Cast: Ajay Devgn, Tabu, Rakul Preet Singh, Jimmy Sheirgill, Kumud Mishra, Alok Nath, Madhumati Kapoor, Inayat Sood, Bhavin Bhanushali

Director: Akiv Ali

In De De Pyaar De, Ajay Devgn plays a man who becomes romantically involved with a girl half his age, and spends the bulk of the film being made to feel terrible about it. Directed by longtime editor Akiv Ali, the film is produced and co-written by Luv Ranjan, whose decidedly misogynistic gaze on modern relationships has yielded such hits as the two Pyaar Ka Punchnama films and Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety.

Ajay plays Ashish, an investment banker in London who is 50. I feel compelled to repeat that the character he’s playing is 50, which shouldn’t be such a big deal especially since Ajay himself turned 50 just weeks ago. But it is a big deal in an industry where leading men have seldom played their age, merrily passing off as many, many years younger – a privilege accorded exclusively to our gender. And we know it is a big deal in the film just from the number of times he’s described as “buddha” by other characters.

Ashish meets Aisha (Rakul Preet Singh) during his friend’s wedding celebrations, and sparks fly. She is 26, and the entire first half of the film feels like a string of cringey jokes. Not just about the age gap between them (or the generation gap as Ashish’s therapist friend describes it), but about their contrasting outlook towards everything from relationships to alcohol consumption and sex. Waking up the morning after she passed out drunk in his house, Aisha can’t remember if anything happened between them. “Jo hua hoga acha hi hua hoga. Kisi ne complain nahin kiya ab tak,” she says. When he insists he doesn’t sleep with drunk women – “Jo mile hosh mein mile” – she is surprised that he could’ve had his way with her but didn’t.

Mercifully the film improves post intermission, mostly because of the presence of the always reliable Tabu. In the second half the action shifts to Manali where Ashish has brought Aisha to meet his family. Tabu plays his wife Manju, from whom he has been separated for 18 years, the mother of his grown up kids.

De De Pyaar De shares its DNA with Luv Ranjan’s sexist films but this time around instead of men putting women down, vilifying them as conniving shrews or ditzy airheads, it pits woman against woman, each shaming the other on matters related to their age, appearance, and dressing. I will admit that although politically incorrect, many of the jokes land, and there are some laughs to be had watching a game of one-upmanship unfold between Tabu and Rakul Preet’s characters. Metaphors about old cars versus newer models are low hanging fruit, but a joke involving dal gets the biggest cheers. Tabu, especially, takes her best crack at the frequently silly material and not surprisingly makes much of it work.

There are some sharp bits like a running joke about Ashish’s reaction to his son crushing on Aisha, and a clutch of laugh-out-loud moments involving Jimmy Sheirgill and Kumud Mishra’s characters. But to be entirely honest, buried under the comedy and some shrieky melodrama De De Pyaar De offers interesting questions to ponder: Who is really responsible when a marriage breaks up? Can former spouses still have love for each other even if they aren’t in love with each other? What are the chances of a 50-year-old woman finding love again?

In what is hands down the film’s best scene, and one that Tabu nails completely, we’re asked to consider why it’s almost always the woman who is expected to be strong and hold things together, seldom allowed to take a break from being responsible. That this film – frequently a puerile comedy – even goes to such places is a minor achievement.

Of the cast, Jimmy Sheirgill is wasted in an underwritten role as Manju’s neighbor and admirer, and ironically Alok Nath gets to crack the film’s tackiest joke as Ashish’s vulgar father. The leads fare better. Ajay Devgn is in good form, both in the comic portions and in the dramatic bits, relying on his gift for restraint in making Ashish a somewhat relatable fellow despite his obvious flaws. Rakul Preet attacks her scenes with confidence, nicely holding her own alongside her seasoned co-stars. But it’s Tabu’s show and she’s easily the best thing in the film. Fitting then that she should get the cheekiest line in the film – about how most older-man-younger-woman relationships tend to go.

Ultimately, watching De De Pyaar De is a frustrating experience because while there are things to admire, including the unconventional ending, there is no escape from the lazy stereotypes, the simplistic moralizing, and the episodic, sitcom-style screenplay. Yes I laughed, and it made me think. Some bits crackle too, but the film needed more of that. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.

Rating: 2.5 / 5