Cast: Deepika Padukone, Saif Ali Khan, Diana Penty, Dimple Kapadia, Boman Irani
Director: Homi Adajania
The heart has its reasons, the mind its methods. When the two are sought to be yoked together on Bollywood’s big romcom canvas, the result can be touch-and-go. One misstep either way could mean a hopeless nosedive either into mushy drivel or pretentious claptrap.
But no such worries here. For the most part, Cocktail, directed by Homi Adajania and scripted by Imtiaz Ali (a sort of high priest of the genre), steers clear of the pitfalls and delivers an eminently watchable love story that breaks the mould.
A gullible Delhi girl, Meera (Diana Penty), steeped in desi values, is trapped in a hoax marriage and gypped of her savings by an artful dodger, Karan (Randeep Hooda).
Left high and dry in London, the dainty damsel in distress is forced to shack up with a free-spirited girl, Veronica (Deepika Padukone), who is diametrically her opposite, temperamentally and sartorially.
Sugar and spice, fire and ice, Veronica Lodge and Betty Cooper… the ladies are as far apart as two poles can possibly be. Yet they become best friends.
Veronica’s pad is plastered with in-your-face posters that make no bones about what she really wants out of life: come in, we’re open; beer will change the world; please adjust your dress before you leave. Meera fits in without a fuss but sticks to her old-world ways.
The cocktail is complete when the essential alcoholic spirit is added to the heady mix in the form of an incorrigible skirt-chaser, Gautam (Saif Ali Khan), who ambles into the living space occupied by the two girls.
Sure enough, an explosion of love and lust happens, bringing in their wake a host of tricky situations. The boy doesn’t believe in love at first sight but his mom (Dimple Kapadia) is bent upon finding him a good Indian bride.
Veronica, the poor little rich girl with a troubled past, loves Gautam, but the latter falls for the staid Meera, just the kind of woman he can take home to mom. Troubles erupt as innocuous fun gives way to intense feelings.
With the friends are in danger of turning into frenemies, the heart- and-mind equations come to the fore and the dialogues bubble with effortless energy and a healthy abhorrence for the clichés of Hindi cinema.
“I have never seen a man like Gautam,” Veronica tells Meera when she realizes she is about to lose him, “and trust me I’ve seen many.”
Gautam playfully berates Meera for going into “Shakuntala mode”, while, in another sequence, Veronica asks her gal pal: “Aur thoda melodrama ka scope hain?”Adajania, on his part, harmonizes melodrama and mirth to near-perfection.
The first half of the film is reserved for lively sweet nothings and comedic moments triggered by the unannounced arrival of the boy’s mother from Lajpat Nagar; the second half gets down to unfolding the larger business of the heartbreaks, hard knocks and eventual emotional salvation that follows.
Riverdale High was peopled by 17-year-olds. In Cocktail, the girls are in their 20s, the guy is thirty-something. While it is aimed essentially at the youth segment, it is filled with enough wry wit to be worth a watch for those that might have left their flighty days behind.
As you would have guessed by now, there isn’t the slightest semblance of novelty in this ménage a trois – this is exactly how it has been ever since the advent of the Archie comics in the early 1940s – but Adajania manages to impart a veneer of freshness to the sparkling broth.
He serves up the familiar ingredients of a romantic comedy. The incurable flirt, the perky butterfly who does not give a damn and the timorous waif whip up quite a cocktail and the director plays bartender with skill and style.
Seven years is a long time in a filmmaking career, but Adajania shows no signs of rustiness as he makes the transition from the dark, quirky world of 2005’s Being Cyrus to the flashy, frothy, up and about universe of Cocktail.
He marshals the wafer-thin narrative resources just as successfully as he had done in his infinitely more complex and unconventional debut film, tweaking his style only for the sake of the levity that is required to make this one hit the right notes.
Saif Ali Khan trades the firearms of Agent Vinod for the foibles of a brash lover boy who believes that no relationship is for keeps until the heart decides otherwise. The role fits him like a glove and he makes the most of the opportunity.
As the two girls in the rigmarole, Deepika Padukone (first-rate) and debutante Diana Penty (pretty good), make a fair fist of the job of getting an array of emotions across during breaks from cavorting through the streets of London and having a good time on the beaches of Cape Town.
Cocktail has just the right mix of fizz and flavour to allow the occasional and inevitable crinkles of triteness to flow well below the surface. It is definitely worth a visit to the multiplex.