Dostana harks back to tradition

Starring Priyanka Chopra, Abhishek Bachchan, and John Abraham. Rated PG. Now playing at the Raja Cinema

Dostana has been hyped as the first Bollywood film with openly gay characters and as a step forward in terms of positive representation. Don’t believe the hype.

Tarun Mansukhani’s film relies heavily on clichéd stereotypes to get its laughs, despite not really even being about gay men. Instead, Dostana is a film about the value of friendship over love, and, as such, it harks back to a past tradition in Bollywood films.

Sameer (Abhishek Bachchan) and Kunal (John Abraham) are Miami-based Indians who are looking for rooms to rent. When they arrive at a top-end building, they’re told, by an overplayed auntie figure, that the rooms can only be rented to women because her niece, Neha (Priyanka Chopra), also lives in the apartment. In order to secure the rooms, the two pretend to be a gay couple.

The rest of the film plays out like an extended episode of Three’s Company, as misunderstandings abound and both guys fall in love with Neha while being unable to declare their feelings. The plot is further entangled by the appearance of other minor characters, including Boman Irani as Neha’s boss, who is actually gay; Kirron Kher as Sameer’s hysterical mother (who, in the most memorable part of the film, tries to incorporate her son’s relationship into her ritual obligations as his mother); and Bobby Deol as a single father and potential love interest for Neha.

On one level this is a typical masala film, with plenty of songs, crass humour, and young people dancing around with little clothing. (Abraham, in particular, seems oddly unable to keep his clothes on.)

On another, more interesting, level, this film can be read as an update of classic ’70s and early ’80s films. In that era, the primary relationship of love, in hit films like Sholay and Qurbani, was the bond between seemingly straight men. Later, this theme was trumped by films like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, in which heterosexual love (especially one that begins in friendship) was constructed as the ultimate goal. This film falls somewhere in the middle as it explores the power of friendship that exists above and beyond romantic desire. This is all cleverly done with explicit references to these films.

Overall, this film is a mixed bag. Although there are comical moments, they’re mostly variations on one joke. And that one joke is entirely dependent on caricature.