De De Pyaar De and the Fault in Luv Ranjan’s “Male Universe”

Bollywood

De De Pyaar De and the Fault in Luv Ranjan’s “Male Universe”

Illustration: Akshita Monga

 

For the first two years of his career, Luv Ranjan didn’t make films. He made viral monologues.

The claim-to-fame of his debut, Pyaar Ka Punchnama, that bragged about offering the definitive male perspective on love, was Rajat’s (a comically bad Kartik Aaryan) monologue that took digs at clingy women and the “constant exploitation” of men in relationships. Even though the monologue lacked nuance, the writing betrayed creativity (the Vodafone pug and Batman’s girlfriend were invoked) and was enhanced by Aaryan’s breathless delivery. The paranoid monologue made a return in Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2, where Gogo (Aaryan again) ranted about the exact same things: clingy women and “exploitation” of single men. Both tirades start off with “Problem yeh hai ki woh ladki hai,” encapsulating the true intentions of its writer-director. For Ranjan, the joke isn’t just on the woman; it is the woman.

Eight years since, it’s still impossible to tell apart the sequel from its predecessor given their exact storylines. Like Ranjan’s debut, even Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 champions the plight of three single men whose happiness is unceremoniously snatched away by the manipulative women they fall for. Both the movies concern themselves with a universe that views male friendship as endangered, which according to the filmmaker, needs to be protected from perennially scheming women at all costs.

In the RCU, women don’t breathe air; instead they survive on endless manipulations.

Naturally, the monologues and the franchise, swiftly became the war-cry of countless scorned single men, catapulting it into mainstream success, almost overnight. And Ranjan was inevitably heralded as the intrepid voice of male agony. In last year’s record-breaking Sonu Ki Titu Ki Sweety, the writer-director went even more literal with pitting women against men: Sweety, the female lead existed only to prove that marriage and relationships only end up distancing two male best friends. It’s no surprise then, that the winner in every gender war in the Ranjan Cinematic Universe (RCU) is always the man, even when his winning move is the juvenile “You either choose her or me”.

Every film in the RCU – Ranjan has directed four and written five, including this week’s De De Pyaar De – is distinguishable by some recurrent elements. For instance, the writer-director has a penchant for using the same cast in all the films he has directed; Aaryan is a regular fixture in the RCU. All his stories are always told from the perspective of a man, who is treated not just as a naive victim but also a selfless hero. And his heroes are always cut from the same cloth – they are all “well-meaning but confused single men who get sidetracked by women”.

In Akash Vani, the hero gets dumped by his college girlfriend while he’s abroad because she decides to marry another man; in Sonu Ki Titu Ki Sweety, the hero falls for a gold-digger who wants to separate him from his childhood best friend; in the Pyaar Ka Punchnama franchise, at least two of the heroes get friendzoned after a woman plays with their feelings and leads them on. And in De De Pyaar De, the latest offering from the RCU, two attractive women are at loggerheads with each other because of the film’s 50-year-old lead, Ashish (Ajay Devgn). One of the women is even attracted by the fact that he chose to not sleep with her when he could have. In all of his films then, the problem isn’t that Ranjan unabashedly offers the male perspective, but that it unfailingly comes at the cost of women.

If Imitiaz Ali is accused of repeating the same love-story with every film, then every new Luv Ranjan outing is essentially the writer-director setting out to exact revenge on all the women who have dumped him. His films exist so that he gets to have the last word. In the RCU, women don’t breathe air; instead they survive on endless manipulations. According to Ranjan, women come only in three variants. The first kind is the controlling woman – the Nehas (Pyaar Ka Punchnama) of the world who dictate every move of the men they date from their wardrobe to their meals or the Supriyas (Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2) who selfishly exploit feelings to suit their needs. The second is the attractive young gold-digger – the Sweetys (Sonu Ki Titu Ki Sweety) who pretend to be in love with a man only for their wealth. And, the third is the “modern” woman – the Manjus and Ayeshas (De De Pyaar De), who act like a tease and make the first move but are also capable of devolving into a deeply insecure, jealous person. If it was up to Ranjan, we could very well find a way to blame global warming on women too. Clearly, Ranjan understands women and relationships as much as Vijay Mallya understands the concept of debt.

Over the years, Ranjan has arrogantly defended his deep-rooted misogyny with a simple argument: Are all women – especially in relationships – nice? They’re not. But the reason the one-sidedness in his films can’t be chalked down to the filmmaker merely representing flawed women on screen lies in how he uses their misbehaviour against them. Especially, to serve the nobility of the hero. In all his films, it’s the women who torture and the men who tolerate, which explains why its the women who are made to suffer in the end.

The language in Ranjan’s films offer a solid clue about how the director villainises his heroines, who are reduced to ambition-less cardboard caricatures of evil. The men are either “trapped” by women or they need to be “saved” from them – despite being in a consensual relationship, they seem to never have any agency. The one common thread in his interpretation of women then, remains this: They’re the single-handed source of all male unhappiness. It sounds less like a filmmaker representing a different side of women and more like someone who’s threatened by them. What makes it even more inept is that Ranjan seems to have no justifiable reason for his suspicions, save for reinforcing tired stereotypes. Even then, the biggest fault of Luv Ranjan’s depiction of the Indian male existence is, that it can’t stand on its own. Take away the cunning women from all of his films and you’re left with no arguable insight into the male mind. Does Ranjan want us to believe that every single problem Indian men face begin and end with women?

Maybe it’s time Luv Ranjan watched a comedy that actually succeeded in living up to its promise of recreating the Indian bachelor universe without mocking women. Incidentally, Delhi Belly released the same year as Pyaar Ka Punchnama. Eight years on, if Delhi Belly remains the kind of film we deserve, then the Pyaar ka Punchnamas and the RCU are the lowest hanging fruit we are forced to grab on to. When will we refuse to?

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