Karam first made his appearance in Dream Girl (2019), in which the only job he manages to land is as a female employee at a sex chat service. In Dream Girl 2, Karam slips into saris and wigs, shoves two oranges down his blouse, and passes himself off as a bar dancer in order to make the money that will win him his beloved.

He can barely dance, there are more attractive women around, and neither the make-up nor Karam’s exaggerated coquetry is convincing. Yet, various men fall for what is very obviously a man.

They look deep into his eyes but don’t let their gaze wander to the area above his lips. Since we are in farce territory, we are required to go along with the conceit that Ayushmann Khuraana, who has played a host of versatile characters, has finally bridged the gender divide.

The oranges miraculously stay fresh throughout.

Although not a direct sequel, Dream Girl 2 share with its predecessor its director (Raaj Shaandilyaa), most of its cast, and slapstick comedy that draws from the nautanki tradition. The pseudonym adopted by Karam is, once again, Pooja. His father Jagjit (Annu Kapoor) is still making an ass of himself in the pursuit of love. Vijay Raaz plays Sajan, the lascivious night club owner who hires Pooja.

One key difference is that Nushrratt Bharuccha has been replaced by Ananya Panday as Karam’s love object Pari. Bharuccha needn’t worry: Pari is as ornamental as was Bharuccha’s character in the previous movie. Unable to see Karam for what he is, Pari is a sideshow in a film dedicated to its leading man/woman’s antics.

Smiley (Manjot Singh) remains Karam’s bestie, playing a key role in introducing Pooja to Shahrukh (Abhishek Banerjee). The Pooja-Shahrukh marriage is hindered not by their different faiths, but by the delicate matter of consummation and the indelicate business of using the facilities – and there is humour about both. Shaandilyaa’s screenplay, written along with Naresh Kathooria, leaves no stone unturned, or rather no gender-based joke behind, in exploiting Karam’s situation.

Jamnapaar, Dream Girl 2 (2023).

Not content with lining up admirers for Karam, Shaandilyaa ventures into Gol Maal/Chachi 420 territory (one of the scenes is a direct lift from the Mrs Doubtfire-inspired film). Seema Pahwa plays Shahrukh’s aunt who falls hard for Karam, forcing him to do a double switch.

It’s frenetic and politically incorrect, sometimes very funny, often on the nose, and delivered with the despair of a filmmaker who doesn’t want anybody in the audience to sneak a look at their cellphones. But you might, nevertheless, when the joke begins to wears thin. What might have been a lengthy episode on Comedy Circus or The Kapil Sharma Show of which Shaandilyaa is an alumnus begins to run out of juice, which no amount of oranges can fix.

While Khurrana’s comic timing is on point, he is defeated by the complexities of womanhood. The 133-minute movie has nothing to say on the subject either despite giving Karam a declamatory speech.

Having literally – and successfully – stolen women’s voices in the first film, Karam now lays claim to their bodies too. Women are reduced to a high-pitched voice, swinging hips, and over-the-top mannerisms. You could find it amusing. You could also wonder why the movie’s creators took the easy way out rather than doing the hard work of finding out what it means to inhabit a woman’s body, and self.

Dream Girl 2 (2023).