"Popcorn Khao...Mast Ho Jao" belongs unapologetically to the cool school. It borrows heavily from the Archies comic strip. Newcomer Abhishek Kapoor makes a pleasantly scrambled Archie while Yash Tonk - full of cheesy chutzpah and gulping gusto-is Jughead.
Tanisha and debutante Rashmi Nigam play demure Betty and Veronica.
Last year, the same campus formula was used in Ken Ghosh's "Ishq Vishq". The dialogues in "Popcorn Khao..." and the performances are far more elevating and intelligent.
Debutant director Kabir Sadanand makes no bones about making a film that doesn't try to say anything beyond its romantic surface. Still, he surprises us in the second-half with some very tender interludes between the self-motivated Rahul (Kapoor) and the all-giving small-town girl with rock-steady values Tanya (Tanisha) who's so devoted, she cries when Rahul is mistreated by the neighbourhood femme fatale.
To our relief, there are no vamps and villains in Sadanand's scheme of things, no heaving highs (not counting the bosoms and thighs that surface in sloping splendour for the two utterly uncalled-for item songs) and no whimpering lows.
The narrative moves at a tranquil pace, neither creating overt drama nor making a song and dance over playing it cool.
Having adopted the Archies formula, Sadanand goes back to many other more native sources to tell his story.
The theme of the innocent musician's compromise and corruption in big bad Mumbai has its echoes in Raj Kapoor's "Shri 420". You can, in fact go back to Aziz Mirza's "Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman", where Sah Rukh Khan had to choose between 'love' Juhi Chawla and 'amibition' Amrita Singh.
The choice, as they say, is clear. Without raising a hue and cry over its moral preoccupations, "Popcorn Khao..." gives us a portrait of the Innocent Abroad as he wades through the concrete jungle trying to find a place for his restless spirit.
These deep ideas are not quite what this film aims at. While having a good time, "Popcorn..." does aim to provide an underbelly of simmering thoughts which are kept out of visual range but nonetheless mingle with the cosmetic emotions of characters who live on the edge of shallow waters.
Most of all, perhaps subconsciously, this is Kabir Sadanand's homage to "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai", Karan Johar's historic take on the Archies formula.
Tanisha and Rashmi Nigam are clearly modelled on Kajol and Rani Mukherjee in Johar's film. Many scenes featuring them with the hero also echo "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" without blinding aping the source material.
Kajol's sister Tanisha, who made a disastrous debut last year, is vaguely engaging. Like her sister in Karan Johar's film, Tanisha is made to go from tomboy to sari-clad woman of the world who says: "I've begun to say important things because I now understand the value of little gestures in life."
Rashmi Nigam wears the I-Am-Cool expression throughout the film. Maybe she's saving up the other expressions for later.
Akshay Kapoor in the author-backed role gives a surprisingly confident account of his character's confusions and ambitions. After Sammir Dattani, who made a spectacular impact in "Uff Kya Jadoo Mohabbat Hai", Kapoor's is the only notable debut this year.
Director Sadanand puts in an interesting cameo as a Hollywood-fixated star in Bollywood. He brings out the vanity of the average Hindi star with cocky conviction.
The film often pokes fun at mainstream conventions. After Rahul's bohemian landlady (Kamini Khanna) hugs him and gets sentimental, she quickly pushes him away, saying: "Don't think I'm going to behave like the Pinto Aunty in Hindi films."
While looking away from the formula films, "Popcorn..." still manages to pay homage to conventions. But the quadrangle gets tedious in time. Though the characters seem to have all the time in the world, you want the plot to hurry to its inevitable conclusions.
"Pocorn..." takes its own sweet time to get there...the stress being on sweet.