When I read the synopsis I got an inkling feeling and dreaded if it were to end like a high profile local television drama series many years back, where a Hong Kong actor played a central role and had to romance two of the biggest female stars we had back then. It was a cop out of course, given their respective popularity and fans, that nobody would want to have their hearts broken at the end. This meant an open ended finale after episodes of beating about the bush, and unfortunately, Cocktail somehow seemed to be concocted on the same formula.
It isn't the first time Saif Ali Khan got paired up with the much younger Deepika Padukone in a love story, given his production house Illuminati Films had put them together in Love Aaj Kal, where he had to romance Padukone and Giselli Monteiro playing vastly different characters in two different timelines. Cocktail may seem to have adopted the same formula for the second time round, since Love Aj Kal had garnered relative success, so why not repeat it one more time, though now the characters all exist in the same, modern era, where one has to tussle between traditional values, and the sexier, open relationship offering that one can find someone else to agree to.
Saif Ali Khan once again turns on his act-cute demeanour. He can be all serious as seen in his last three films Kurbaan, Aarakshan, and Agent Vinod, but is in another dimension when he plays a character who has to balance suave, drama and a sense of humour. His Gautam comes across as a bazooka, constantly firing with little accuracy in his very blatant courtship rituals, that earns him the label of a flirt. In all honesty I prefer his serious roles a lot more when he has to ham it up, so you can guess it was sheer torture to see him dumbing it down, and trying his best to romance two different women when he falls for one, and then the other, sequentially. But I have to admit I was in stitches when he provided his rendition of Sheila Ki Jawani in a scene that almost modelled after Dostana's with mother (Dimple D=Kapadia) dropping in unexpected to catch her son in the most compromising of situations.
And Dimple Kapadia provided the narrative catalyst after the first half hour languished at doing its best to introduce all the characters. The two women in the story are your classical opposites, one a partying, carefree soul, while the other a more conservative, naive girl who found herself caught in a marriage sham, and became homeless in London. Deepika Padukone was given a choice to play either role, and she picked the former just so as to dabble in a role she hasn't tackled before. She did vamp it up in an item for Dum Maaro Dum, but that was nothing more than to show off her sensual, gyrating moves on the dance floor which got repeated a lot more times here as the perennial clubber whom everyone knows on first name basis.
Her Veronica is that poor little rich girl, who holds no relationship with her parents other than with their bank account, and flits from night to night in the different arms of random men she picks up in the clubs and bars. One particular scene which I thought was brilliantly done, was to bring out this distinction and to highlight her loneliness against a typical busy night, that her relationships account for nothing since they're superficial, and served as a wake up call as to what should be more valued in her life. Gautam's mother also served as inspiration for the girl who prances around the home without pants (a chance to show off a lot of leg, really), as her yearning for motherly love pushes her in the direction and provides incentive in trying to become someone whom she isn't really cut out to be.
While Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone are old hands now in Bollywood and can play their roles with their eyes closed, attention therefore turned to newcomer Diana Penty, who plays Meera, finding herself from Delhi to London, and in a series of coincidences, becomes Veronica's housemate and best friend, and then rival in love when her initial dislike for Veronica's boyfriend Gautam turned into something else when they all had to play pretend to throw Gautam's mom off their tracks for a few days in a Cape Town holiday. The biggest transformation in character here, it provided Diana Penty with enough bandwidth to showcase her acting chops, from demure to being proactive, from frail to confident, taking charge of her own affairs, and even devising schemes to fend off stalking attempts. If she does make it big, then cocktail will have bragging rights for first having discovered her, and providing her a chance with the most challenging role of the lot.
There's no lack of urban and exotic locales balanced for the characters in this romance to develop in, and naturally the best scenes involved the song montages where they get to frolic under new environments, which sets the stage for the foundations of friendship first, which will later get undermined when emotions start to get stronger and get the better of some of them. With the usual assumptions and lack of awareness, things get to boil over and the story by Imtiaz and Sajid Ali seem to languish under its own weight of beating about the bush, followed by desperate attempts to throw almost every conceivable scenario at the story and characters so that neither will get to lose face, and fighting really hard, and long, to reach a win-win situation.
Ultimately there isn't much in the narrative to move you, or to sway you to the plight of the characters, since it is they who got into a fix themselves, not being strong to try and play out a no strings attached relationship. It sinks to deep melodrama into the last act, and by the you couldn't really care too much about the trio and interest to see it out - who will Gautam eventually end up with - will start to wane. If it had kept its narrative crisp, and had director Homi Adajania focused more deeper emotions, this might have become an instant classic. Thank goodness for Boman Irani to punctuate the film with humour each time he gets to come on, playing Gautam's uncle who also shares a rather Casanova history.