What can be funnier for a film titled Girlfriend, to have a poster-boy who has been ‘eternally’ single? The hero, who is often a part of ridicule and his own misery, takes the center-stage and taps into every familiar trope assigned to those like him. Be it an earphone constantly hanging from his t-shirt or the constant anxiety to even face any apparent ‘crush,’ to be completely unaware about his own appearance and hardly having the dressing sense. Everything reflects through Nachu, the hero. However, writer-director Upendra Sidhaye is able to subvert these clichés to showcase something extremely personal, while highlighting the ‘what’s’ behind all these visual and behavioral cues.
Nachiket Pradhan (Amey Wagh), the protagonist of Girlfriend, is somewhere in his late-twenties or early-thirties. He lives with his parents and a younger brother. In the contemporary Marathi family, being ‘that old’ comes with its share of social pressure to have been married; to possibly having had kids of their own. But, the miserable Nachu (what his parents call him) hasn’t been in a relationship because of many reasons from self-pity to absent-mindedness.
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Hell breaks loose for him, when, just like every year, his birthday arrives on the 14th of February- the Valentine’s Day. All the comic shticks related to this offer the comedic punches without much insight about his character. The real conflict arises when he breaks down with all the misery, with a self-provoking monologue in almost DeNiro-style; and accidentally changes his relationship status on the social media, to being committed. Not sharing much of the details further for you to unravel them yourselves, I can say that Girlfriend surely taps on its fair share of accidental moments. While providing much more intimate insights about his character, or of his eventual girlfriend Alisha (played by ever-reliable Sai Tamhankar).
The better aspect about its script is how it doesn’t stop at just its oddball-comic premise and builds up further with the precise and purposeful detailing for its characters. A gender-dynamics of a weak, sensitive woman falling for a strong, masochistic figure has been changing for good and the result is reflecting from the films like Ishq (Malayalam) to the same-day release Dear Comrade (Telugu) to an extent. With Girlfriend, it is an admirable element for sure. But the script goes further to analyze these behavioral patterns without overtly obvious expositions.
Alisha’s character is so well written that it maintains a sense of intrigue about her without revealing any particular details. Like her sudden impulse the moment someone touches her or the fear of being judged over her strange habits and the struggle of trying to fit in the culture of normalcy; every small detail indicated something painful from her past without feeling a need to disclose anything. Adding any particular happenings to back up her behavior would have made it too obvious for the drama. The film’s purposeful secrecy rather makes the viewers try to decode her, getting in Nachya’s shoes, to understand who she is.
Besides, his character is shown with enough ‘silent’ moments to bring out the pathos of a seemingly looser-character. In a way, this was his journey to find himself, just like her who feels equally lost as him. Some of the moments are a little too personal to witness. Like the scenes after getting dumped by almost every single person on his birthday and opening the fridge to eat the remaining piece of cake on his own birthday is beyond heartbreaking.
And the better part about the film, none of the incidents feel fake or implausible despite having every chance to seem dramatized. Credit goes to the writing which makes the best use of contemporary setting, without preaching to be fresh or youthful in any way. The characters behave just like the way their counterparts in real would. The largely authentic portrayal of Nachya or even of the Marathi household brings the required charm in just the right proportion.
It’s quite difficult to stand out in the cliché genre itself, but Girlfriend clearly manages to stand apart while never leaving its foot rooted from the underlying tragedy. It’s a clever mixture where almost every comic point works because of its dramatic Genuity. As a result, none of the comic gags feel to be out-of-the-place. Besides, the songs are purposefully used to share his psyche, from over-fantasizing his love-story in the track called ‘Love Story’ to the bombastic ‘Nachya got a Girlfriend’ sharing his overbearing joy of being accepted by his relatives and peers.
It’s a sweet film that hardly ever falls in the trap of being in love with itself and indulging in the obvious clichés. It rather romanticizes their strangeness and quirky habits that make them more similar than they imagined in the first place. It celebrates this quirkiness, while never going on the verge of being a quirky film itself. And the performances are just as empathetic as every other element. Amey keeps the innocence intact while never submitting to being a caricature. After his particularly heroic turn in comic-based Faster Fene, this film just proves the wide range that he has to offer. And Sai complements his performance while making Alisha exist beyond that.
A little too familiar structure of Girlfriend’s plot may feel ordinary to some viewers, but the infectious charm that the film carries is enough for them to dig deeper to understand its characters bit further. It is more than reassuring that the filmmakers are coming out of their confines of unrealistic romances in unfamiliar settings, to the stories rooted in the actual life. Fandry or Khwada did that with the rural settings, while Muramba and Girlfriend did the same with the urban milieu.
As a result, Girlfriend turns out to be a refreshing change for the cliche genre of romantic comedy in Indian cinema. It is clearly a standout from the Marathi films of the year.