Gori Tere Pyaar Mein contains enough clues in its title to warn the audience about the problematic social message it contains. Kareena Kapoor’s identity in the film contains her complexion front and centre; it distinguishes her from both the darker (read South Indian) women of Bengaluru as well as the Gujarati villagers she works with in the second half, who look at ‘goriben’ as some sort of benevolent goddess. Of course, there’s more to her character than just her skin colour, but even her political activism is, well, coloured by the image of the quintessential Hollywood white saviour, which it is impossible not to draw an instant comparison to.
Dia Sharma (Kapoor) is a rich Punjabi living in Bengaluru, who devotes all her free time to her causes, ranging from parks for kids to play in to the daily lives of the city’s prostitutes. As A-One Do Gooder, she cares for everything and everyone. This inevitably attracts the attentions of Sriram (Imran Khan), who ditches an impending marriage with a fellow TamBrahm for eternal bliss with Joan of Dal Tarka. But Sriram is essentially a counterpoint to Dia’s activism; the son of a rich dad, he is shown — in painful detail — as hopelessly materialistic. He confronts her about the hypocrisy of fighting for the poor while living the good life. She responds by going to live with the natives, moving to a Gujarati village and installing herself as local deity.
Sure, that’s an entirely valid storyline for a film. Bollywood has plumbed the depths of this particular conflict before; it was, after all, a familiar story in a time when rich kids actually cared about more than getting an Audi. But the problem with Gori Tere Pyaar Mein is that Dia gets no insight from life in the village, that she does not bother with the whys and hows of the villagers’ problems. Instead, like any Hollywood messiah, she reduces all their problems into one surmountable obstacle, then goes on and on about how surmounting that obstacle will solve all their problems, then, with all the necessary fanfare, surmounts it. Who cares about systemic inequalities, when I just built you the bridge of life? To the next village!
The film, of course, doesn’t claim to be a social drama (that mantle was claimed by Singh Saab The Great this week), and nobody went in expecting anything but a frothy romcom. On that front, Imran and Kareena are a mild, inoffensive couple, with chemistry that is middling at best. Any hopes for romantic gold are undercut by Imran’s utter inability to act. It’s a realisation I’ve had fairly late in life, largely due to the fact that said inability has been hidden in having him play the one role that he is comfortable with: the non-threatening boy next door, a male, understated Preity Zinta. When asked to do anything other than that, or in a film that doesn’t have the distractions of a Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na or a Delhi Belly — such as I Hate Luv Storys, the only film to ever put me to sleep in the auditorium itself — his performance has been consistently and cringe-inducingly bad. It has the happy coincidence of making him ideal as second fiddle in a woman-centric film. A male Sonakshi Sinha, so to speak.
Unfortunately, Gori Tere Pyaar Mein, while every bit centred around its female protagonist, has neither the well-scripted story nor the performances that make a good film, which exposes every bit of the distinctly colonial tonality that permeates every shot. For a film obsessed with combating shallowness, this one has all the depth of a fairness cream ad.