Title: Hum Tum (2004)
Director: Kunal Kohli
Starring: Rani Mukerji and Saif Ali Khan
Hum Tum was one of my favorite films out of the 10-film run in my previously-mentioned period of being Netflix-stalked by Rani Mukerji. If you are a romantic comedy fan and looking to give Bollywood a try, this is a great starter film (probably better than the usual intro-to-Bollywood film most of us get, Bride and Prejudice…because that movie wasn’t great over all). It’s got enough Bollywood to wet your whistle without overwhelming those who may not be used to that style, and the final package is as well, or better polished and delivered than many U.S. mainstream romantic comedies.
Immature cartoonist Karan tries to impress serious Rhea on their flights from India to Amsterdam to New York…and fails. While on layover in Amsterdam, they seem to be calling a truce, until Karan crosses the line and plants a kiss on her. Over the years that follow, Karan and Rhea meet and part several times. They develop a friendship based predominantly on mutual harassment and Rhea ordering him to “Shut up, Karan!” Since I’ve already told you it’s a romantic comedy, it should be no surprise that the conflict comes in these two trying to transition from friends to lovers. The plot is heavily inspired by When Harry Met Sally, a fact openly admitted by the director. Since I only know the one scene from When Harry Met Sally (we all know the one), and that’s not in this version, I can’t really speak to how similar they really are.
Of course, this is Bollywood, so you get all the fun of a rom-com PLUS something we know When Harry Met Sally didn’t have: song and dance! It bears mentioning first that the incidental music, separate from the usual song/dance numbers, is incredibly well done and totally adds to the movie for me. Beyond that, the major Bollywood-style songs are very catchy, too. It’s kinda hard not to want to get up and jam on some of these numbers (particularly the wedding-prep number “Gore Gore”–I suggest, however that you not trust the subtitles on this song. I trust the translations from BollyWHAT? much more). I’ll warn you that the female vocalist on most of the pieces does have that very high-pitched tone that you get a lot of in Indian music. I was a little concerned about that in my early exploration of B-wood in general–it’s not a sound I’ve been a fan of in the past–but it was a little more mellow here than I’ve heard in other places. On the title song, “Hum Tum”, I really didn’t even notice. That particular song was so stuck in my head, I wound up downloading it from Amazon. The subtitles for the lyrics were a little shocking though–a lot more innuendo than I expected.
Hum Tum was also a little racier in the love scenes than some of the other Indian romances I’d seen. That’s not saying much considering the bar for “racy” is incredibly low in Indian cinema. Remember, this is a film industry where many actresses still refuse to do on-screen kisses and directors/producers still tread very carefully so as not to alienate conservative audiences–or the censorship/ratings board. So, for Hum Tum to have what looks like (but isn’t) a real onscreen kiss and a morning-after scene between characters that aren’t married? That’s edgy stuff. I can’t say that bothered me. I mean, how many hours have we all sat through Pride and Prejudice to get to a single kiss at the end? Yeah. It’s actually really refreshing to see movies (other than period British costume dramas) that capitalize on making things romantic without the sex. I don’t know if this is my appreciation for crafting within strict limits, or just that I’m a prude.
Anyhow, so, with only the most minimal of physical contact shown, we get good romantic chemistry between Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukerji (this pair has done other movies together as well). Each of them is also hilarious. Saif does the immature, goofy, loveable screw-up quite well. And Rani’s indignation and sarcastic responses are just as amusing, and she’s got some fantastic facial expressions to boot. Both actors also get some heart-wrenching moments (Rani more than Saif), and I can’t swear it wasn’t hormones, but I did tear up and reach for the hankie a time or two.
The supporting characters are memorable. I particularly liked Rhea’s mom, “Bobby Aunty” (Kirron Kher)–she’s both hysterical and very real. She kinda proves that Mom’s are pretty universal in the world (except in Mexican telenovelas, where about half of them are totally evil, but that’s beside the point). The subplot with Karan’s parents it okay, but nothing to write home about. Pay attention to the faces in any of the supporting characters because you will probably see all of them in at least one other B-wood movie (remember how I thought they couldn’t have a Canada Problem? They do.)
As part of your Intro-to-Bollywood education, this is also a good example of the amount of English you actually wind up hearing in an Indian movie. It’s been surprising to me that so many Indian films have such large quantities of English sprinkled in with all the Hindi. It threw me at first to hear this Hin-glish. I’m reading along with the subtitles and then suddenly the subtitles match what I’m hearing and for a split second I think I’m starting to understand Hindi. It also means that there are lines I can actually quote from some of these (“Shut up, Karan!” and “Very well done, ya! You’re looking like a girl!” and “You’re really a loser, Karan!” and “You’re SICK.”).
All told, the movie is an easy-to-like romantic comedy. It’s borne up against multiple viewings now, which is a good sign. Bright colors, fun characters, great music, a well-played romance and the obligatory happy ending. This movie won’t change your life (unless of course, it becomes your gateway-drug for a Bollywood addiction), but it’ll keep you entertained for a couple of hours and ought to leave you in a pretty upbeat mood.
I give it 4.5 out of 5 jars of peanut-butter.