs of superficial filmmaking is to confuse the lyrics with the quality of singing.

Mahadevan takes these flighty fidgety young characters beyond their positions in the plot. In this endeavour, he is constantly aided by his leading man. Shahid's grasp over the grammar of romantic comedy is astounding. His spot-on timing and extraordinarily fluent dance movements make him a very engaging entertainer. Watch Shahid in the sequence where the 'khichdi' he cooks blows up in his face. Here's one new actor who can cook up a khichdi without the calamitous consequences that have become part of films about the activities of the young.

Among the three girls, Ayesha Takia as the spirited girl next door gets maximum space and makes optimum impact. The eagerly awaited debutante Soha Ali Khan has a long way to go before she justifies her genetic advantage as Sharmila Tagore's daughter.

Gulshan Grover is excellent as the leading man's cool dude boss. But the film's 'climax' on board a cruiser is a bit of a damp squib. Surely Mahadevan could have thought of a less unwieldy way of resolving Nikhil Mathur's heart problems?

But let's not crib. Let's applaud a film that goes into frivolous lives without getting frivolous or vulgar.

IANS