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Rajveer, Paloma’s imperfection is just what the doctor ordered – Beyond Bollywood

First-time director Avnish S Barjatya respects his Rajshri roots, but leaves his own imprint. The lead cast will divide opinion but the neat writing, sound direction yields a fine new age Rajshri romantic drama.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (3 / 5)

Rajveer Deol, Paloma in Dono (2023)

By Mayur Lookhar

In a world that often demands novelty, the real task is to hold on to the constant. A certain rejig is required but it shouldn’t come at the cost of distancing from one’s legacy. Rajshri Productions has built its legacy on films based on family values.  Sooraj Barjatya, a second gen filmmaker, imbibed the same spirit through his simple yet engaging family dramas. The journey began with Maine Pyar Kiya [1989]. After ages, Sooraj experimented with Uunchai [2022] – a slice of life, inspiring drama where he braved to focus more on friendship than family.

Despite a Uunchai, it would be naïve to expect Rajshri to break totally from their legacy.  It’s time to welcome Avnish, the third gen Barjatya who makes his directorial debut with Dono [2023]. Phew, one word title is odd for a Rajshri film. This one is second in a row. So, expect more such surprises. Dono though is no experimental film. Avnish respects his Rajshri roots, but leaves his own imprint via a refreshing new age romantic drama. Dono isn’t so much about finding love, but more about finding closure. 

Bengaluru-based Dev Saraf [Rajveer Deol] is struggling professionally. In his own words, the CEO of a corporate firm is thinking twice before spending on a plumber.  The under-confident Dev suffers further setback when he gets an invitation to attend his childhood crush Alina’s [Kanikka Kapur] destination wedding. It’s a straight no but Dev is intrigued by the words of Anjali Malhotra, a popular love guru on television. The manner in which Anjali [Tisca Chopra] repeatedly hams the word closure could be misinterpreted as blo*** by the voyeuristic viewer.  His tickets, accommodation is perhaps sponsored by the bride, and so our loser introduces himself to the groom’s family as ‘friend of the dulhan‘ (bride). Then there’s Meghna [Paloma] who happily calls herself ‘friend of the dulha‘ (groom). She, too, wasn’t keen to turn up in Thailand. It’s not the dulha, but Meghna feels uncomfortable in the presence of her former boyfriend Gaurav [Aditya Nanda]. Nikhil, Meghna and Gaurav were once a close bunch.

Meghna looks in control of her emotions, but it’s Dev who feels lost in the opulence of this big fat Indian wedding in Thailand.  Does this duo find their respective closure?

A simple tale is enriched by its fine writing, and neat direction.  There are moments where you feel disinterested, but it holds the viewer’s attention for much of its 156 minutes length. The lead cast will divide opinion. Rajveer Deol’s dialogue delivery, Palomo’s expression will be scrutinized, but before one dismisses the duo, it’s important to understand the mindset of these characters.

Dev’s lacked confidence from childhood. He could never muster the courage to express his true feelings to Alina. He’s remained under confident since the day Alina migrated to Mumbai. Yes, he does look innocent, cute, but say cheese and you can see that he doesn’t boast of a great jawline. That could easily put off those who look for the perfect chocolate boy.  Unrequited love plus professional failure, and a person is likely to fall into self-pity mode. Add to it that his own father doesn’t hesitate in running him down in Thailand. It’s natural for Dev to label himself a loser. Can you expect such a person to talk like a hero? Avnish Barjatya wasn’t looking for any macho man or perfect chocolate boy. They needed a dispirited soul which justifies Deol’s underwhelming nature.

Meghna’s confident to begin with, but the veiled barbs from her ex threaten to break that thin shield. Mind you, neither Dev or Meghna are being pretentious. They are jolted in certain moments, but they don’t create any drama in the wedding house. Though unlucky in love, at least Meghna’s professional success has made her a confident person. She’s there for her friends, but chooses to limit her interaction. The one company that she enjoys in this atmosphere is that of her new found friend Dev.  

Paloma might be too wiry for your conventional Bollywood actress. Rajveer isn’t sporting fab abs. To hell with chiseled bodies, perfect jawlines as Rajveer and Paloma humbly embrace the imperfections of their characters. And that is precisely what Avnish needed from his Dev and Meghna.  Their humility, simplicity makes them so relatable.  A Dono required both Rajveer and Paloma to be little underwhelming.  The duo though should be mindful that going forward, this can’t become a template.

The one glam figure in this saga is the dulhan Alina. Young Kanikka Kapur is fit to be a designer’s bride. For a moment, we felt as if a young Kiara Advani appeared in front of our eyes. Alina’s privileges help her in becoming a confident, chirpy girl but she is no pampered child. When you get to marry your love, a dream destination wedding, Alina is bound to be a picture of joy.

Rohan Khurana is a little over-excited as the groom Nikhil, but that’s what Alina desired. Aditya Nanda is impressive in his mean avatar as Gaurav. The Zero’s heartthrob Gurdeep Punj makes a rare appearance in a Bollywood film. The pretty Punj plays Shilpa, a Himani Shivpuri-like loving aunt in a Rajshri film.

Avnish is mindful of retaining some of the Rajshri legacy. The big joint family of the groom, a cricket match between the bride and the groom’s team is trademark Rajshri.  There are seldom any villains in a Rajshri film. Dono is no different. There’s bound be a gulf between the upper and middle class, but Dono doesn’t demean anyone.   There’s unanimity in one thing though. Dono’s playback music pales in comparison to Rajshri classics.

Gone are the days when Rajshri produced music by the dozens. Eight songs is low by Rajshri standards, but a pleasant surprise in the modern era. Save for the title track and Raangla, the others aren’t memorable. The background score though is immersive.

Dono surprises you with its organic storytelling, realistic characters. Yes, there is tension in the end, but the events in the climax are unlike a dramatic wedding finale in a Rajshri film.

Dono’s idea of closure might be far-fetched in the real world. After all, how many will turn up at the wedding of someone that you loved but never expressed your feelings? The Rajshri film humbly urges you to rise above your own self-pity. It reminds you that you don’t really need someone in your life to be happy.  Stop that self-pity, chin up, smile and simply cherish every moment that life throws at you.

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