I've been following the films made by Ashutosh Gowariker, who has helmed huge epics and worked with the biggest names in Bollywood today, such as Lagaan with Amir Khan, Swades with Shah Rukh Khan, and his previous film Jodhaa Akbar starring Hrithik Roshan and Ashwarya Rai Bachchan. And it's a fact that his films have runtimes of about 3.5 hours, which goes by real quickly as he keeps the story engaging, and the production values for this films are nothing less than magnificent. So naturally my interest was piqued as the auteur has now turned his sights on a romantic comedy, and I wonder exactly how a filmmaker such as he would be able to tackle this mass-appeal genre.
Based on the novel “Kimbali Ravenswood” by Madhu Rye, What's Your Rashee? (or translated as star sign for the English speaking audience) has all the ingredients that would allow for the runtime to stretch to a typical Gowariker length, but that's only because the challenge is to present all 12 female characters representing their respective star signs with attempts at equal runtime for each, with a song being inserted during the whirlwind courtship, clocking 13 tunes when the typical production averages 5. Think of it as an extreme speed dating where we get to know the opposite sex in some detail, with some travelling involved as the production showcased different districts in Mumbai, which of course is an eye-opener for one who has never visited India, yet.
The story's actually nothing sophisticated, and by romantic comedy standards quite predictable at times. Basically Yogesh Patel (Harman Buweja), an Non-Resident Indian living in Chicago has been summoned back to India because his parents learnt of his multi-million dollar inheritance from his grandfather should he get married, and the family now needs that kind of money to pay off his brother's debts. He reluctantly agrees of course, and sets himself up to meet initially hundreds of girls, but inspiration struck and he decided that he should be 12, one maiden under each star sign.
The main draw of the film is of course actress Priyanka Chopra, who has taken on possibly her most challenging film to date, playing 12 characters with more than 12 personalities. Why I say this is because some of her characters are putting on a facade, thus allowing more room for Priyanka to showcase her acting chops, which she did, with the help of stylists decking her out in beautiful dresses, varying make up, wigs, contact lenses and prosthetics even. That's only the physical outlook – you would be amazed at the physical presentation at how chameleon-like this ex-Miss World can be – and she takes her roles on with gusto to make you feel with some, laugh at some, and endear towards some through some wonderful pieces of acting. Not to mention that she broke the record set by Kamal Hassan, who tackled 10 characters in his movie Dasavatharam.
Unfortunately for Harman Baweja, who's in need for a booster to his fledging career after the flop Love Story 2050 (which incidentally also co-starred Priyanka), and the lacklustre Victory, his role as Yogesh, quite obsessed with doing the right thing each time, finds himself constantly upstaged and overshadowed by Priyanka's performance. It's a little pity of course, given that if it's anyone who can help him it'll likely be Gowariker given the director's strengths, but this was not to be as it's pretty much the leading lady's vehicle. But that's not to mean that Gowariker's film here is without flaws. Amongst his works to date, I feel that this was perhaps the weakest of the lot, suffering from a number of subplots which provided nothing more than a distraction to the meat of the story, such as that involving the infidelity of his uncle and marriage-consultant (Darshan Zariwala), and that of the loansharks who pop up now and then for unnecessary comic relief.
However, its strengths more than compensated for its drawbacks, such as how Priyanka just ran with her opportunities to shine, 12 times. The story also provided some insights into how arranged marriages, with dowries and all, are still conducted and quite a cultural thing, and the plights that some family face with having too many daughters, and wondering how best to have them married off. As the encounters with the different women were rather stand-alone, each allowed for the examination of traits and characteristics that will make you love, or loathe, and generally applies across the board, which allows you to identify with such instances.
But for all its narrative twists in secrets that cannot be kept, for its fleeting discussions on honesty or lack thereof, what I enjoyed most was the quasi-explanation of why the females that Yogesh meets, all share a striking resemblance with one another, which other characters don't seem to agree with, but only to the male protagonist. I liked how it was mentioned that we all have this preconceived idea of how our soul mate would preferably look like, and from then we tend to project this thought onto whomever we think would have a chance with, or at least tend to take those physical bits into consideration, only for their inner character, when revealed, to be anything but adhering to our dreams.
What's Your Raashee? for the romantic in me, worked wonders, and will leave you guessing at the end just who Yogesh would end up with, since Gowariker deliberately kept you hanging in suspense for as long as he possibly could. I'd recommend it as a date movie anytime if you're looking for something different from the usual Hollywood fare. Just remember to empty your bladders before the show starts, or you'll have to plan to hit the loo just about the time Leo gets introduced, for that inbuilt intermission.
In the spirit of this fun movie, I thought I'll give you the reader a run through if you're curious about which character came first, and their general characteristics. It contains spoilers of course, but those who are also curious as the type of women I fancy (OK you gotta take this with some pinches of salt here), then read on:
Check them out!
1. Aries Name: Anjali
She's a bit dorky looking, and terribly shy, speaking with a lisp and tries very hard to impress with her smattering of English learnt in a 2-day crash course. Full marks for effort, but her motivation in wanting to hook up, comes from an overbearing mom, and seeks marriage as an escape. Priyanka drops her glam self for this role.
2. Aquarius Name: Sanjala
She's out with you because she's under the orders of her parents to do so. She knows you're still looking, and suggests that you reject her outright, because she's honest in not wanting to hurt you and wasting your time, since she's already attached in secret to someone else. Otherwise she'll be perfect, with her contemporary affable outlook and lifestyle. Priyanka probably played this with tremendous ease, because it didn't call for anything other than probably being herself.
3. Gemini Name: Kajal
She's your typical young adult who still refuses to grow up, and constantly seeks out to be the life of parties. She's fun to be with and hang out with, and is always all smiles. However her maturity level is still a few notches down, and Yogesh cannot wait for a year to settle down with her. She's more like a sister, than a potential spouse at this point. Hip hop dance moves become a staple here, since it's the In thing for the In crowd, inspired by countless of street dance movies.
4. Cancer Name: Hansa
Traditional and demure. It's not until she opened up to Yogesh and was completely honest with him about her virtue, would you not think that you've met the right person. So the huge skeleton in the closet was revealed, and would leave one at odds, especially in a traditional society. Personally I've encountered something like this before, and like Yogesh was quite gung-ho about it, but seriously, this segment was the one that I identified with the most, especially that lingering look between the two character wondering just what the next step would be.
5. Libra Name: Rajni
I can tell you Libran guys are probably not like that, but I cannot vouch for the opposite sex. Rajni is a high powered executive, so high powered that she has a personal assistant, and loses complete touch with her EQ. Meetings become interrogation sessions and are extremely impersonal. Everything becomes a transaction, even the marriage which serves as an escape clause from possible legal liabilities and criminal charges. Fashionably chic (love that bob hairdo), but run far, far away, please!
6. Pisces Name: Chandrika
The earlier character had an overbearing mom, but here's an overbearing dad with plenty of airs because he's a self-made rich man, and just doesn't know when to shut up and let her daughter speak her own mind. Chandrika falls into the traditional, demure mold again, until we find out that she's a believer in reincarnation, and firmly believes that you're her soulmate from before, and into the future. A notch below Psycho, Priyanka had the song and dance segment to thank for in differentiating this character from the others, since the dance movements were less fanciful, yet powerful to demonstrate the conviction of her belief.
7. Leo Name: Mallika
Priyanka goes back to becoming glamorous again as a top dancer who wants to marry a rich man, so that she can continue to do philanthropic work by donating money away. So unless you can feed that kind of lifestyle, what she's seeking is someone at the top of their game and in the upper echelons of society, despite her insistence in wanting to continue pursuing her career. Sports a bad temper and a feminist as well.
8. Scorpio Name: Nandini
A plain jane introvert on the outside, a sexy model on the inside, keeping the real her under wraps because of disapproving parents. She sees the potential for a Green Card after marriage as a means to satisfy her passionate desire and dream of modelling in Chicago. Tries very hard to win your affection and quite persuasive, but while good natured, needs to be honest with herself first.
9. Virgo Name: Dr. Pooja
A humanitarian who found her calling to be in India to work in the healthcare industry, providing services to poor village children. This segment brought out potential relationship tussles when one half refuses to give up their career to relocate to another country. Great chemistry struck up, but unfortunately the realities of life come stomping on the bright catalyst to a great relationship.
10. Taurus Name: Vishakar
The only child to the Cotton tycoon, she's a typical rich kid spoilt with a silver spoon, where her notion of a simple life still equates to impossible material wants. Character-wise I thought she was extremely spritely with a dash of playful childishness. She's putting on an act of course, since she's not sure if someone is actually interested in her as a person, or after her family's wealth which will eventually belong to her. It made me recall a Chinese adage about social standing and class , where differences could lead to unhappiness.
11. Sagittarius Name: Bhavna
The premise stemmed from an astrologer's reading, and it somewhat came full circle when Yogesh's prospective bride is an astrologer herself, having to read both their fortunes and makes suggestive proposals to break an impending curse regarding Yogesh's upcoming marriage. Not that I'm complaining of course, but spiritual persons do give me the creeps sometimes as they live their lives according to cards and stars.
12. Capricorn Name: Jhankhana
Jhankhana is the least looking like Priyanka Chopra amongst all the other characters, because this segment wanted to address the issue of child brides, dowries and the unscrupulous ways how some parents concede in near pimping their children away. It served its purpose well, though I was squinting in confirming whether it was really Priyanka under all that prosthetics.
And my choice if I was to be in Yogesh shoes? Well, it's a tough call to make, though we can eliminate the obvious no-gos such as Jhankana, Nandini, Mallika, Rajni, and Kajal, leaving behind 7 to choose from. If I really have to choose one, then it'll be the same as that in the film, which means you'll have to go watch to find out!