Raj and DK, the filmmakers formerly known as Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK, aim for the big league with the glossy comedy Happy Ending, which is set partly in the NRI universe from where they emerged and in the dream factory that they have made their home. Happy Ending is based, for reasons never made clear, in Los Angeles, and is packed with the kind of downturn-proof Indians encountered only in the movies.

From the other end of the globe, in between gazing at the touristic wonders of America, the filmmakers take potshots at mainstream Hindi cinema’s preference for formula over originality and its love of contrivance.

Raj and DK made their debut with the ensemble NRI drama Flavors in 2003, and have steadily worked their way up through mid-budget and easy-vibe comedies. In their most recent movie, the giggly and giddy Go Goa Gone, they brought the zombie spoof to India. In Happy Ending, they set out to introduce the workings of the romantic comedy to locals. Only, the directors are about a decade too late. Hum Tum and Pyaar Ke Side Effects have already come and gone, as have several humour-laden adventures about men and women who are destined for each other but are the last ones to know.

Unhappy beginnings

Happy Ending tries to be the father of all Indian romcoms with a lead actor who looks as though he might have a child or two in senior school. Saif Ali Khan, who made it look so easy and breezy in Hum Tum, has not lost his enthusiasm or timing, but the camera has stopped loving his face. He can still land a line and bluff his way through slapstick scenarios, but he is too old to be playing a commitment-phobe.

Khan’s Yudi is a best-selling writer who is coasting along on the success of a single book. Yudi’s real problem, apart from his inability to be convincing as a man who can dash off anything but a Post-it, is his reluctance to utter the three golden words without which women apparently cannot do. (Hint: it’s not “I am 44.")

It’s going badly for poor Yudi. His solo literary outing is failing in bookstores, his agent has shifted his attention to new literary marvel Aanchal (Illeana D’Cruz), and Yudi is unable to dump his current girlfriend, Vishakha (Kalki Koechlin). His agent pushes him to write a screenplay for Hindi movie star Armaan (Govinda), who is desperately seeking a comeback.

What is going on here anyway?

Is this movie about novel writing or screenplay writing? Were two separate movies, one a romcom and the other a Bollywood send-up, combined into a single offering? Why would a Hindi film actor fly all the way to Los Angeles to make a “kick-ass” comeback in India? When did an Indian writer become America’s literary sweetheart? Has anybody on this production actually been to a book reading?

The 136-minute movie offers plenty of opportunities to consider these imponderables.

Happy Ending works in fits and starts, with some funny scenes (the engaging pitter-patter is by Hussain Dalal) and far too many over-stretched ones. The romance that develops between Yudi and Aanchal is as forced as the endeavour to extract juice from a brick. Yudi’s encounters with Armaan are hilarious, in no small measure because of Govinda’s enduring comic timing, but Bollywood’s flamboyant ways exist precisely so that they can be ripped apart. Reinventing the romcom calls for another skill-set altogether.

The directors of Happy Ending have a talent for astute casting and letting their actors relax – Ranvir Shorey, who plays Yudi’s 2 am friend, and Preity Zinta, as Yudi’s ex, sparkle in their few scenes – but their sly ways are nowhere in evidence in Happy Ending. From sun-kissed drives to awkward smooches to guitar-strumming to airport reunions to trite declarations of true love, the movie revisits every cliché of the genre in the name of deconstructing them.

The directors are more comfortable making mildly cruel comedies and handling characters who are fit only for ridicule. The mysteries of the heart, and the mystifying success of the romcom, elude them. Not surprisingly, Armaan, rather than Yudi, owns the movie.