For starters, Rani and Vijayalakshmi could not have been more different from each other. Rani, as the society would conventionally label is a ‘good girl’, as she herself ( during her maiden drunken stupor) admits, “maine mummy daddy ki har baat maani hai. Aaj tak koi galat kaam nahi kiya.” (I have listened to everything mom dad told me and have never done anything wrong)
A simple middle-class girl from Rajouri in West Delhi, she stands as a benchmark for majority of Indian girls and their dreams – complete your basic education, get married, procreate and then concentrate on raising your children.
Vijayalakshmi on the other hand, is brazen, brash and lives life on her own terms. Whether it is owning up her body or bringing up a child on her own, she makes her own choices, no matter how unconventional they might seem to the outer world. Initially a little taken aback, Rani soon warms upto her, even though she does not adhere to her way of life by a mile, which is completely okay. Unlike a romantic relationship where there needs to be some common ground, the best part of friendship is that you can be as different as chalk and cheese and yet, get along like a house on fire.
When Rani, heartbroken after being dumped by the narcissistic and misogynistic Vijay (Rajkummar Rao) on the eve of her wedding (good riddance as she would later realise) travels to Paris for her honeymoon alone, she encounters an inevitable cultural shock, including an extremely westernised lifestyle, scarcity of vegetarian food and the stark loneliness. After a couple of cold, arid nights, she warms up to the city, even hilariously braving off a mugger, by holding on to her handbag with such tenacity as if her life depends on it! She meets the fiery Vijayalakshmi and the two walk around the city, get drunk and go on shopping trips, with Vijayalakshmi’s extrovertness (read ‘lip to lip’ kisses with boys, as Rani says), being a perfect foil to Rani’s initial closeted personality.
Unlike most Bollywood capers, the movie is not centred around a woman’s affection for a man and except a few fleeting references of Vijay, the story purely focuses on Rani’s character graph going through a metamorphosis. While not judging Vijayalakshmi at any point, Rani proudly hangs around with her in her kurtis, even getting her friend to wear one when they bid goodbye at the station. From Vijayalakshmi, Rani learns to let go and have fun, even as Rani’s bemused family is shocked to see her skimpy attire on a video call, with the spunky daadi commenting, “arre yahan to adult film chal rahi hai.” (An adult film is going on here)
On the other hand, Rani brings a certain sense of balance to Vijayalakshmi’s otherwise chaotic life. On a day of proposed drinking revelry, Rani suggests doing something else and the two women, far from the hustle-bustle of the city just soak in the fresh air, while admiring a beautifully lit up Eiffel Tower, without saying a word to each other.
The fact that Vijayalakshmi is a single mother does not stop her from having a life, a fact that Rani comes to appreciate. In fact, when Vijayalakshmi asks Rani to carry a parcel to her friend Ruksar in Amsterdam, it turns out that she is a pole dancer! Stumped, Rani nevertheless meets Ruksar lovingly, even innocently telling her that ‘ye kaam toh bahut mushkil hai‘ (this is such a difficult job), before giving her a warm hug, thus proving that women just need to be understood, without fear of judgement and ridicule.
Over the course of the movie, Rani encounters many ‘firsts’ – right from travelling alone from Paris to Amsterdam to sharing the room with three boys, who initially sceptical about, she quickly befriends, repeatedly calling the Russian one Sikander, even though his name is Oleksander. Unlike Vijay, who constantly berated Rani for her desire to work or just have a voice of her own, her new found friends give her the freedom and respect she truly deserves.
From her kurtis, Rani slowly transitions to long, pastel flowy dresses, a metaphor for coming of age for her, as she struts around the city in boots, attending rock concerts and having the time of her life with her friends. However, Vikas makes it a point to keep Rani’s intrinsic personality still intact and while she is elated to go back to India wearing her trademark Kurti, something in her has changed, this time for the better. In the end, she without a shred of awkwardness, goes to Vijay’s house and gives him a warm hug thanking him, leaving the repentant, now x fiance, ruing what he has lost.
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ETimes Decoded is our weekly column where we deconstruct movies, characters or plots to uncover a fresh, often undiscovered perspective.