Lonely Hearts Club:
Rating: Three stars
The novelty in Raaj Shaandilyaa’s film is that Dream Girl is a man. Otherwise, the idea of lonely men confiding in a woman’s voice on the phone has been done in Tumhari Sulu and a forgotten film Call For Fun (Janak Toprani, the writer-director of the latter has alleged that his idea was stolen by the producers of this film).
To make the film family friendly, the sex chat line is turned into a “friendship” line, where fat, bored women, cutting vegetables in their pink cubicles carry out harmless flirtations with men in put-on sexy voices. But Mathura-based Karam (Ayushmann Khurrana) does it better, maybe because he knows what men want. He can speak so well in a woman’s voice, that he is forced to play the parts of Sita and Radha in the town’s stage productions, which leads to random people falling at his feet to seek the blessings of “Sita Maiya” even when Karam is in casual male garb.
Karam is forced to take up this job in a call centre run by a man called W-ji (Rajesh Sharma), because his father Jagjit (Annu Kapoor) is in debt, and their financial situation is dire. Soon, a bunch of lonesome souls are smitten by the voice of Pooja on the phone—that include a poet-cop (Vijay Raaz) with a shrewish wife (Neha Saraf), a “baal brahmachari” Mahender (Abhishek Bannerjee), a teenaged Toto (Raj Bhansali), a heart-broken, man-hating woman Roma (Nishi Bisht) and Karam’s own widowed father.
Karam woos Mahender’s sister Mahi (Nushrat Bharucha), without telling her what he does; the only one privy to his double life is his best buddy, Smiley (Manjot Singh).
There is the sad truth about social isolation in modern societies that mints money for these chat lines, but Dream Girl plays it for laughs, as the men are desperate to marry the woman they have never met. Karam is caught up in a mess and drowns even further in the quicksand of deception when he tries to extricate himself.
The first half of the film is hilarious, the dialogue has a spontaneous, unscripted quality to it and the actors—Khurrana, Kapoor, Singh—make it fun. Even when things could get unpleasant and sordid, Shaandilyaa does not let go of the humour, but the plot gets too convoluted, the comedy laborious (the Jagjit trying to be a Muslim scenes) and the film overstays its welcome by a good 20 minutes.
Ayushmann Khurrana, who has made a career out of playing non-macho men, excels as Karam/Pooja and gives the film a kind of amiable warmth, that it requires to circumvent the darkness of the subject. Dream Girl makes you wonder, though, why is it that only men—and one mannish woman–need a sympathetic ear? For instance, Rajpal’s wife is seen as a nag, who does not understand his poet’s heart, but what must her life be like, alone at home all day, with her husband coming home drunk each night? What are the lives of those women like, who have to deal with male sleaze as part of their work? A film that claims to understand the need for human connection is either indifferent to its women or judges them so harshly.