Meri Pyaari Bindu isn’t particularly profound, and you’ll probably forget it soon, but it leaves you with a smile and a faint sense of loss.
Abhi (Ayushmann Khurrana) first saw Bindu (Parineeti Chopra) when he was six years old. The year was 1983, India had just won the World Cup, and she was his new neighbour. It wasn’t exactly love at first sight; Abhi was too young to understand love (who isn’t?), but he remembers that as a moment when something clicked, as if two pieces met in a jigsaw puzzle, revealing a pattern and meaning of sorts, promising the others would follow suit, too. The film then follows Abhi, over the next three-and-a-half decades, trying to make sense of the puzzle that refuses to leave him.
Meri Pyaari Bindu, starring Khurrana and Chopra, has a fairly simple story to tell. Boy meets girl. They become close friends, sharing secrets and lunch, childhood and adolescence. And then, they grow up. Bindu falls for a football player. Abhi registers a protest so quiet that Bindu is unaware. Aided by the rush of testosterone, he moves on too, finding a fling here and there. But like his most prized possession, a cassette of old Hindi film songs, Abhi, too, gets stuck at times: on Bindu, his past, the two of them cocooned in a bubble. And then—the film shows it simply and quietly—life happens. They part ways. A few years later, they try to keep in touch, but places, people and jobs keep them occupied; the fondness remains, the e-mails dwindle.
Most Bollywood romantic dramas concentrate on their leads as they’re falling in love. We know what the boy feels about the girl, and vice-versa, but we don’t quite know who they’re, individually, as people. What happens in a love story when the love, or the partner, is absent—or, at least, not present? Meri Pyaari Bindu attempts to disentangle some of that mess. And it does so through smart storytelling, cutting from past to present, from blissful memories to quiet disappointments.
The film opens in the present, to Abhi—a banker turned writer, churning out pulp paperbacks one after the other—who is now trying to write a love story. Bindu, as expected, is not in the picture. Abhi hasn’t written a love story before, and he’s struggling, and his only source of inspiration is someone he wants to forget: Bindu. The film then shows Bindu, and her childhood, through Abhi’s eyes. It takes some time, though, to get used to Bindu and, consequently, Meri Pyaari Bindu. Because, at first, at least according to Abhi’s description, she’s a Bollywood-type. She is funny, restless, crazy (made more romantic by its Hindi counterpart “paagal”), vain, “loves life”, and lives in the moment. Bollywood films have a history of such female leads, even describing them in almost similar terms. It’s tiring to see male Indian screenwriters conjure up heroines who can be summed up in a sentence.
So even Bindu, at least at the outset, isn’t real; she’s someone who’s been imagined by a screenwriter, an amalgamation of different Bollywood heroines. That, thankfully, is only a quibble, because Bindu soon becomes a character we can identify with, someone whose scars and confusions can’t be summarised. Bindu is also fascinating because she, for the most part, resides in Abhi’s memory. Nostalgia is a terrible drug, for it only flashes events that we want to remember, presenting the past, and its people, as perfect, glossing over disagreements and inconsistencies. And Abhi is held in its sway. Were Bindu and Abhi really perfect for each other? Did they never have an unpleasant moment—episodes where they were lesser people? Has Abhi romanticised his past to compensate for his dim present? Meri Pyaari Bindu isn’t particularly interested in these questions, but it leaves enough scope for you to at least ponder over them.
Even while not hunting for big ideas, Meri Pyaari Bindu is consistently enjoyable and entertaining. It also feels honest, because, like any assured film, it values small moments, and uses them to tell a bittersweet story of love and loss. Take, for example, a scene early in the film. Growing up, Bindu wants to be a singer. As a kid, she performs Aaiye Meherbaan one night, on the top of an ambassador, in a dimly lit garage, with Abhi cheering for her, waving two flashlights—the performer and the audience in complete sync. Or the scene where Abhi proposes to her, on a regular morning, when his friends are sprawled semi-naked on a mattress. Or that moment when Bindu tells Abhi that he’s her “room on the terrace”—a quiet corner that always gave her solace. It’s heartening to see a Hindi film, especially a romantic drama, not fixating on labels. Director Akshay Roy doesn’t lock Bindu and Abhi’s bond in a box (are they friends, lovers, ex-lovers?); instead, he frees them, allowing them to give their relationship its own meaning.
Meri Pyaari Bindu also benefits from its leads, Khurrana and Chopra, who lend much credence to their parts, delivering an enjoyable performance that strikes the right balance between flippant and intense. Khurrana, who last appeared in the well-made Dum Laga Ke Haisha (also produced by Yash Raj Films), is especially impressive, who has carved a niche for himself, portraying the roles of regular middle-class men, navigating the jungles of urban love.
But, above all, Meri Pyaari Bindu is enjoyable, because it’s mature. It’s willing to understand that people and their priorities change. It’s willing to acknowledge that love isn’t a switch, which can be turned on or off; that it’s a spectrum, changing exteriors and meanings. But, most importantly, as a romantic drama, it’s not sheepish to admit that, at times, love isn’t enough.
Having said that, the film’s not devoid of demerits. An important plot point, Abhi quitting his job to become a writer, is unconvincing; the drama, in some portions, feels low-stakes; his book—the eponymous Meri Pyaari Bindu—in itself is rather pedestrian. But these are minor complaints, for Meri Pyaari Bindu is a convincing whole. Like many of us, Abhi tells stories to own his loss, trying to find truth in fiction. Meri Pyaari Bindu isn’t particularly profound, or wildly ambitious, and you’ll probably forget it soon, but when it’s unfolding through the leads’ tomfoolery and pleasant old Bollywood songs, it leaves you with a smile and a faint sense of loss. Maybe that’s the point: Hold on to it while it lasts.