Dream Girl Review: A One-Line Premise that Suffers from a Vicky Donor Hangover

Bollywood

Dream Girl Review: A One-Line Premise that Suffers from a Vicky Donor Hangover

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

There’s a clever satire hidden somewhere deep inside Raaj Shaandilya’s Dream Girl that could have perhaps rivalled the cachet of Shoojit Sircar’s excellent Vicky Donor, a film that Shaandilya constantly evokes. It can be argued that it is unfair to measure the letdown of one’s debut with the brilliance of a previous film, but Dream Girl’s existence can be best summarised by its assembly of templates from a bunch of other films. 

The film’s premise – a young man taking up a job that would engender societal humiliation – borrows its DNA from Vicky Donor (Dream Girl even has Annu Kapoor). It banks on its lead, Ayushmann Khurrana’s reputation of playing small-town characters who act as a critique of passive-aggressive masculinity in a fashion that is reminiscent of Shubh Mangal Savdhaan. Dream Girl takes the Stree route when it comes to padding up its proceedings with a talented supporting cast (Replace Pankaj Tripathi’s flawless hilariousness with that of Vijay Raaz). It approaches the millennial trend of catfishing through an old-fashioned lens (Karam pretends to be a girl and tricks people on the phone as opposed to the internet), the same way Dum Laga Ke Haisha approaches the thorny topic of fat-shaming through its oldest proponent: arranged marriage. And it attempts to employ humour to deliver a pertinent message about acceptance, a delicate balance popularised by Badhaai Ho.

And yet, the trouble is Dream Girl never comes close to doing justice or even giving its own spin to any of these templates, ending up as a jumbled-up outing that says nothing in its greed to say a little bit of everything. On a whole, it feels like a film whose very potential works against it.

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Dream Girl banks on its lead, Ayushmann Khurrana’s reputation of playing small-town characters who act as a critique of passive-aggressive masculinity in a fashion that is reminiscent of Shubh Mangal Savdhaan.

Balaji Motion Pictures/ ALT Entertainment/ Zee Studios

Set in a Haryanvi town, Dream Girl revolves around Karam (Khurrana), a 20-something guy who has built a reputation on being adept at mimicking the voices of women. This means a childhood and a lifetime of getting his friends out of trouble by pretending to talk like their mothers or girlfriends and a permanent role as Sita in the local Ramayana play. Living in his modest house with Jagjit (Annu Kapoor) his eccentric, widowed single father who has a litany of loans to pay off, Karam is desperate in his search for a job. For his father, it is the only way out from the burden of loans. 

After a string of rejections, Karam finally lands a well-paying job: The catch is that the job is at a friendship call centre where he has to pretend to be Pooja, a sensuous woman who responds to the sexual fantasies of her callers. Naturally, Karam lies about his job to everyone, even as the financial situation of his family improves. This forms the crux of the comedy of errors, beats of which Dream Girl plays predictably. Nushrat Bharucha also stars in the film, playing a pointless iteration of her deeply watchable “bubbly girlfriend” act from Pyaar Ka Punchnama. Bharucha, who has an energetic screen presence, seems to be running the risk of catching the Parineeti Chopra syndrome, which involves playing the same character film after film.

The trouble is Dreamgirl ends up as a jumbled-up outing that says nothing in its greed to say a little bit of everything.

At best, Dream Girl works as a collection of gags and one-liners that seem funnier in isolation than when seen in context of the film’s larger premise. Its haphazard editing further aids the abruptness. Some of the gags, especially ones that involve arguably every scene that has Vijay Raaz essaying the lovelorn police officer who is secretly a poet and Annu Kapoor taking the idea of being more tolerant to Muslims literally, are a hoot and could easily make their own spinoffs. 

At worst, it’s a film that superficially throws around compelling topics – the moralities of catfishing, widespread loneliness, and jobs for women that are created around male sexual repression – without making the effort to mine insights from any of them. Even more frustrating is how Dream Girl refuses to engage with two of its seemingly progressive stances: One of Pooja’s callers is a woman (of course, she is stereotyped as a man-hating feminist editor who has been dumped by three guys and has a permanent membership to Screechyland) and the film implies that she is in love with Pooja, although it never makes the presumed change in her sexual orientation clear. One of his other callers is his own father, which to me, was the movie’s most ingenious move. Yet Shaandilyaa underutilises this angle by choosing to spring the information up in a flashback scene and not painting the origins story; what prompted his father to call Pooja in the first place.

Perhaps, the only reason Dream Girl, interrupted with unnecessary songs, laborious sub-plots, all-time low stakes (Karam never faces social and fillial humiliation the way Vicky does. His family, friends, and girlfriend are surprisingly supportive), and an almost embarrassing climax, isn’t flat-out boring is because of Ayushmann Khurrana. It is both a good and a bad thing, given that Dream Girl suffers primarily because Shaandilyaa seems visibly awestruck at the mere idea of the actor role-playing as a woman. On his part, Khurrana delivers a rip-roaring performance as Pooja. Yet, at the same time it’s also a performance that one has now come to expect out of Khurrana. For someone who has stopped being an actor, and whose filmography represents an entire genre of cinema instead, putting in anything less than this would be indefensible. The biggest failing of Dream Girl then, is that it looks like the first sign of Khurrana being held prisoner by his own reputation.

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