Third time's the charm, they say. Not quite so for Gautham Vasudev Menon, though. A decade after his last Hindi outing with the romantic cult classic, Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein, the writer director returns to Bollywood's shores with Ekk Deewana Tha, but seems to be missing the magic that made the story a hit twice before, in the Tamil and Telugu versions.
For starters, Menon's writing in the Prateik-Amy Jackson starrer seems to be preoccupied by clichés. A love story between a Hindu boy and a Christian girl, a Maharashtrian Brahmin and a Malayali Christian? Think Ek Duje Ke Liye, thirty years later.
The story begins in medias res, Prateik in a church, while his love, Amy, is about to marry someone else. He asks himself, why in the world it had to be her that he fell in love with, and throws the film into flashback. He's Sachin, an engineering grad looking to break into films. His father thinks he's wasting away, even as he hangs around studios all day and is being mentored by his best friend, an older cinematographer called Anay. It's love at first sight for Sachin, when he spots his landlord's daughter, Jessie coming home from office. There's a problem, though. For one, Jessie comes from an orthodox Christian family, and is older than him by a year. And she doesn't love him. Still, Sachin woos her, landing up at a restaurant outside her office, and instantly confessing his love for her. Somehow, she returns his feelings, only for him to get into a fracas with her older brother. Her parents try to marry her off immediately, only for her to refuse and rekindle a romance with Sachin. There are misunderstandings though, and they break up once more, only to meet again years later, when Sachin is shooting his first film, also titled 'Jessie'. So, do these two lovebirds have a happy ending in their fate?
There's something in Gautham's Hindi take on the story that fails to connect. That the entire narrative takes place in Sachin's mental monologue doesn't help things. Ekk Deewana Tha meanders along for hours, and you wait to relate to these two lovers at some point through it, but the moment never comes. The romance between Sachin and Jessie is so half-baked, that it almost feels unrealistic. Though Sachin is crazy passionate about Jessie, the idea of her returning his feelings is inexplicable, as there is nothing that he really does to earn her love back, apart from semi-stalking her around the country, even landing up at her church in Kerala, when she's on a trip back home to visit her grandmother.
The two are also irritatingly indecisive. When Sachin kisses Jessie against her will, on a train trip back home from Kerala, she takes in the moment, only to rebuke him for it a day later. Then again, when Jessie finally gives in to him and offers to run away with him, Sachin, who has been aching for her to do so all along, tells her to stay at home till he comes back to speak to her family. What warrants the sudden change of mind, thereafter, is left to us to decipher.
The performances in the film are quite tepid too. Prateik is unconvincing as a twenty-two years in the throes of his first crush. The actor made a splash with his debut in Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na, but has been struggling to find his feet since then, and it's the same here. His passionate lover act comes across as more awkward, than anything else, and it is painfully obvious that emoting effectively is a challenge for this young actor.
The same goes for Amy Jackson's Jessie, who, while pretty in a sari and a Punjabi suit, wears a vacant smile and expression through most of the film. Her skin-tone has been unnaturally darkened at points to fit the Malayali Christian look, and she's been dubbed for by her co-actor Samantha. The result is, her dialogues seldom match her expressions in the film, and makes her character all the more unconvincing.
The only times that the film does really light up is in the scenes where Manu Rishi appears on screen. The Oye Lucky Lucky Oye actor is an effortless talent, and is comic and understanding in parts as Anay. The older man vicariously living his life through goading and guiding Sachin through his first romance, is an endearing act, and the only memorable part of Ekk Deewana Tha. Incidentally, Rishi also pens the dialogues for the film.
Others, like Sachin Khedekar and Babu Anthony are fair, but have fleeting roles. Samantha Prabhu is okay, but has a similarly small role in the second half. Seeing Ramesh Sippy in his little cameo is interesting.
The film is being marketed as an A.R. Rahman, Javed Akhtar musical, and the soundtrack is perhaps the best part of the film. Tracks like aromale and hosanna sparkle, but one really does wish that the music had been used more effectively in the film, without breaking into the narrative so often. That the film is occupied by an overbearing background score in almost every important scene does not help matters at all.
M.S.Prabhu gets great locales between Kerala and Mangalore to play with, in his cinematography, and does well, especially in the former. Anthony's editing could have been more judicious, though.
Gautham Menon's own Tamil original of the film, Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa is a vastly superior film, compared to Ekk Deewana Tha. The Hindi version suffers from slow treatment, an uninteresting narrative and bad performances. The most interesting difference between the two versions, though, is in the story itself. Where Menon ends the original on an ambiguous note, the upbeat wrap for Ekk Deewana Tha itself gives the film an all too convenient feel. Perhaps, if Menon stuck with the original, more mature finish for Hindi audiences as well, there might have been a different view of his second Hindi film. As it stands now, though, Ekk Deewana Tha looks like the third time around, Gautham Vasudev Menon might prove unlucky…