When we think of “Punjabi culture”, one’s imagination would conjure up stereotypical images of huge extended family gatherings, fancy loud weddings with lots of Bhangra beats and beer, makki ki roti and sarson ka saag, and the list goes on. Going from north to south, some images typically associated with South Indian (specifically Tamilian) culture, include: Bharatanatyam, Carnatic Music, eating idlis and dosas on banana leaves, kancheepuram silk saris, temples with large gopurams, etc. Now, if we put people from these two completely different cultures in the same room and told them to get along, what would happen? This is precisely the situation in Abhishek Varman’s latest film, “2 States”, based off the bestselling novel by Chetan Bhagat.
A Tamilian girl, Ananya Swaminathan (Alia Bhatt), and a Punjabi boy, Krish Malhotra (Arjun Kapoor), meet at IIM (Indian Institute of Management) Ahmedabad and become friends almost immediately. But, as we all know, this is a Bollywood film where “ek ladka aur ek ladki sirf dost nahin ho sakte (A boy and a girl can never be just friends)” so before we know it, Ananya and Krish are in a romantic relationship. After two years of committed dating, they introduce their families to one another at their convocation and everything goes downhill from there. The rest of the film centers on the couple trying to make their families understand and like one other.
With regards to the script, the director played it safe and more or less stayed with the original story by Chetan Bhagat, with few eliminations and additions that were not detrimental to the plot or progression of the film itself. In terms of thematic elements, a feminist undercurrent is clearly present in the first half of the film, where Ananya emerges from a classroom wearing short shorts as a desire to express her sexuality (or maybe, because it’s India, it’s just really hot outside!) Unfortunately, the sexualization and objectification that comes with it manifests itself when Krish calls her out for her “indecent exposure”, which, being the feminist that she is, Ananya couldn’t care less about. Another scene that was particularly empowering was the Punjabi wedding in which Ananya talks some sense into the bridegroom who is upset about the bride’s parents not fulfilling dowry demands. Eventually, Ananya convinces the groom to proceed with the wedding without worrying about dowry. Ananya’s references to stereotypes of women belonging in the kitchen and her own lack of cooking skills also contributed to her personality as an atypical heroine in Bollywood, a much needed empowering change from the traditional heroine who miraculously knows how to make aloo parathas and samosas from scratch upon getting married.
The director did a great job presenting Ananya’s folks as a middle class educated Tamil family living a simple life in Mylapore, Chennai. Ananya’s parents spoke good Tamil and Hindi, which was refreshing and unlike many other mainstream Hindi films where South Indians are falsely stereotyped as speaking terrible Hindi. The acting by the entire cast was commendable and each individual played his or her role well. Due credit must also be given to Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy for their melodious musical compositions, interspersing Hindi and Tamil lyrics as necessary, and to actress Revathy’s costume designer for the beautiful kancheepuram silk saris that completed her look as an educated Tam-Brahm housewife.
Being a Tam-Brahm girl myself, there were definitely some small things I noticed that could have been done better and would have put the cherry on top of this otherwise sweet rom-com. Firstly, although I absolutely adored Alia’s vibrant kurtis, skirts, and salwar kameezes throughout the film, all her saris and daavanis (half-saris) as well as her wedding outfit in the last scene could have been much more genuinely South Indian to match the authenticity of her mother’s grand silk saris in the film. If Krish can wear a panchakacham (type of veshti/dhoti typically worn by the bridegroom in a South Indian wedding), then Ananya could have most definitely carried off a madisaar (9 yard sari worn by the bride in a South Indian wedding), complemented with temple jewelry to make the wedding seem more infused with South Indianness. Nevertheless, the jasmine flowers and jimki earrings definitely added that extra South Indian touch to Alia’s look.
Even though many of the movie’s situational premises and arguments between the two families are heavily based on the stereotypes of each culture, it is these stereotypes that contribute to Krish and Ananya’s difficulty in resolving the families’ conflict with one another. In the process of bickering and sorting everything out, however, the characters journey inward and learn more about themselves. From Krish’s father dealing with anger issues and past life failures, to Ananya’s mother’s low self-esteem due to constantly approaching and being rejected by Carnatic Music teachers in Chennai, each character’s unique experiences contribute to his or her actions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors throughout the movie. In a sense, battling these cultural stereotypes brings about positive transformations in the characters and helps them reconcile any issues and insecurities of their own, whether it is the parents’ thought of their child leaving them or the children themselves breaking out of their shells to discover their true selves.
Final Verdict: Overall, 2 States was an entertaining, elegant, and enjoyable film, with elements of comedy, romance, drama, and psychological introspection into the characters’ thoughts and feelings. If you’re looking for something classy and absent of crass item numbers or excessive violence, definitely don’t miss out on this one!