Romantic comedies never go out of style. Especially in the Hindi cinema space, we have been exposed to countless films in this genre, so much so that this whole genre has cultivated another subgenre, romantic comedies based in small towns in our country. Only a handful of them clicked with the audience. Bareilly ki Barfi, Badhaai Ho, Sui Dhaga, and Dum Laga ke Haisha are some examples of well-executed romantic comedies set in rural India where the essence was never lost. Nitesh Tiwari’s Bawaal a Prime Video Original, starring Varun Dhawan and Janhvi Kapoor, brings to the table the tale of two people with two different opinions about life who cross paths through their marriage.
Bawaal, loosely translated to chaos, is about Lucknow-based Ajay Dixit, fondly known as ‘Ajju bhaiyya.’ He is a young, dashing history teacher at a local school who is so caught up in building his image and reputation that he cannot function beyond these aspects. He is loved and revered by many in town, especially by his students, to whom he teaches history in a rather laid-back fashion. Enter Nisha, his wife, who is an epilepsy patient, who embarks with her husband on a journey to Europe for the most peculiar reason, which is to understand World War II stories. What does Ajju take away from the war? Will there be a catharsis for him?
The screenplay of this movie is bizarre to begin with because one can’t just present some random kind of meet-cutes and scenarios to talk about love and companionship and bring together people of two different mindsets. The problem with romantic dramas is that the climax is always predictable, and it is always the middle part that needs to be made engaging enough for the audience to feel invested in the two leads and their philosophies in life. The superficial version of Ajju comes across as a very stereotypical man from Lucknow, and it is not something Hindi cinema has not tried and tested in the past. The screenplay exaggerates so many characters to justify the small-town tropes that, at this point, have become redundant and boring. Nitesh Tiwari, who is known for presenting such nuanced stories in the past, Bawaal does not feel like his film because of the lazy treatment of the story. His authentic style of narrative is not found here.
The story has epilepsy as a conflict point, but it doesn’t bother exploring the female lead’s character even Ajju’s character refused to look beyond Nisha’s health condition. The story and the screenplay let Nisha’s character down because, even though she has been portrayed as an independent woman, there are aspects that can still be considered regressive, such as her giving Ajju all the support even though he harbors no respect for her. The final decision made by Nisha, in the end, is very generic and predictable. JugJugg Jeeyo presented the same premise and the conflict of a husband and wife in a far better fashion. Here the story and screenplay are superficial at best, and the use of Nazi German metaphors and jargon to describe human life, pain, greed, and relationships is cringeworthy and not at all smart. Yes, human suffering is at the core of what happened in Nazi-occupied Europe, but using history to define human relationships in this film comes across as lazy writing and direction.
The husband-and-wife version of Queen follows the typical ‘a woman will change a man’s life,’ which is infuriating, keeping in mind the story is written by a woman. This could be the misfire when it comes to women telling women’s stories because Nisha has been given nothing on paper or screen to work on but to teach her husband life lessons using stories from history. I wish there was more to her than being a wife. There is also the question of why his parents were not instrumental in pushing their educated daughter-in-law to work if they were progressive, as per the narrative. No one knows. There are many loopholes in the story, such as the fact that the male, who has led all his adult life so far captivated by the idea of retaining his image and changed his perspective in just 15 days. The redemption arc is not presented convincingly, which makes the viewing experience frustrating.
The direction by Nitesh Tiwari is mediocre because the inclusion of world war stories into the narrative is executed clumsily. There could have been a better way to explain the heartbreaking stories from the war, in a way that eventually changed his life. The Auschwitz camp narrative was poorly executed and generated no emotions. This place is supposed to be bone-chilling for people who visit it to understand its history. Besides that, there is no chemistry between the leads that will make the audience want to root for them.
The Gujarati men stereotype, and the European men stereotype are such a done-and-dusted cliche that they should not have been a part of this narrative if the filmmakers had any intention of pursuing progressive storytelling. Laughing over two men who might or might not be gay is an offensive trope. The makers and the writers should be careful while including such scenes, keeping in mind that this movie is a Prime Original and will be watched by people across the world. There is also a commentary on why war has a devastating effect on the soldiers as well as the civilians and why people should refrain from constantly pushing for war to resolve diplomatic issues without reloading the long-term effects. This narrative sadly comes across as superficial and devoid of sentiment.
Credit where credit’s due, and in this movie, some humor works like a charm. Varun Dhawan is a natural comedian when handled by the right director. Ajay’s list of favorite movies mostly included films by Varun Dhawan’s father, and that is an endearing addition. The overconfident man whose charm does not work in a foreign nation is executed well, like a natural progression, and not forced.
It is always the casting in such movies that somehow improves the watchability factor. Even if the story was problematic, the actors cast to play the roles of certain characters make Bawaal a decent watch. Manoj Pahwa is a regular in small-town stories such as this one. His performance as a typical father who is constantly at loggerheads with his good-for-nothing son is pitch-perfect. Varun Dhawan’s character Ajju works in bits and pieces, which could be blamed on poor direction. The emotional scenes would remind the audience of his role in “Jug Jug Jeeyo,” which we think was a far more layered and nuanced performance by him. The writers did not give him much to work on, making his performance mediocre. Janhvi Kapoor is excellent in this film. Despite the screenplay letting Nisha down, the actress stood her ground and delivered an impactful performance throughout. There is a consistency in her acting in this movie that we could not see in Varun’s performance.
Bawaal works only in bits and pieces, and most of the time, it is just a peculiar way of presenting a romantic relationship. There could have been a better way to tell us this story. Give this film a watch if you are a fan of romantic comedies, no matter how it is told.