A comedy of manners and errors, Behen Hogi Teri is set on familiar turf (Lucknow) in Hindi cinema’s favourite community (Punjabis) and features a good-for-nothing’s obsessive love for his neighbour (every other romance). And yet, director Ajay K Pannalal’s debut, based on a script packed with many repeat-worthy jokes by Vinit Vyas, is full of surprises.
Gattu (Rajkummar Rao) dotes on the gorgeous girl-next-door Binny (Shruti Haasan). Gattu has managed to escape the local custom of killing young love by insisting that all men are like the brothers of the women. Gattu’s distinctly unbrotherly feelings for Binny survive the tests to which she subjects him, but he meets the biggest challenge of his sad life when a series of crossed signals convinces Binny’s brother Jaidev (Ninad Kamat) that Binny is canoodling with Gattu’s best friend Bhure (Herry Tangri).
Will Gattu come of age and rescue Binny from what follows – an arranged marriage and an entanglement with Bhure’s gun-wielding clan – or will he pass into the annals of romance as one of its greatest losers?
Binny is a tease and remains disappointingly so all the way till the climax, but Pannalal bestows every other character with a satisfactory arc. Gattu, beautifully played by Rajkummar Rao, is nobody’s idea of a hero, but his very-late-in the-day courage allows the other characters to blossom in sometimes strange ways. His father Nautiyal (a hilarious Darshan Jariwala) throws himself with perilous enthusiasm into the project of saving Binny from harm. I single-handedly effected a curfew in my youth, he boasts to Gattu while showing off his collection of Bush posters (senior and junior), understandably stunning his son.
Bhure proves to be more than a shoulder to cry on. Two of the movie’s most hilarious scenes owe their impact to the actor who grabbed attention as Yuvraj Singh in the biopic MS Dhoni The Untold Story (2016). In one, Bhure’s braggadocio collapses into tears. In another, the young men drink their sorrows away at one of Lucknow’s many public attractions. Gattu does a savage imitation of Shah Rukh Khan’s romantic hero characters, and Bhure issues drunken promises of wiping out the competition (Binny’s fiancé Rahul, played by the single-dimpled Gautam Gulati).
Both scenes reflect the movie’s affectionate and refreshingly different portrayal of young hormonally charged men facing the deepest crisis of their lives. For all their swagger, Gattu and Bhure prove to be cuddly teddy bears rather than stalkers insistent on imposing one-sided affairs on their marks.
The lack of development of Binny’s character, which is aided by Shruti Haasan’s limited acting range, is the one black hole in an otherwise well-rounded romantic comedy humming with wit and astute observations of its cheerfully stereotyped characters. Pannalal and Vyas gently skewer the opposition to letting young people choose their own partners without demonising the adults in the room. Vyas’s often hilarious conversational dialogue even slips in an Aadhar joke.
But the filmmakers are having too much fun to notice that the running time (128 minutes) is far too long, the climax isn’t strong enough to support the preceding events, and Binny is regressing. The woman at the centre of the swirl isn’t developed enough to ever come into her own. Gattu is more of an anti-hero than a traditional leading man with all the answers, which must count as progress. But Binny resolutely remains the Hindi film heroine usually found in such films – the trigger for all the events, and the cause of all the sorrows.