I occasionally wonder why “Women Telling Women’s Stories” resonates with you all so much.
Then a film like this comes along, instantly reminding me why.
Bhumi Pednekar is Kanika, raised by a gynecologist mother and a grandmother, and has spent most of her life screwing up romantic relationships. We are told in passing she is a food blogger; you see her take one photo of one meal and file taxes for a split second. But for the rest of the runtime, Kanika, nicknamed Kandu Kanika because it’s funny and sounds like a bad word, can only think about achieving her first orgasm, and self-respect is non-existent.
Kanika has two female best friends who give her mostly bad advice. These, played by Dolly Singh and Shibani Bedi, could be categorized as Friend 1 and Friend 2, for all the depth afforded to them. Even more of a stereotype is Kusha Kapila’s character, the “bitchy upper-class Delhi lady,” barely an extension of the women we’ve seen her play on Instagram.
Sick of being in and out of relationships, Kanika finally decides to accept a marriage proposal, only for it to all go south in one night.
I love a good, raunchy, female-led screwball comedy. Emma Seligman’s ‘Shiva Baby,’ the star-making ‘Easy A,’ anything Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, or Amy Schumer decide to do — and I understand these are all white American women telling stories in a society that encouraged feminist storytellers much earlier on. We are SEVERELY, TRAGICALLY behind in Hindi cinema, where the only recent big-budget production that comes to mind is ‘Veere Di Wedding.’ While that one was a lot more sanitized, it WAS way ahead of its time. Made by the same production house behind this one,’ ‘Veere’ opened doors for a romantic comedy with an all-female lead cast. I loved it.
The truth is we’ve had to wait until 2023 for another story where women don’t have to be over-the-top achievers or athletes to be taken seriously as people worthy of respect, while Kartik Aaryan and Vicky Kaushal have continued to helm projects upon projects. Maane, the time is RIPE for ‘Thank You For Coming.’ I am HERE for it, show me the messy girls!
However, the film, with all its promise and perfect timing, falls way short, simply because it’s TOO aware of what it’s TRYING to do, without being interested in its own potential, or genuinely concerned with smashing the patriarchy. I mean, the title credits make the film look like an episode of ‘The Simpsons,’, minus any of the existential dread of the show.
We have a protagonist seemingly in control of her narrative, with agency, but because every single decision she takes in her life is 100% wrong and she’s objectively a bad person to boot, it begins to feel like the film is telling us the reason for her failures IS her promiscuity, her air-headedness, and not the systems women are oppressed by, actively working against us. She’s too callous a friend and not even a very good daughter, wary of her single mother’s lifestyle. It’s perfectly OKAY to have an unlikable protagonist tbh, but one hopes the story is going to reward our investment in its characters; and WHEN we’re supposed to start rooting for the lead, have us armed with enough information on WHY they were acting out the way they were, so we can all have that collective moment of release, na?
In ‘Thank You For Coming,’ that penny never drops. What is the conflict in Kanika’s life? She’s never had an orgasm? Sure, it’s a legit issue for countless women, one so many of us don’t even realize, as her mother tells her. This ONE concern takes over Kanika’s very being, she seemingly even hallucinates only about sex. It’s like writers Radhika Anand, Prashasti Singh, and director Karan Boolani knew where they wanted to start the film and how it was going to end, (a climactic reveal one can see coming since about the mid-point) but what to put in between, they figured out as they went.
I wondered, would her single mother’s story of being a gynecologist raising a potty-mouthed child in Delhi be a more interesting one to watch? Actor Natasha Rastogi most certainly could carry it, I’ll tell you that!
This also becomes apparent with the casting. Now, Bhumi Pednekar is on fire, delivering bangers one after the other — ‘Badhaai Do,’ ‘Bheed,’ and ‘Afwaah.’ There is no doubt she is one of the more exciting talents we have currently; just WATCH ‘Sonchiriya’ when you can. With Kanika, though, Bhumi makes the artistic choice to play her either drunk or performing her sadness. Kanika doesn’t cry; she has breakdowns. She doesn’t drink, she blacks out. She doesn’t learn the truth; she has epiphanies. She doesn’t make mistakes; they are all catastrophes. After a point, they all blur into each other in a broad cacophony, loud for loudness’s sake.
But coming back to the casting — I was elated to see the film promote all the actors as equal shareholders of this film. That Shehnaaz Gill was finally going to get that lead role, allowing us to forget ‘Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan.’ But alas, most of that is a lie.
Shehnaaz’s character exists to further the “Anil Kapoor still jawan hain” legend. Shibani Bedi, CLEARLY the best actor among the supporting cast, struggles with paper-thin material. She TOO plays a single mother; lest we get too creative, the character is so basic, that you may as well be watching a sitcom with a laugh track. Dolly Singh, again pushing with all her might, is simply the “married friend” and frankly seems uncomfortable with the sheer size of the production she is in. Sushant Divgikr has a bigger, more important role in the film than Kusha Kapila, who is seen about three times. Then how can one believe these actors have been cast for ANYTHING more than the combined social media following they bring?
It was a pretty great surprise to see Pradhuman Singh Mall, though, back on screen after about five years, holding his own in an ensemble cast. You might remember him as the fake Osama from Abhishek Sharma’s incredible ‘Tere Bin Laden.’
In some moments, ‘Thank You For Coming feminism turns into narcissism, laying bare the intention of this film, or frankly, the lack of it. It exists to titillate, not so much to educate. A high school student in Delhi will probably never shout, “I don’t want to wear a bra,” during her morning assembly. But when a kid does, instead of playing that for the ridiculous, ‘Arrested Development’ -style silly moment that it is, the scene turns into rage against the machine, with Kanika eventually screaming out “Smash the patriarchy!”