Writer-director Alankrita Shrivastava wanted her debut film Turning 30 to portray young, urban Indian women in a fun yet realistic way. I hope Shrivastava’s portrayal is inaccurate, because the female characters in Turning 30 are pitiable.
Days before her 30th birthday, Naina (Gul Panag) seems to have an ideal life: a house, a good job at an ad agency and a boyfriend, Rishabh (Sid Makkar), who’s ready to propose. When Naina’s ideas are stolen at work and Rishabh abruptly breaks up with her, Naina falls apart.
This is a fine set up for a story, but a set up is all it should be. Instead, Naina’s despair over her unsettled life is the story of Turning 30. Any time she sees or thinks about Rishabh, Naina gets a forlorn look in her eye and cries in the rain. She begs him to take her back, accosts his parents and belabors anyone who will listen about how lost she is without Rishabh and how she doesn’t know what to do with her life. It’s pathetic.
That’s not to say Naina’s reaction is unrealistic. It’s just that being sad isn’t the interesting part of getting dumped: it’s how a person gets over it. Naina doesn’t make any attempt to get over Rishabh or take charge of her career until the last fifteen minutes of this two-hour movie. Her plight devolves from dull to excruciating.
After Naina is dumped, she quickly rebounds into a sexual relationship with her ex-boyfriend, Jai (Purab Kohli), a successful artist who’s ready to settle down. Despite knowing that Jai’s in love with her, Naina sleeps with him repeatedly, but always with the caveat that she’s not over Rishabh yet — as though her honesty absolves her from leading him on.
This level of self-absorption would almost be forgivable if Naina were a nice person, but she’s not. In addition to her cruel treatment of Jai, she’s short-tempered with her mother, her maid, and her coworkers. When her friend, Malini (Tillotama Shome), breaks down in tears and discloses that she’s a lesbian, Naina looks at her as though she’s a freak and makes no attempt to comfort her.
As uninspiring a heroine as Naina is, Shrivastava is almost misogynistic in the way she writes Naina’s other best pal, Ruksana (Jeneva Talwar). Ruksana discovers her husband is cheating on her at the same time she learns that she’s pregnant. The pregnancy temporarily puts a halt to hubby’s wandering, but he strays again as soon as the baby is born. Ruksana tells Naina and Malini that her husband’s cheating no longer bothers her, now that she has a baby to love her.
What’s worse is that Naina and Malini don’t even challenge Ruksana. No “you deserve better than that” pep talk. Just a shrug and an “as long as you’re happy” that seems to indicate that this is to be expected.
So, in a nutshell, Shrivastava’s realistic portrayal of the life of a modern Indian woman amounts to this: Get educated. Get a job. Land a husband before you get too old/before the unrelenting parental pressure to marry becomes unbearable/before he finds somebody with more money. Get knocked up and quit your job. Hubby will (and, judging by the women in this movie, maybe should) ditch you for a younger, hotter woman. But, hey, at least you’ve got a baby.