What’s the recipe for a new-age everyman film?
Take a mould and add in not-so-gourmet ingredients, ranging from small towns and funny best friends to nagging mothers and interfering uncles and aunts, in generous quantities and sauté them. Pepper the mix with social commentaries, romance, humour and a language, which is a cultural reflection of its backdrop. Finally, garnish it with dollops of rib-tickling one-liners and good-old nostalgia that takes you back to your summer breaks when you lived in your home-town before you shifted to a metropolis to chase your dreams.
In 2012, actor Ayushmann Khurrana kick-started his acting career with filmmaker Shoojit Sircar’s Vicky Donor. The film, set in Lajpat Nagar, a cosy nook in the Capital that still reeks of puraani Dilli, intended to normalise sperm donation and bust the stigma surrounding it. Thus began the rise of a new genre in Bollywood known as the Ayushmann Khurrana genre, which is often compared to late filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s cinema. He followed it up with Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015), Bareilly Ki Barfi, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan (both 2017), Dream Girl (2019) and Gulabo Sitabo (2020). These films went on to perform well and earned critical acclaim.
But for how long can you keep tweaking with the formula? The debacle began with Bala (2019). And then happened Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (2020). One can call these films old wine in a new bottle or more contextually speaking – it’s a classic case of vegetable biriyani, pulao and tehri.
Ayushmann’s latest outing is Doctor G, a film that addresses gender stereotypes in a female-dominated space. Sounds familiar? Hold on! This is a film which talks about a male doctor trying to come to terms with his role as a gynaecologist and doing his best to let go of his ‘male touch’ so as to make his female patients feel at ease around him. Here, the mother (played brilliantly by actor Sheeba Chadha) isn’t obsessed with getting her son married and is remotely removed from being a nagger. A single mother, she is cool, enterprising, progressive, doesn’t cower at the thought of her Hindu son’s potential girlfriend being a Muslim and perms her hair to up her Tinder and selfie games. What’s also refreshing is the romantic angle (rather the lack of it) between the film’s protagonists – Uday (played by Ayushmann) and Fatima (essayed by Rakul Preet Singh).
Set in Bhopal, Doctor G opens with a conversation between Uday and his best friend, Chaddi, an IAS aspirant, who also lives with him and his mother as a paying guest. It sees Uday, fondly referred to as Guddu, moaning about wanting to get a seat at the orthopaedic department of a medical college. However, he ends up at a gynaecology class and that’s where all the trouble begins.
Without meandering and beating around the bush, the makers straightaway dive into the subject of the narrative right since the first sequence and successfully make the audience a part of Doctor G’s world. While there’s nothing that’s not out-of-the-box in terms of its treatment and template in the first half, what keeps us engrossed is the fast-paced unravelling of simplistic events. And before you know, it’s already time for the interval. The second half incorporates a new storyline, which might seem abrupt on the surface but with time, seamlessly becomes one with the crux of the plot.
The weakest link, however, in the film is the portion that encapsulates the evolution in the dynamic shared by Uday and Fatima. The track adds no value and substance to the narrative and the complete lack of it wouldn’t have affected the flow of the film in any way. To some, it might even appear to be a purposeless hodgepodge and the biggest hiccup in Doctor G.
But Ayushmann shoulders the film like a true-blue seasoned actor. He’s clearly in his comfort zone here and slips under the skin of his character with a rare finesse. The only complaint is the inconsistency while he speaks English. While in some scenes, his English is fluent, in others, the Bhopal boy in him struggles to word his feelings.
Sheeba, who has proved his mettle with Badhaai Ho, Taj Mahal 1989 (2020), Pagglait (2021) and Badhaai Do, among many other projects, is stupendous in Doctor G. She’s one of the biggest highlights of the film. She steals the show with a top-notch comic timing and the way she brings her vulnerability to the fore in a confrontation scene with Ayushmann’s Uday in the second half is stunning.
Shefali Shah, who plays Dr Nandini, the head of the gynaecology department in the medical campus and Uday’s mentor, plays her part to a T. The dearth of nuances, however, in her character stops her from blossoming with her signature glory. Once again, she plays a part that’s stern, restraint and resolute. A surprise revelation is Abhay Mishra, who plays Chaddi. His one-liners and straight-faced humour will crack you up every now and then. His scenes with Ayushmann are thoroughly entertaining. Rakul doesn’t bring much to the table solely because she has no meat to chew. Indraneil Sengupta and Ayesha Kaduskar are decent.
Director Anubhuti Kashyap delivers an impressive act with her debut project. It is said that when stories are told and helmed by women, there’s a certain tenderness attached to their approach and treatment. Needless to say, Doctor G is told from a female gaze. Here, the women might not be man-haters but they surely are portrayed from the lens of a feminist, which is also reflected in the way their disposition and demeanour towards Uday – the only boy in the gynaecology class - transitions. Without any kind of gender role reversal happening, they are made to operate and maneuver in a world that belongs to them.
Watch this film if you want to take a break from the actioners and mystery-thrillers that are gracing the big screen every other Friday of late. Despite its run-of-the-mill template, Doctor G manages to offer a kind of novelty and brings us back the Ayushmann Khurrana we have been yearning for.