In Roger Ebert’s glowing review of (500) Days of Summer, he asked his readers if like him, they get impatient when a movie is on autopilot. “How long can the characters pretend they don’t know how the story will end?” It’s a fitting question that applies to so many Hindi films, but it’s especially ironic in the case of Katti Batti, directed by Nikhil Advani, which leans so heavily on that American rom-com for inspiration.
Like Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, Maddy (Imran Khan) is struggling to come to terms with the fact that his relationship with Payal (Kangana Ranaut) – whom he truly, madly, deeply loves – may be over. She left him without warning one day, after five years of living together. Like Zooey Deschanel in that film, Payal is beautiful but erratic, and it’s often hard to tell what’s going on in her head.
The film opens nicely, as Maddy flashbacks to the past, remembering key moments and happier times between the two. Like that charming bit when he offered to drop her to the campus library but his bike wouldn’t start. Or when he first told her that he loved her, but she offered a “time-pass” relationship instead.
As it turns out, Katti Batti is not content with letting Maddy merely reflect on his time with Payal. Like a true-blue Hindi film hero, he must do something about the situation. That involves a failed suicide attempt, torturing a baby in order to secure Payal’s new number, peeing in a gold-plated toilet (don’t even ask!), and crashing her wedding disguised as a bandwala. Not a lot of this is very funny, unfortunately, and it all gets very tiring very soon.
Some of the film’s most enjoyable bits, not surprisingly, are when Kangana Ranaut is on screen, and particularly the scenes between Imran and her. Oddly there’s not enough of that, especially in the film’s first half, and instead the script wastes precious screen time on way too many insignificant supporting characters that add to the flab. You’ll want to pull your hair out each time Bugs Bhargava shows up, hamming away as Maddy’s buffoonish boss. It’s impossible not to take an instant dislike to Maddy’s dominating younger sister (another (500) Days of Summer nod), and don’t get me started on pet-shop owner Roger and his musical band of “frustrated one-sided losers” who volunteer to help Maddy win Payal back.
But then, in the film’s last thirty minutes, as if aware that your patience is fast wearing out with the infantile humor and the cringing melodrama, director Nikhil Advani turns to his own debut film Kal Ho Naa Ho for a final-act twist – a shrewd plot-turn – that serves multiple purposes. Intended not only to turn you into a weeping, slobbering mess, it also finally gives our heroine some meat to sink her teeth into. While the elaborate mechanism employed to hide the twist is entirely preposterous and unconvincing, you’d have to have a cold, cynical heart not to get at least a little teary-eyed as the deliberately manipulative climax rolls out.
Imran Khan, who is relied upon to do most of the heavy lifting in the film, has an affable charm and is convincing as the hopeless romantic. This is one of his better performances, even if the script does occasionally reduce the character to a pathetic whiner. Kangana Ranaut is mostly underutilized in a role that’s lacking depth. She’s great in scenes that tap into her terrific comic timing, but it’s a shame she didn’t have more to do here.
Katti Batti has some nice tracks (by Shankar Ehsaan Loy), slick production design, and stray moments of wit. But its merits are far outweighed by its numerous contrivances, and by its hollow writing that only appears modern on paper. The film’s inventive 4-minute opening scene shot on a handicam offers promise, but little that follows lives up to it.
I’m going with two out of five for Katti Batti. It doesn’t say much about a romantic comedy if the smartest joke they could come up with is the name of a pet turtle.