At one point, late in “Meri Pyaari Bindu,” Ayushmann Khurrana’s character, writer Abhimanyu, admits to Bindu (Parineeti Chopra) that he’s struggling to pen a love story, to which she replies understandingly, “what can now be said about love that’s new?” It’s almost as though director Akshay Roy, knowing that his debut feature wouldn’t satisfactorily answer that question, preempted the audience by asking it first. While “Meri Pyaari Bindu” isn’t entirely clichéd, it also never quite finds its footing in terms of tone, narrative, or chemistry between the lead characters, coming off instead as both confused and confusing about where it’s going or what it’s trying to say.
When we first meet Abhimanyu in Mumbai; the author of sketchy pulp fiction horror novels like “Dracula’s Lover” and “The Witch’s Blouse,” he’s stuck in his third year of writer’s block trying to draft something deeper. When a trip to his childhood home in Calcutta unearths an old mixed tape made by him and ex-girlfriend Bindu, he’s finally struck with inspiration.
From that point, scenes of Abhimanyu clickety-clacking on his typewriter alternate with long trips down memory lane as his story takes us way back to 1983, when Bindu moved in next door, a shared penchant for old Hindi songs was discovered, and best-friendship commenced — only for Abhimanyu, so did a lifetime of being completely smitten.
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The problem is, it’s hard to see why. Despite flashbacks that follow the duo through school, college, a brief stint as pen pals during time apart, and an eventual reunion as adults, there’s unbelievably little that distinguishes their friendship as special or even solid, let alone grounds for a deep-rooted love (however one-sided). Without a single meaningful or enlightening conversation exchanged between the two until a pivotal moment that comes way too late, the characters seem like strangers not only to the audience, but also to each other.
Even their initial bond, over a common love for vintage Bollywood ballads, quickly becomes a superficial tool to force renditions and references of classic oldies into the plot in hopes to enforce the characters’ otherwise nonexistent connection. Unfortunately, the strategy has the opposite effect; the golden tunes lose meaning and luster as they turn into a soundtrack for a passionless and substance-deficient relationship that we can’t summon the energy to care enough about.
Abhimanyu, for the most part, appears simply enamored by the spontaneous, spunky firecracker that is Bindu, describing her, affectionately and naively, as “trouble.” It’s clear that Roy and screenwriter Suprotim Sengupta are determined to portray her impulsiveness as adorable, irresistible, and admirably full of life. But as we watch her abandon university, casually break off at least two engagements (it doesn’t help that we’re never introduced to her suitors) — and perhaps most aggravatingly — use and dismiss Abhimanyu as she pleases, she comes off as flaky, selfish, and incredibly unlikeable.
Meanwhile, Abhimanyu, both devoted and exasperatingly besotted, waits, sometimes coaxes, and constantly hopes that when she finally commits to anything, it’ll be to him. This, in addition to a sluggish plot that hardly builds tension or stakes around Abhimanyu and Bindu’s relationship to make us root for them, drags the film down, watering down any semblance of its purpose as it inches towards a rather underwhelming conclusion.
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But while the film struggles to find or make a point, and the characters struggle to resonate, both are saved by the performances. Abhimanyu may lack a backbone, but Khurrana’s boy-next-door appeal and flair for comic timing manage to give him a charm that the writer couldn’t. And while there’s more attention than necessary paid to Chopra’s wardrobe and makeup, she returns to the screen after a three-year hiatus with her natural talent intact, grounding Bindu with flickers of genuine sensitivity and vulnerability, particularly she grapples with her dormant singing career, hinting that there’s more to the character behind that flighty surface.
Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough material here to make those — or any other — briefly shining moments last. There may not be anything brand new to say about love, but dawdling along with contrived nostalgia and no arcs to speak of, “Meri Pyaari Bindu” doesn’t say much about anything at all.
“Meri Pyaari Bindu” opened in theaters on Friday, May 12.
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