As a woman who’s lived her entire life in Illinois, I would never have expected to find a movie about the cultural differences between families from North and South India so personally relevant. But those cultural differences are only the hook in 2 States. The real story is about alcoholism and the effects it can have across multiple generations.
The majority of the problems for the characters in 2 States (based on the novel by Chetan Bhagat) stem from the warped style of communication that Krish Malhotra (Arjun Kapoor) developed in order to deal with his abusive alcoholic father, Vikram (Ronit Roy) and his martyr mother, Kavita (Amrita Singh).
Krish — a Punjabi guy from Delhi — meets and falls in love with Ananya (Alia Bhatt) — a Tamil Brahmin gal from Chennai — in graduate school. They want their parents’ approval before they get married, but an introductory meeting goes terribly wrong. Vikram doesn’t even show up, and Kavita spews slurs against South Indians. Ananya’s mother, Radha (Revathy), calls Kavita classless and drags her husband, Shiv (Shiv Kumar Subramaniam) as far away as she can get.
Krish and Ananya persist in trying to win their parents’ approval, but their efforts are hampered by Krish’s evasiveness and conflict avoidance. Because he knows it will upset his mother, Krish doesn’t tell her in advance that Ananya is coming to visit, making Kavita even angrier. Krish also doesn’t tell Ananya the truth about his troubled relationship with his father until Ananya fruitlessly tries to make small talk with him.
I’m a couple of generations removed from the alcohol abuse on both sides of my family, but its effects still linger in the way we all communicate. Listening to Krish’s family evade, pacify, generalize, and blow up over little things felt familiar.
The characters feel so authentic because they are portrayed as damaged human beings, not monsters. Even in Vikram’s worst moments, Roy gives him an air of fragility. Singh plays Kavita as a woman whose hurtful words come from a place of fear.
Kapoor infuses Krish with an air of desperation. He’s as desperate not to lose Ananya as he is not to upset his mother. Part of his character development is choosing which he fears most. Krish is a relatable alternative to the typical cocksure, big-man-on-campus type of Bollywood hero.
Bhatt is terrific as Ananya: a woman with much more confidence than Krish, despite having challenging parents of her own. Revathy and Subramaniam find the right balance, making their characters chilly but not stony. At least with them, Krish knows he stands a chance.
Certain aspects make 2 States a good starter Bollywood film, not least of which are the well-written, well-acted characters. There aren’t an overwhelming number of songs, but those that exist are placed appropriately. The biggest song-and-dance number — “Locha-E-Ulfat” — is a kind of dream sequence when Krish is in the first throes of love. It features a cool single-take shot in which the camera weaves around, following Krish as he dances through the library stacks. (Watch the video of “Locha-E-Ulfat” here.)
Where the movie loses a lot of non-Indian viewers — especially those new to Bollywood — is in its jokes and stereotypes about North and South India. Some jabs are explained, but jokes about regional food and drink preferences are glossed over. I had to turn to Wikipedia to learn that “Madrasi” — the term Kavita uses to describe Ananya and her family — is an ethnic slur. Kavita also makes many, many cringe-worthy comments about the differences in skin tone between North and South Indians.
Nevertheless, the point is sufficiently made: the two families hate each other. It’s up to Krish to overcome his fear of conflict to win the woman he loves.