Qarib Qarib Singlle is a road movie-cum-coming-of-age romance, with a bittersweet tang to it, and yet it is peppy, and fun and fresh: two adults, a man and a woman, connect via a dating site, and find that online, can, sometimes, translate into something vital and real, offline.
Chalk Yogi (Irrfan) and Cheese Jaya (Parvathy) meet by design, but there’s nothing constructed about the journey they undertake, even though the reason of their setting out is so flimsy as to be laughable.
What’s nice about these two people (in Bollywood parlance, they would be called ‘mature’) is that they’ve already lived a little. They’ve not just notched up years, but experience too. They bear the marks of previous relationships. They feel fleshed out, each carrying over something from the past: keepsakes, memories, the smell of former lovers.
Yogi arrives on the scene, fully formed, without any baggage. Or at least that’s what he makes us, and himself, think. He is single, and very ready to mingle. Jaya has a marriage behind her, and is now, reluctantly, looking around. She takes a long considering look at Yogi once, twice, but isn’t quite sure, and you don’t blame her. He dresses in blinding colours and is cheerily loud, which doesn’t quite make up for him being seriously loaded. She is all pastel and understated, and an insecure people pleaser.
These two cut a chatty, picturesque swathe from Hardwar to Gangtok, via Rajasthan, meeting up with past paramours, bumping into random strangers, and seeing where these new roads, and the new company, takes them.
The pace is just right: not too fast, not too slow. Things develop unhurriedly. This is the kind of film where nothing happens while everything is happening.
The writers keep Yogi a little mysterious: where, for example, does he get his dosh from? Who, really, is he? I did want to know more about him. But there’s no mistaking the spark that glows between the unlikely Mr Yogi and the very likeable Ms Jaya, as they smile, squabble, and yes, snore their way through the film.
Irrfan’s brand of unkempt, tumble-locked sexiness comes through strongly precisely because he doesn’t try too hard, revealing flashes of banked passion behind the deceptively laidback demeanour. In the hands of a lesser actor, the thin material he’s given to work with would have turned him into a faintly distasteful louche. Irrfan delights in it, and makes of it a man who may be on the lookout, but the pleasure he is seeking is not only of the flesh. It is also of the soul.
And he gets a wonderful co-actor to play with. This film’s beating heart is Parvathy (the lead actor of the terrific Malayalam film Take Off). She is such a breath of fresh air, such a break from the dressed up dolls of Bollywood: a breathing, alive young woman, sensitive to those around her, searching, but not too desperately, not for that mythical One, but for Someone who may be a right fit.
There’s a lot going on between Yogi and Jaya, and that’s what we want in relationship dramas, this awareness of each other that builds slowly yet steadily. Director Tanuja Chandra returns after a sizeable gap, and delivers a well-crafted, winsome rom-com. It is mostly so right that you are compelled to ignore that eye-roll of a reason that leads to the journey, a few flat moments and underlined scenes – zooming into faces to tell us how the character is feeling – especially one in which one of them, finally, grows up.
At the end of it, you hope that their relationship status will change to Kareeb Kareeb Couple. I walked out smiling, and sighing. With pleasure.