Tanuja Chandra’s Qarib Qarib Singlle is a film to warm your heart, keep you smiling and forget your troubles. Despite being rough around the edges, it has all the right flavours of a wonderful Desi romcom from a roadtrip romance between two delightfully well-etched characters who share a bubbling chemistry, to a set of fun-filled adventures, all grounded in a distinct Indianness.
Not unlike its lead pair come to learn about each other, it is a film that has a whole lot of heart and much to be discovered beneath the surface for those willing to look past its flaws. Most of these relate to the film’s threadbare story, from writer Kamna Chandra, and somewhat improbable premise. Jaya (Parvathy) and Yogi (Irrfan Khan) inhabit the world of romcoms, where the idea of embarking on a jet-setting, cross-country adventure with someone you barely know without a care in the world, all the while ignoring any sense of real life responsibilities, is perfectly plausible. It’s a world I certainly yearn to live in. But once you’re bought into this, the film’s comical charm and upbeat energy wash over you and keep you invested.
Jaya is the widow living in a self-imposed cocoon of sorts and in an effort to rediscover the joys of life and as they say ‘get back out there’, she signs herself up onto a dating website through which she meets inimitable poet Yogi. After a few initial dates between what appear to be polar opposites, they decide to take a trip together to meet all of Yogi’s exes, get to know one another and see if they have any sort of future together. What’s particularly refreshing is that this is Jaya’s story more than it is Yogi’s. She is undoubtedly our protagonist, and he is but the curious, colourful, enigma that happens to her.
Qarib Qarib Singlle lives on the age-old filmy convention that shared journeys between two people serve as the perfect setting for self-discovery, facing inner demons, forging new connections and eventually, falling in love. In this regard, the film certainly doesn’t disappoint providing what feels like an authentic travel-based loved story with a mishmash of connection, conversation, mixed signals, lost baggage, missed trains and emotions firing on all cylinders.
The film is led by the charming Parvathy, known for lighting up the screen in Malayalam films such as the delightful Bangalore Days, here making a strong foray into Hindi films. She is certainly well cast here having proven her affinity for playing naturalistic, grounded characters time and again and does well in bringing to life Jaya’s inner conflict of, struggling to open up to new possibilities and figuring out exactly what she wants. I for one hope we see much more of the undeniably bright actress in future. As Yogi, Irrfan Khan marvelously embodies the adorably intrusive, lovably overbearing and almost addictively irritating character in all his glorious quirks. So much so that you just can’t imagine anyone else playing the role.
The screenplay from Tanuja Chandra and Gazal Dhaliwal offers high-energy dialogue peppered with humour, most of which lands as intended, largely down to the pair’s crackling back and forth and Irrfan Khan’s fine comic timing. I’m quite sure I could watch their constant squabbles for hours on end. Equally the writers capture some lovely moments, rich in relatability and resonance. In one sparkling scene early on in the film, Jaya embarks on the nerve wrecking process of making an online dating profile for the first time, with all the over-thinking and casual exaggeration that comes with it. Within moments of completing her profile, she finds herself berated with an onslaught of messages from creepy men causing her to toss away her laptop in frustration.
However, the film also somewhat suffers from a clash of sensibilities, often oscillating between a smart, understated romance asking us to look beneath the surface, and a more contrived tone in trying to pander for a wider appeal, especially early on . It’s also tad stretched, and perhaps includes one ex too many in its second half. Certain sequences also fail to land as intended such as one which takes place directly after an emotionally-charged, heated exchange between the two, after which Jaya has some sort of sudden, on the spot, filmy-epiphany where she calls all the people in her life mistreating her to give them a mouthful, thereby fixing all of life’s problems and experiencing emotional growth all in a matter of moments.
Above all Qarib Qarib Singlle is for those of us who have become too comfortable with our isolation and too used to the silences in which we have confined ourselves. It encourages us to once again embrace the noise and all the chaos and joy that come with it and live again. The film’s inviting charms and vibrant energy left a smile on my face that refused to budge, I’m going with three and a half stars.