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Good Newwz, Review: Madame Ovary

Apologies to Gustave Flaubert, whose French novel, Madame Bovary, lends itself to the headline for this review. The title was too punny to escape, what with his famous trial of 1857, on charges of obscenity, and the subsequent classification of the work as a classic of modern realism. Among those who made films on this subject are Jean Renoir, Vincente Minnelli, Claude Chabrol and David Lean, not to mention our own Ketan Mehta’s Maya Memsaab. Good Newwz is not an adaptation of Madame Bovary, but it has lots to do with a Madame (or two) and the fertilisation of eggs produced by the ovary. It is an off-beat subject which tries to milk the theme, often making injudicious use of sarcasm and slapstick, in an infertile, crude filmscape.

Jyoti Kapoor (story, co-screenplay), director Raj Mehta and Rishabh Sharma (co-dialogue writer and additional screenplay writer; has also worked on Dostana 2 for Good Newwz’s producer, Karan Johar) have put together a script that is so stagey that it comes across as a theatrical play rather than a film. Volkswagen car salesman Varun Batra is married to Deepti (Deepu). After a bad day at work, he is unwinding with colleagues, at a pub in Mumbai, when his wife calls. She is livid that he is not home yet, because, based on her ovulation cycle, that day, they were to try making a baby. He rushes back and they get into the act. Afterwards, Deepu eases herself into the most appropriate position, to help the sperms on their way while Varun finds the whole idea silly. After another go, he admits that he was faking it, which Deepu finds incredible, being under the impression that only women could fake it.

Leaving for Delhi the next day, they attend Varun’s brother-in-law’s son’s first Lohri (a north Indian festival). The son is named Holaram, and that funny sounding appellation is the butt of several jokes. Constant badgering about why she has not conceived even six years after marriage, and various shades of advice on how to get pregnant, drive Deepu crazy. However, she sees some merit in one suggestion, that they should see a Mumbai doctor, Joshi, who specialises in In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF). Varun is dead against the idea, but reluctantly agrees. Dr. Joshi and Dr. Mrs. Joshi explain the process to the couple, and put the couple through routine tests. It is found that both have issues, and that the chances of natural pregnancy are near zero. Even IVF has a small chance of succeeding, but it is a chance worth taking, the learned doctors advise. Soon, Mr. and Mrs. Batra are signed on to the terribly expensive programme that might help realise Deepu’s dream of becoming a mother.

Meanwhile, unknown to them, another Mr. and Mrs. Batra have also joined the programme. A Sikh couple from Chandigarh, they have already started celebrating, lauding the Joshis as Gods, based on their promises and track record of 95% success. Then, one day, Varun gets a call from Dr. Mrs. Joshi, summoning him and Deepu immediately to their Silverlining clinic. There, they are introduced to Honey and Monika Batra, and it is revealed that a catastrophic mistake has been made: the sperms of the two Mr. Batras have been interchanged, and the fertilised eggs that the two women are carrying in their wombs are not those of their respective husbands. Deepu is carrying Honey’s sperm while Monika is pregnant with Varun’s ‘swimmer’.

Getting your characters into a royal mess is not so difficult; getting them out, in an entertaining and convincing manner, is what inspired writing is all about. Talking about mess, story-writer Jyoti Kapoor is no stranger to the term. It was reported in a publication in March that her name was inexplicably removed from the nominations of Best Story for the Filmfare Awards – a nomination she had shared with writers Akshat Ghildial and Shantanu Srivastava, for the film Badhaai Ho.

Said Kapoor, “I wrote and registered the story of Hum Do Hamaare Chaar with the Screenwriters Association, in March, 2015.” Her synopsis go: Chawla siblings, busy in their own lives, are summoned to their hometown in Haryana when their middle-aged parents give them the shock of their lives. “The not-so-good news is that they got accidentally pregnant, one of those rare pregnancies, and need their kids to be around to deal with this rather tricky crisis.” Guess what her next foray is called? Good Newwz! And this time it is semi-autobiographical, though we will never know what was semi and what autobiographical. Jyoti has done a course in Screenplay writing at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) even as she was going through a rough, messy divorce, and written films like Daawat-e-Ishq and Kaccha Limboo. Raj Mehta was associate director on the 2017 film, Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya, also produced by Karan Johar.

Choosing not to give any back-story to the lead duo, they make it a point to give one to the parallel characters, albeit only as narrated by the better-half. Can a car salesman and his journalist wife afford the kind of home and lifestyle that they lead? How many times does Varun put his foot into his mouth and apologise, especially to his own wife, and they patch-up? I lost count. Is he a meanie, or a sadist, who enjoys demeaning everybody? As if being dubbed stupid and bumpkins by Varun, for merely being Chandigarh-bred, Honey and Monika then go to great lengths to prove him right, time and again. Deepu asks a fellow passenger on a flight to help her get her bag from the overhead locker, “The brown one she specifies.” He picks it out and hands it over. Only, all the bags on the shelf are brown!

Varun hopes to conceal his bathroom smoking from Deepu by rinsing with mouthwash before extinguishing and planting the cigarette in an ash-tray. What about the tell-tale butt? A reputed gynaecologist asks for drops before performing surgical procedure. As a small bottle is handed over to him by a nurse, Varun yells, “But these are eye drops!” “Don’t worry, they are for me,” reassures the doc. Stale joke. Bad taste. Do I hear some medical association protesting? So many doorbells ringing, lifts opening and closing, persons entering and exiting, all of this is so theatrical…where is the language of cinema? For ambience’s sake, we needed to see more doctors in the multi-storeyed Silverlining Hospital; Joshi and his wife are just not enough. For about half an hour, Joshi vanishes from the scene, which is explained by Deepu stating that she prefers to have her treatment done by Lady Joshi. In the last half hour, Lady Joshi disappears, but not without a good explanation: she has gone to the US for a one-year diploma in advanced studies.

Akshay Kumar proves again that he is a director’s actor, though a couple of scenes appear to have been improvised. Watch the scene where he quickly stuffs papers he has just torn into his own coat pocket, out of fear about being caught in the act. Unfortunately, the writers have decided that his vitriolic wit and an incendiary temperament add up to humour and comedy. There is nothing to say why the two married so late, age showing on 52 year-old Akshay, and ‘seen 39 summers’ Kareena Kapoor-Khan. In the film, they are married for about six years. Co-incidentally, Kareena married Saif Ali Khan in 2012, six years before Good Newwz was shot. Kareena goes through the motions with ease, performing mainly with alternating straight and sideways looks. One monologue about women, pregnancy and child-birth commands attention.

As Honey Batra, Diljit Dosanjh is an over-the-top delight, but not so his wife, played by Kiara Advani. Who does he remind us of? Deepti Naval? Deepika Padukone? Esha Deol? She tries hard, but that country oaf persona that Dosanjh exudes does not come naturally to her. Adil Hussain doing deadpan comedy? Indeed! As Dr. Joshi, that is his role. Slick, suave, polished and yet giving rise to laughs. That is the only way you would expect Adil to do it, and he is too good to disappoint. Tisca Chopra is Dr. Mrs. Joshi, a meaty role. Trade-mark high cheek-bone smile intact, she takes time to mull over her lines before delivering her dialogue. Anjana Sukhani (Golmaal) is cute-ish as Varun’s sister. Karan Johar, Badshah and Harrdy Sandhu make special appearances as themselves in the end credits song, ‘Chandigarh men’.

By no stretch of imagination can the Central Board of Film Certification justify classifying Good Newzz as suitable for showing to children when accompanied by Adults (UA). By merely muting references to male masturbation, by both Varun and Deepu, and a cut in the sperm collection room after which Akshay emerges to float through on a high, does the film convert itself to the above category?

IVF is serious business, and the way Honey goes on about spam (for sperm) and morni (pea-hen in Hindi) for ovary, you would imagine that ridicule and not good humour is the mainstay of Good Newzz. However, you do laugh when Deepu dreams that her baby will be born as a turbaned adult, and when Varun says that the seven-month old baby is not kicking its mother because he is no Ronaldo. Sadly, it does not add-up.

Rating: **