The 2011 comedy saw the unlikely coupling of Kanpur wild child Tanu (Kangana Ranaut) and stoic London-based doctor Manu (R Madhavan) after a series of encounters that depicted India as the smallest place on the planet, rife with coincidences and bound together by only a few degrees of separation. In the sequel, the world has shrunk even further, in inverse proportion to Madhavan’s girth. Madhavan ambles into the battleground of divorce armed with moobs, a few chins and a waistline that makes him even more sluggish than before.
His marriage to Tanu has fallen apart, which is hardly surprising, given how mismatched their personalities were. In the dungeon-like mental asylum in Twickenham in England to which they have come seeking help (since couples’ counsellors have abandoned the UK for brighter prospects), Tanu declares war on Manu. She returns to Kanpur, slips back into her outré self, and raises the temperatures of tenant Chintu (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) and Raja (Jimmy Shergill), her ex-boyfriend from the previous movie.
Manu, who also flees England, loses his heart to Tanu-lookalike Kusum (Ranaut again), a Haryanvi athlete who shares with her doppelganger a stubbornly independent streak and verbal sharpness. Despite her blunt ways, Kusum turns out to be a lovely soul. One of the nicest ideas in Himanshu Sharma’s story and screenplay is that even on the rebound, all Manu really wants is a better Tanu.
While the first movie balanced the impulses of its leads, the follow-up belongs to Ranaut. She has moved several paces ahead since 2011, and is in fine form as Kusum, combing spontaneity and winsomeness to bring to life a sweet and well-observed character. (Tanu is as screechy and one-note as ever.) Kusum might look like Tanu, but the similarity ends there, and both director and actor never allow one to be mistaken for the other.
Rai, who also made Raanjhanaa in 2013, confirms his ability to conjure up a convincing small-town milieu characterised by clamour and kitsch, but his tendency to cram his frames with lots of people crisscrossing the screen, overlapping dialogue and insistent background music results in a sensory overdose. There are too many characters packed into a 128-minute narrative that is supposed to be about a couple trying to make the best of their marriage. (The returnees include Swara Bhaskar’s Payal, who has her own crisis to face.)
Tanu Weds Manu Returns badly wants to be described as zany, and Himanshu Sharma belts out so many hilarious one-liners you'd think his life depended on it. The movie doesn’t have the patience to stick with one thought, and the frenetic turn of events calms down for a sequence as baffling as it is enchanting: Tanu wanders in a daze through Jhajjar, where she has arrived to settle scores with Manu, to the strains of the song Ja Ja Ja Ja Bewafa from Aar Paar.
The film’s tendency to overplay its hand is best symbolised by Manu’s buddy Pappi (Deepak Dobriyal), who has undergone a drastic mood shift towards mania since we last met him. Dobriyal is a fine actor, capable of conveying a great deal through minimal gestures, but perhaps to overcompensate for Manu’s mild catatonia, he behaves as though he is in a story about consuming uppers rather than a rom-com.
The sequel does distinguish itself from its predecessor, but one character remains unruffled by the new circumstances: stoic, solid, boring Manu, perfect exhibit for the arranged marriage market and every feisty Indian woman’s nightmare. Why Tanu wed Manu was a riddle. In this movie, why Kusum adores Manu will remain one of the great unsolved mysteries of all time.