'Thank You for Coming' movie review: Of fairytales and feminism
This Barbie is a Yash Raj heroine stuck in realistic cinema. Remember Pooja from Dil To Pagal Hai (1997), who believed, ‘Someone... somewhere is made for you’? Kanika Kapoor (Bhumi Pednekar) in Thank You for Coming is forced to believe that no one is made for her. She is that girl on social media who regularly posts pictures of Shah Rukh Khan, writing that they don’t make men like him anymore. And the film is her two-hour pity party but served laughter, drama, and emotions, though inconsistently.
Growing up in Delhi, Kanika is put through different stages of shaming—by an imbecile boyfriend for not knowing how to get intimate, by judgmental batch mates and teachers—for chasing her teenage desire to have sex. Making those jibes a part of her adult personality, she jumps from one man to another in pursuit of happiness and self-worth. But, she is not alone in this journey. There is her free-spirited mother (Natasha Rastogi), a worrying grandmother (Dolly Ahluwalia in spectacular form), who is of the opinion that feminism has ruined women’s minds, and her two best friends, played by a compelling Shibani Bedi and a pleasant Dolly Singh, both making their big-screen debut.
In her pursuit of happily ever after, Kanika has messy but often hilarious encounters with men who are unavailable either sexually or emotionally. There’s Sushant Digvikar’s Rahul, who is hardly ever interested in sex. Then there’s Anil Kapoor’s professor, who claims to be friends with Gulzar and wants to marry Kanika, but old age restricts him from walking even a mile, let alone walking the aisle. Next comes a 30-something Arjun Malhotra (Karan Kundrra), who thinks that 32-year-old Kanika is too old for him. Frustrated and scared of ending up like her single mother, she decides to settle with the one guy who dotes on her. But before she settles for the supposed perfect ending, she experiences her first orgasm on the night of her engagement, albeit not with her fiancé. Now, she needs to find this miracle man.
Somewhere in the middle of the film, I asked myself, ‘What is the purpose of this film? Am I supposed to watch a girl obsessed with fairytales? Does it have a bigger meaning?’ The questions led to a simple answer: Like life, stories don’t always have to make sense as long as you are having fun. And director Karan Boolani’s debut feature is a joy ride that respects the silliness of its passengers.
We are used to seeing coming-of-age men graduating from one woman to another until they find ‘the one’, but when a woman is seen following a similar narrative, it throws us off. Not only is this notion rooted in sexism, but also clever conceptualisation. Every man, shown emotionally unavailable before finding a woman worthy of his attention, is glorified as desirable. But if a woman remains unsatisfied with her love life, she is either pitied or viewed as choosy. She is not a charmer who hasn’t found a man worthy of her, but a damsel in distress questioning her self-worth.
This is where Thank You for Coming scores its biggest win. It makes you loosen up and shows that if given a chance, silly and dramatic women yearning for love also make for exciting cinema. It shows that a woman’s purpose to exist need not be for the world or how useful she is to the people around her; it can be just for herself and her innocent pleasures. Boolani and writers Radhika Anand and Prashasti Singh tell you that feminism is not devoid of fun. It’s also soft, dreamy, joyful, sexy, and whatever a woman wants it to be.
Having said that, Thank You for Coming is not without its flaws. While it’s understandable that the director wanted a frothy set-up in the first half before grounding the film in emotions in the second half, he could have used some context to give Kanika’s story a solid origin, making it more believable. That he is not helped by the comic punches, many of which fall flat, is another problem. Sex comedies can easily veer into crassness. Sadly, several portions of the writing are more tacky than funny.
The same can be said about the film’s messaging, which, at times, lacks sophistication, especially in the climax where the protagonist shouts, ‘Smash Patriarchy.’ There is nothing worse than screenwriters incorporating social media language into a narrative, which not only looks superficial but also limits a film’s reach unless it’s intended to strictly speak to those well-versed in the X (formerly Twitter) vocabulary.
Pednekar, though dependable, is unable to shed the firmness that she has inherited by mostly playing women fighting against societal norms, in a film that floats in lightness. While it’s not a comment on her craft, she does come across too strongly on screen for a regular girl. Some of the film’s most brilliant moments feature the supporting act, especially the dazzling drag queen sequence with Sushant and a showdown between Kanika and her best friends that especially displays Bedi’s strengths as an actor.
Historically, unlike the West, Hindi cinema has rarely offered films that feel like a crazy party on some days and a warm hug on others. One that lets a girl be and invites her to a world of fabulous fabrics and frothy fun. Where it’s okay to be average and more than okay to be your own Prince Charming. Producer Rhea Kapoor’s Thank You for Coming is that rare offering, which I am glad I RSVPed to.