Dating’s hard enough to seem impossible for Indian women. Sometimes, all you’re left with is a choice between skeezy and entitled, and at those times the latter can seem a good enough choice. At least that seems the unintentional moral of the story when you watch Qarib Qarib Singlle.
Jaya (an adorable Parvathy) is a widow and a successful insurance professional. Over the years, she’s turned into a workaholic and a complete doormat for her ‘friends’ – babysitting their dogs, taking their children shopping and so on. One of them even describes her as “stepney aunty”, someone you only think of when you need a job done.
On a whim, Jaya signs up to a dating site, and is instantly flooded with messages that range from “ewwww!” to “How are such people even allowed on the internet.” One man though stands out from the pack for his polite and respectful tone, asking if she is agreeable to contributing to a coffee shop’s profits together.
Enter Yogi (Irrfan Khan), a poet who has dispensed with the need to worry about a wage by being a successful food entrepreneur. At the first meeting, you don’t know what to make of him. He creepily watches her type and memorises her password. He practically arm-twists her into dinner, and then gets her number by pretending his phone has died and using her phone to call his driver.
But he’s also funny and affable, and can charm the pants off anyone he meets. Within just a short while, he’s managed to convince Jaya to take off on a road trip around the country with him, so he can meet his ex-girlfriends and find out if they all pine for him. Jaya lies to everyone about where she’s going, since even she seems to realise that not everything feels kosher about all of this.
Soon, though, we realise that Yogi isn’t malicious or creepy. His exes all remember him far more fondly than we’d expect. He’s easygoing and perfectly sweet, with a smooth self-deprecating sense of humour that you can’t help but like. But he is also an archetypal manspreader, used to getting his way and surprised that anyone would object to the fun ride he’s determined to take them on.
So, he twice abandons Jaya because he wants to hold onto a tiny gift from an ex, and even more incredulously, because he just has to lay his hands on a plate of pakodas just before a train leaves. So, it’s completely mystifying why Jaya continues to give him more chances after all this.
Despite this obvious discomfort in the script, though, there’s still a lot to like in Qarib Qarib. Director Tanuja Chandra is more than competent at putting together a rom-com. She’s careful to keep the tone light and breezy, so that it’s easy enough to suspend niggling objections to the film and float along on the frothiness of the tale. But she doesn’t veer into silliness either, just keeping the film in a happy place throughout.
And Parvathy is delightful in her first Bollywood film, giving us a fascinating mix of hesitant vulnerability and radiant exuberance. It’s clear to see that she’s really inhabited her role. There’s not a hint of excess from her, but she still manages to fill every scene with her presence. And her dialogue delivery in Hindi, shifting to Malayalam every time she’s frustrated, is perfectly endearing.
Irrfan unleashes every bit of understated, roguish charm that has made him a favourite of so many. In his hands, it’s impossible to not like Yogi.
But still, as the end credits roll by, you’re left wondering if Jaya couldn’t have done just a little bit better for herself.