3.5 Stars (out of 4)
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An attractive cast and raucous party scenes are the lure Cocktail uses to draw the audience into an exploration of modern romance and female friendship. It’s a frothy concoction that packs a punch.
Country girl Meera (Diana Penty) arrives in London to reunite with her husband Kunal (Randeep Hooda), only to learn that the marriage was a scam to cheat her out of her dowry money. Alone in an unfamiliar city, Meera meets Veronica (Deepika Padukone), a party girl. Veronica’s decadent lifestyle is financed by her wealthy absentee father, and she offers Meera a place to stay without a second thought. Though opposites in temperament, the women become best friends.
During a night on the town, Veronica plays a prank on Gautam (Saif Ali Khan), a serial flirt who hit on Meera when she first arrived in London. Veronica and Gautam become romantically involved, and he moves into Veronica’s house as well, forming a truce with Meera.
In order to get his mother (Dimple Kapadia) to stop pressuring him about marriage, Gautam admits that he’s in a relationship. When Mom arrives unexpectedly from India, Gautam says that prim, proper Meera is his girlfriend, not drunk, half-naked Veronica. The charade continues on a South African vacation where things get predictably complicated.
The story is organized as a classic Bollywood tale-of-two-halves. The first half of the film is lighthearted as the friends get to know each other. Some of the best laughs come courtesy of Gautam’s uncle, played by Boman Irani.
The second half of the film becomes an interesting character study with meaningful dialog. Writers Imtiaz Ali and Sajid Ali offer insightful commentary on modern, hook-up culture through the characters of Gautam and Veronica.
As soon as Gautam starts his sham relationship with Meera, everyone in the audience knows that things will end badly, but Gautam honestly doesn’t. He thinks he can say sweet things to Meera and that she won’t fall for him, and that he can do this in front of Veronica without making her jealous. He treats his “no strings attached” status with Veronica as a contract, a shield from future emotional attachment. Khan is very good in the scenes when Gautam finally realizes that this is not the case.
Padukone is likewise captivating when Veronica finally appreciates the hollowness of her party lifestyle. “I know what everyone thinks of me,” she says, heartbreakingly. Veronica fights dirty for the life she thinks she wants, a life that seems destined for Meera but not her. As misguided as she is, Veronica is very relatable.
Debutant actor Penty jumps into the deep end with Cocktail. Khan and Padukone are talented and sexy and have an established rapport, having worked together as romantic leads in Imtiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal. Even Hooda, Irani, and Kapadia are superb in their supporting roles. Penty’s performance isn’t quite as nuanced as those of her fellow cast members — she needs to learn to emote with her eyes and work on her dance moves — but she’s not a distraction. Meera isn’t as flashy as Veronica or Gautam, and Penty’s restrained performance suits her character.
The few complaints I have about the movie have to do with the sound design. There’s a paucity of background music in the first half, making it feel as though the scenes lack a connective thread. Also, the music that is there gets mixed very loud relative to the dialog, like when television commercials are significantly louder than the shows they interrupt.
If you watch enough movies, it becomes easy to predict how a plot will progress. With about thirty minutes remaining in Cocktail, I wrote the note: “How will this end?” It’s a lot of fun to be taken along for the ride for a change.