It’s not the best of phases for Ayushmann Khurrana. A one-man industry before the pandemic, his stock has fallen considerably in recent years. Gulabo Sitabo (2020), for all its charm, went straight-to-digital and remains grievously under-seen. His ‘social message’ films aren’t working like they used to — Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, Anek and Doctor G bear out this fact. Meanwhile, a slick and sophisticated outing like An Action Hero (2022) was perhaps too clever for its own good. Its failure appears to have put Khurrana in a tough spot. He knows that Indian audiences have grown more impatient: they seek familiar comforts and escapes. It’s why he is out with a sequel to Dream Girl(2019), one of his shrillest, yet most commercially successful films.
Directed and co-written by Raaj Shaandilyaa — who also helmed the first film — Dream Girl 2 doubles up as both a sequel and a reboot. The setting, the characters, the jokes… it’s all the same but cranked up to ninety. Once again, Karam (Khurrana) is a lithesome Mathura boy with a talent for impersonation. Once again, he lives with his debt-ridden father (Annu Kapoor). Karam this time is in love with Pari (Ananya Panday), but needs to urgently improve his fortunes to win her hand in marriage. Once again, he becomes ‘Pooja,’ going beyond a kittenish voice on the phone and impersonating her in the flesh. Shaandilyaa, once again, shows real delicacy in his handling of cross-gender comedy; the camera drools over Karam’s sashaying midriff, and there is a running gag about the two oranges he stuffs in his bra.
Dream Girl 2 (Hindi)
Director: Raaj Shaandilyaa
Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Ananya Panday, Paresh Rawal, Seema Pahwa, Rajpal Yadav, Vijay Raaz, Manjot Singh
Run-time: 134 minutes
Storyline: In need of money, Karam poses as a bar dancer, a psychiatrist and eventually a rich heir’s wife
On the advice of his best chum Smiley (Manjot Singh), Karam as Pooja takes up work as a bar dancer, then as a psychiatrist (?). Before we know it, he’s married to a doleful young man named Shahrukh (Abhishek Banerjee). The setting expands to a wealthy Muslim household in Agra, with colliding subplots and multiple hidden-identity romances. It becomes too convoluted for words, an error of comedies more than a comedy of errors. For all his TV writing credentials, Shaandilyaa cannot orchestrate chaos in a coherent manner. He lacks the zest and feel of a Priyadarshan; indeed, it is sad to see thoroughbred Priyadarshan actors like Paresh Rawal, Rajpal Yadav and Manoj Joshi struggle to lift this film.
At times, as a franchise comedy, Dream Girl 2 surpasses Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 in silliness and unoriginality. Most of the gags are stolen from the first film: Annu Kapoor’s Muslim travesties, Karam seducing unsuspecting men on the phone. The few jokes that land are usually at the expense of a character’s age, body type or mental well-being. A disclaimer proclaiming early on that the makers hold the LGBTQIA+ community in ‘high regards’ had me shuddering in apprehension. Turns out, Dream Girl 2 isn’t uniquely offensive to a specific identity group. Instead, its enemies are logic, good taste and comedic artistry.
Shaandilyaa also appears incapable of shaking off his TV roots: there are nods in the dialogue to Kapil Sharma, Roadies, Kasautii Zindagi Kay. Like the first part, Dream Girl 2 is exactly the kind of film that might find favour with a TV audience. Now and then, the film brings up real events — COVID, demonetisation, the Sri Lankan economic crisis. We’re meant to chuckle at these references, on cue, no matter their graveness. Meanwhile, an inter-religious wedding that goes down without incident or protest in Uttar Pradesh is passed off as commonplace.
There is a perceptible amount of queerbaiting in the Smiley-Karam track (an element present in the first film as well). Khurrana goes about the cross-dressing and chest-heaving and eyelashes-fluttering with a garish glee. The new film gives him even more personalities to juggle; touchingly, he’s less convincing as angry, butch Karam than he is as Pooja. The actor’s conviction in his own brand of cinema is so certain that he somehow turns the farcical climax into an extended monologue on the healing effects of love and acceptance. Panday, tacking on a Mathura accent, stares on in bafflement; and so do we. At over two hours, the experience of Dream Girl 2 is far from the oneiric. Often it’s a nightmare.
Dream Girl 2 is currently in theatres