Even when the plot takes a jarringly melodramatic turn in the second half, Homi Adajania’s comedy of manners “Cocktail” maintains an infectious air of kicky exuberance that’s bound to delight auds ready, willing and eager to go along for the ride. Indeed, even by Bollywood standards, this brightly packaged romantic-comedy confection is unusually (if not exhaustingly) high-spirited as it careens between extremes of joy and heartbreak, unbridled playfulness and unexpected poignancy. And, of course, the inevitable musical interludes are tirelessly frolicsome. Homegrown and offshore B.O. since the pic’s July 13 international launch indicates ticketbuyers are suitably impressed.
Scripters Imtiaz and Sajid Ali construct their entertaining artifice upon the familiar foundation of a romantic triangle. Veronica (Deepika Padukone), a hard-drinking party girl living large in London, befriends countrywoman Meera (Diana Penty), a demure beauty newly arrived in the U.K. Meera has just discovered that her scoundrelly husband (Randeep Hooda) married her back in India only to finance a new life in a new country with her life savings. Immediately simpatico, Veronica invites Meera to share her apartment, but complications arise after Gautam (Saif Ali Khan), Veronica’s casual partner in a friendship with benefits, also moves in.
When Gautam’s tradition-minded mom (Dimple Kapadia) arrives from Delhi, demanding to meet the fiancee he claims to have betrothed, the commitment-averse playboy opts to introduce the wholesome Meera, not the sexy Veronica, as his intended. But while the four characters share a holiday in Cape Town, the sham evolves into reality as Gautam really, truly and madly falls for Meera. Veronica initially shrugs off this development, and suggests that she, Meera and Gautam continue to cohabitate in a “Design for Living” sort of setup. But the party girl’s accepting attitude is more apparent than real — and impossible to sustain.
Adajania’s attractive and well-cast lead players are perfectly attuned to the narrative’s vertiginous mood swings, and nimbly maneuver along their respective character arcs with charm and vigor. Khan occasionally suggests the madcap comic energy of a young Robin Williams, which actually intensifies the impact of his more dramatic moments. Padukone is a tad more persuasive as a frisky libertine than as a jealous lover, but she, too, makes a winning impression. Penty is the most low-key of the trio, in keeping with Meera’s introverted personality, but her charm works its quiet magic throughout the pic.
Composer Pritam and lyricist Irshad Kamil emphasize techno-pop sounds in the musical sequences, most effectively during a Cape Town beach party rave beautifully rendered — mostly with near-sunset lighting — by lenser Anil Mehta. Production designer Acropolis wittily litters various apartments with furniture and artifacts that reference “Blow-Up,” “Get Carter,” “A Clockwork Orange” and other Brit-made pics of the ’60s and ’70s. Why? Well, why not?