De De Pyaar De, directed by Akiv Ali, is co-produced by Luv Ranjan, the director of the Pyaar Ka Punchnaama series and Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, who also shares the film’s writing credits. So, in light of that context, it is quite apt that the movie opens with the dialogue, “Where are the strippers?”
Ranjan’s movies are the cinematic versions of tone-deaf dudebros who take pride in offending just because they don’t know any better. De De Pyaar De’s screenplay is attributed to two more writers, but the story is Ranjan’s: A 50-year-old divorcee, Ashish (Ajay Devgn), falls in love with a much younger woman, Ayesha (Rakul Preet Singh). The story takes a sour turn when Ayesha meets his family.
You can probably see that Ranjan thinks it’s an edgy story. The references to Ashish’s age, and the age difference between the leads, are numerous and non-stop. It is present in the conversations between Ashish and his therapist, Ronak (Javed Jaffrey); between Ashish and Ayesha; between Ashish and Ayesha’s ex who calls him “Uncle.” This is a film so in love with its ‘ideas’ that it wears them on its chest like medals. And on the side, there’s also a parallel meta-narrative of sorts. We hear dialogues such as “zyada intellectualise mat kar” and “tu misogynist hai,” which almost sounds like retrospective apology. Besides, judging a Ranjan film for being “misogynist” is a bit like finding fault with water for being wet: It is its very nature.
In the film’s first half, centred on Ashish and Ayesha in London, the hero is advised to fight for his “self-respect,” the heroine is alluded to be a gold digger. Then, continuing its meta-narrative style, there are several references to Singham (and later, Devgn-Tabu starrer Vijaypath (1994)). Ayesha asserts, at the start of the film, that she isn’t looking for a relationship and yet she’s the one who, after a brief break-up, patches up. They begin contemplating marriage only a few weeks into their relationship, prompting Ashish to make Ayesha meet his family, in India, something he hasn’t done in years.
The main problem with De De Pyaar De is that its ideas and screenplay are strung together by shaky means. Some stories need a film; this is a film in need of a story. Its current version – boy meets girl meets boy’s family – doesn’t have enough meat for a 134-minute feature. So you can see the narrative padding right from the start, in the form of superfluous scenes, songs, and characters. The first half, however, is sporadically funny due to Singh’s natural, ebullient performance. Devgn, on the other hand, is too serious – an awkward mix of carefree and self-righteous – who hardly elicits any laughs.
But this is nothing compared to the film’s second-half, which is a blazing train-wreck. Here the characters are as contrived as the subplot: there’s a perpetually screaming, pissed-off daughter (Inayat); a son (Bhavin Bhanushali), smiling all the time, hitting on his father’s girlfriend; and a wife (Tabu) who will not stop taunting her. Since this is a Ranjan movie, it singles out a young woman (Ayesha) as the target of its scorn. Unlike the other characters, she’s constantly tested – and punished – throughout the movie, as if she has to pay the price of being independent.
The most disappointing bit about this movie, though, is Tabu (something I never thought I’d ever write in a film review). She’s typically struggled to be convincing in mindless masala fares, but De De Pyaar De takes great pains to make her sound ridiculous. It gives her bizarre character motivations and dialogues, resulting in scenes that render her petty and mock her pathos.
Besides, after a point, continuing the tradition of mediocre Bollywood masala, the film becomes increasingly random and trite. There’s a cameo by Jimmy Shergill, solely cast for the purpose of hitting on Tabu. Kumud Mishra, playing Ashish’s daughter’s prospective father-in-law, who, after a point, is hitting on Tabu, too. Then there’s Shergill reciting poetry, Tabu tying raakhi to her ex-husband (don’t ask), Mishra needling Devgn – all, of course, in the garb of humour.
More importantly, two crucial plot revelations make no sense at all – the one involving adultery, in particular, should come with an on-screen warning: “excessive eye-rolling can be dangerous for health”. But what do we know after all? Devgn sums it up best in the film’s closing lines: “Honestly, it’s just a technicality, yaar.”