Raj Mehta’s Good Newwz, starring Akshay Kumar and Kareena Kapoor Khan, makes its intentions clear right from the first scene: by unfolding as a mini-ad for Volkswagen. The camera sweeps down the facade of a German automaker showroom; inside, the cars are shots in elaborate close-ups. The hero, Varun (Kumar), a senior executive at the company, walks in with a miniature model of a car on his palm. He then explains the different features of a model to a potential buyer. The first five minutes of the movie feel like flipping through the brochure of a high-end automobile manufacturer. Only if the film got better.
Co-produced by Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions, Good Newwz revolves around Varun and his wife, Deepti (Khan), an entertainment journalist who wants to become a mother. The film wastes no time in painting her as a humourless, nagging type: she marks her ovulating dates on the calendar, pesters her husband for sex, tells him to “not take stress” (as it would affect his chances of becoming a father).
The power dynamics between Varun and Deepti are clear from their first interaction: he gets all the jokes, thereby a sly upper-hand in the relationship, while she gets singled out to laugh at. (Every small thing about Deepti is milked for laughs, even her phone password: “000000”.) You know the stereotype: Good Newwz, then, is just the ‘Dharmafication’ of WhatsApp ‘pati-patni’ jokes.
If the film’s dialogues rely on the rehashed gendered tropes, then its plot makes even less sense. Its most crucial plot point, of Varun and Deepti consulting a fertility clinic, seems abrupt and contrived, because, as suggested by the film, their inability to become parents arise from their lack of co-ordination (they have sex, on average, only twice a month) and not because of their individual sexual health. But perhaps that’s too much to expect from a film like this.
Worse, the humour in Good Newwz is so flat, so juvenile and lame that you endure the film with a blank expression on your face, and pity in your heart. The first joke in the film comes around the 44-minute mark when Varun, the dudebro of dudebros, is reading a Gabriel García Márquez novel (One Hundred Years of Solitude, in case you’re interested). Further, the film is fixated on a snazzy kind of edit for its own sake: in many scenes, the screen splits into vertical or horizontal panels without good reason.
Soon, the film’s second couple enters — Honey (Diljit Dosanjh) and Monika (Kiara Advani) — who, hailing from Chandigarh, seem bound by duty to live up to a stereotype. Honey, often wearing a red velvet jacket with the word “Honey” on its back, is loud and lame and intrusive. (Ditto Monika.) They’ve come to the same clinic, as Varun and Deepti, for the purpose of becoming parents. The film sets up a parallel between the suave Varun and in-your-face Honey. (Honey’s visiting card reads “Land Owner”.) As the tug of war shifts from Varun-Deepti to Varun-Honey, the film transitions from being sexist to classist.
Varun constantly derides Honey’s pronunciations — him calling sperm “spam” is repeated for laughs throughout the movie. He’s not different with Monika, either (she calls “flush” “flesh”, in one scene, and Varun breaks into loud fits of laughter). He also makes fun of their Hindi. More than the fact that these ‘jokes’ are painfully weak (and arise from misleading stereotypes), they reinforce a power differential seen for long in Hindi cinema: a hero laughing at a heroine’s expense, a big star deriding lesser popular actors (here, Kumar makes fun of Dosanjh and Advani — two actors ranked lower in the Bollywood hierarchy as compared to him). And sure enough, later, we get a scene where both Kumar and Dosanjh laugh at Advani.
Good Newwz’s first half flounders in good measure for one decent joke or plot turn. It fails, and fails miserably, to find any. Until we find out that Varun and Honey’s sperm samples are exchanged. As a result, now, both Deepti and Monika are pregnant but with sperm from different men. Even this shouldn’t have been a cause for concern (or the film’s central conflict) because, then the question simply should have been, why not just abort and adopt a baby instead?
That, the film implies, is not an option, because the fathers, in essence, ‘own’ the babies (and, by that extension, their wives’ bodies as well). You don’t expect a Kumar film produced by Johar to be particularly progressive, but these assertions, even with that point in mind, sets a new low bar. When Honey finds out that Deepti is pregnant (with ‘his’ child), he rents an apartment in the same building, and follows her around – with binoculars – so he can monitor her daily movements. All of this is, of course, supposed to be funny.
When all fails, then this so-called modern drama pulls off the oldest card in the book: appealing to the inherent ‘humanity’ of the motherhood. You can predict such scenes with ease: Deepti seeing the foetus’ outline, through an ultrasound on a monitor, and the doctor pointing towards the “baby’s [beating] heart”, which is “alive and kicking”. A schmaltzy score swells in the background as the doctor tells her, “It is a big blessing for any woman to get pregnant.”
Then adds, “For you, it’s a miracle.”
Later, Deepti tells Varun, “We’re killing a child. We can’t be murderers.” Good Newwz unfolds like a lame propaganda that should make the Republican party proud. Quite strange, then, that Dharma Productions – the financier of such recent masterpieces as Dhadak, Simmba, Kesari, Kalank, Student of the Year 2, and Drive – hasn’t changed its tagline to “Make Hindi cinema great again”.