Neal ’n’ Nikki: When Mini Skirts Made For Movies

Pop Culture

Neal ’n’ Nikki: When Mini Skirts Made For Movies

Illustration: Palak Bansal

Close your eyes. It’s 2005. Natwar Singh has been ousted in an oil scandal and a teenager with a bazooka forehand is making us proud in tennis. Playing in your head is the song “Nikki Bakshi, sweet n sexy, full on rocking, hot and happening.”

Neal ’n’ Nikki came to our screens and changed our young lives forever. We were in 8th grade, and rumours started doing the rounds that entire sections of students were bunking classes to watch the film whose trailer had a surprisingly sexually liberated vibe. In the Bollywood of Veer-Zaara and Shah Rukh Khan, it was exhilarating to see characters speaking like we would do, talking about sex and boning like we only did with our friends in hushed tones. The film was also seemingly in on the “Sanskaari Bollywood” joke, making an entire song parodying Bollywood love songs, while wearing funky glasses, outlandish mufflers, and Dev Anand’s cap. They never kissed in the song, always going for a hug with an expression that said “This is so freaking dumb.” It amazed us that there were people in Hindi movies who thought of Hindi movies like we did.

The film did not let us 8th graders down. Nikki, who was drunk through most of the film, was in a uniform of mini skirts and bras, and Uday, who was not yet a laughing stock, had blue eyes and an extremely short mop, signalling a post-cool era. Nikki said stuff like “I don’t give a flying fuctch”, showing a linguistic normalcy with words like “rocking” (mid-2000’s were peak rocking) and “virginity”, and was just chill about things urban Indian teenage girls wanted to be chill about, making her a quasi-cult figure. Sure, she was more boy-crazy then they would’ve liked, but you can’t have everything.

On the eve of the film’s 12th anniversary, I rewatched it, but now that my hormones are no longer hopped up on puberty, I realized  we were pretty fucking stupid back then. We didn’t question how every woman that Neal meets on his “21 girls in 21 days” trip is wearing bikini tops and sporting gigantic breasts (but then, why would we?), and all these women keep falling for Neal for no apparent reason. Why were most working class people he’s meeting, like the cab driver and hotel concierge Punjabi? And why does Neal, of all people, act prudish when Nikki lays one on his lips unsuspectingly, saying “Before kissing, do logon ke beech mein kuch rishta hona chahiye?” Like fuck, the dude literally came down to fuck 21 women in 21 days! How fast is he making emotional connections?! Why is Nikki always screaming while talking about boys in “Mera Pyaar Ghodhe Pe Aayega” terms while chugging wine? And why, beneath all the sexual liberation, cursing, and kissing for pleasure, does it end up in the quest for marriage space? The questions are endless and 12 years later there are no answers.

We’re in an age where we don’t need women to wear mini skirts to lay a claim on modernity

The year Neal ’n’ Nikki came out, Bollywood was, in all fairness, trying to be modern. Salaam Namaste had a live-in relationship and Socha Na Tha featured a modern love triangle, but Neal ’n’ Nikki was the only one which was wholly confused. The characters would just meander in a room where one door said “Traditional” and the other said “Normal”, leaving the film to come across as an inauthentic mess, and in a world newly engaging with Facebook, inauthenticity was easy to pinpoint.

But life moved on, as did Tanishaa and Uday (thankfully). We’re in an age where we don’t need women to wear mini skirts to lay a claim on modernity. Modernity comes to us now in the gadda-carrying, salwar kameez-wearing Mahi Gill in Dev D to the chaniya choli-clad Kriti Sanon in Bareilly Ki Barfi. We’re making cooler movies now and shedding less clothes. Everyone is happy.

Except those poor boys in 8th grade.