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  • Writer's pictureAmruta

Hot take: Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar

Updated: May 20, 2023

The first thing that strikes you in Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar ('You're a Liar, I'm a Cheater' - 2023) is not its misogyny played for laughs, which is something of a brand identity for director Luv Ranjan's filmography, but its wholly cynical worldview in which every character has a transactional view of relationships. After the opening credits, which are about the only part of this film that has anything close to a peppy newness, we are given a glimpse into the protagonist Rohan Arora's family. In this loud, Punjabi gang we have what seems to be a toxic mother, whose idea of disciplining her wayward adult son is to slap him regularly and, more perplexingly, a seven-year old child who takes bribes to keep her uncle's break-up business a secret. One must wonder how far gone the director and writer thinks the modern world is if a duo of twenty-year-olds regularly use foul language and drink alcohol around a child only to shut her up with wads of cash.

But it seems Luv Ranjan really does see the world through this transactional lens. In his first two blockbuster outings 'Pyaar ka Punchnama' and 'Sonu ke Titu ke Sweety' the central conflict is about a man having to choose between his woman and his best guy friend, as if it is not humanly possible for a mature adult to nurture both types of relationships without having to 'sacrifice' something. While those films attracted justifiable criticisms of being sexist, Ranjan's idea of growth is oddly to turn both the man and the woman into equally scheming, deceitful tricksters trying to play each other. This is a reasonably funny premise and could have turned into a sparkling film about two superlative con artists if only the two people were treated as individual characters rather than representations of their respective sexes in the modern age. Instead what we get is the same old battle of the sexes in a sparkly progressive-looking bottle. The only way to demonstrate this is to draw up a list. Let's take, for instance, the characterization of the "modern, independent" female protagonist played by Shraddha Kapoor. For some reason, the director and writer seem to think that the emancipation of the modern woman automatically reverses the roles between men and women. The character–with the perhaps not incidentally infantile name of Tinni–has a thriving but unnamed career and the ability to drive her own car. She makes her entry into the film in a bizarre song and dance routine about her alcoholism, only to invite the smitten male character into her jeep for a car ride in which she promises to "keep him safe" and then take him to a bar where she turns around and asks him to "check her out" while she's walking away. She's a grown woman who laughs at the idea of a summer romance and yet talks about having sex as "taking advantage" of the other person. In essence, Ranjan's manic pixie dreamgirl is a woman who has the curves of a siren but is a "bro" on the inside. No longer does this film then need the central conflict of the previous two movies, because the male protagonist finds the perfect combination of bro-energy and feminine-charm in the same person. Not only does he proceed to fall in love with her, but he "sacrifices" his actual guy friend's request to save him from a bad marriage to do so. Because falling in love with a woman, in Ranjan's worldview, is bound to turn one into a bad friend. So we come full circle. Then let's look at the presentation of Rohan Arora's toxic family, in which, as mentioned before, a mother regularly insults and slaps her child, a little girl seems to be way too money-minded for her age, and a grandmother and sister's idea of showing care is simply to interfere. We are supposed to think this family is progressive because the father cooks and the grandmother has no objection to Tinni's 'two-piece' swimsuits. Yet again, Ranjan gives us the well-worn patriarchal idea of "family knows best" in a new bottle. In this family, the shrill mother (Dimple Kapadia) thinks nothing of berating her son for irresponsible accounting but is somehow okay with both her son and her future daughter-in-law's irresponsible drinking. Only a mind that conflates care with indulgence could think that allowing women to behave as badly as men–rather than treating them both as adults responsible for the consequences of their actions–is somehow 'progressive.' When Tinni says she doesn't make the kind of money Rohan does, the family simply replies "we don't mind if you sleep until noon" or "we'll give you a salary." Yet again, the idea of work is reduced to the idea of money, as often is the case in many Indian families. There is no concept of a woman's own agency or sense of achievement sourced from anything outside her primary roles as a daughter-in-law, girlfriend or wife.

In any other film, this family would be the butt of the joke and its man-child the subject of ridicule. Yet, in a breathtaking sleight of hand, Tinni's reluctance to marry this man and join this deranged family is presented as a rejection of his "true" love for her. The second half is an end of endlessly unfunny set pieces in which she tries to get him to break up with her, first by asking a stranger to feel her up in front of him (to invite his jealousy) and then by leaving him alone with a female friend in the hopes he will cheat on her. For reasons that are best left to the discovery of any hapless viewer who dares to take on this film, this attempt backfires. We are supposed to see Rohan's restraint as a sign of the nobility of his love and Tinni's attempts to get out of the relationship as a cruel betrayal. In another universe, this premise could have been a clever commentary on two equally twisted souls who've met their match in each other. Instead, by leaning into the heartbreak of the male protagonist, Ranjan turns him into a victim, never mind all his lying, scheming ways and his childish inability to live away from his overbearing family for the woman he supposedly "loves."

Last, but not the least, is the film's frankly depressing view of marriage and parenthood. In the second half of the film, Rohan's best friend Manu's (Anubhav Singh Bassi) wife is pregnant. Even though the characters pay lip-service to being "modern" by saying "nowadays, both the man and the woman are pregnant" the to-be-mother's complaints are played for laughs. Just prior to this scene, Manu is whining to Rohan about how he would not be becoming a father if he had helped him break up and how he has had enough of dealing with his wife's pregnancy. Yet again, there is this binary idea that men only want sex from women while women only want children, which means men have to give up their "needs" for their "duty." In short, in this world, men and women come from different planets. Neither are really fully-formed humans with the agency to navigate their spectrum of desires and responsibilities with reflection, restraint or maturity, so doomed are they to replicate the roles and demands of the patriarchy.

In the end, the fact that Tinni doesn't want to live with Rohan's family is attributed to psychological damage rather than a true expression of her independence. Yet there is no interrogation of how toxic living in a patriarchal family setup–progressive or otherwise–can be for a woman, as the film hurtles towards a syrupy happy family montage. Rather, Tinni is treated to a lecture from Rohan about how he loves her as much as any other member of his family and how they actually just care for her, which–to anyone acquainted with even pop-psychology would know–is the very definition of gaslighting. (In the alternate universe where both of them are con artists who've met their match, they would either both have to apologize to each other or say "well-played" and perhaps join hands to break up more relationships, but alas this is not that film!)

It is hard to say which of Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar's flaws make it so eminently excruciating. Is it its identification with and defence of a narcissistic, manipulative man-child? Is it its inability to see women as real people rather than a projection of male fantasies? Is it its startling and childish refusal to even consider how dependent and infantilizing living in joint family setups can be? Or is it its weak attempts at comedy, its incessant reliance on monologues (which makes us feel like nobody is talking to anyone), its dull and disrespectful nods to previous Bollywood romances and Ranjan's own films, its awful music (save for the opening number), its terrible acting performances, cheesy climax, low-grade CGI and punishing runtime? Ultimately, all of these flaws stem from a single source: the writer and director's sneering and juvenile insincerity. In trying to throw a progressive veil over their utterly regressive worldview, it is we, the audience, that is being lied to, cheated and ultimately conned.

For a more nuanced take of modern Indian relationships and their clashes with traditional family dynamics, I recommend the better-made and more entertaining film Jugjugg Jeeyo (2021) by director Raj Mehta, streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Language: Hindi

Runtime: 2h39min

Year of release: 2023 Streaming Platform: Netflix

Hot take is a series in which I offer my first impressions of films from India and around the world.


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