Love hastened by the magic of food is a trope that works for celluloid as well as it does for cellulite... ummm, we mean, real life. Unless (apparently in both cases) you start talking dowry. You see, despite the fact that it has all of the ingredients you'd imagine when picturing the perfect Bollywood rom-com, Daawat-E-Ishq manages to take all of those ingredients, and adds in that little something extra (dowry troubles) to completely ruin the flavor in a vague but distinct manner.
We begin in Hyderabad, with Gulrez (Parineeti Chopra) and her woes of an imminent marriage. Gulrez is a college-going girl with dreams of studying in the US, but her father Abdul Qadir (Anupam Kher) is having none of it, choosing instead to try and make his daughter, and her dreams, someone else's problems. Gulrez goes along with her father's plans, but is thoroughly disillusioned by men seeking to be bought rather than wedded. The last straw for Gulrez is when her boyfriend turns out to be yet another dowry-seeker.
She then comes up with a Plan that includes a trip to Lucknow, pretending to be rich, and getting some gullible fool stuck in a fake dowry case. All she needs is her father's help, who goes along with it easily enough for someone who was cringing at an act of corruption at his workplace not half-an-hour ago.
Come Lucknow, and we are introduced to Tariq (Aditya Roy Kapoor), a bumbling and uncouth kebab-place owner - sorry, oldest-kebab-place-in-Lucknow owner - and the man of Gulrez's decidedly disingenuous dreams. And the rest, as they say, is history, if history were something you keep wanting to turn your vacuum cleaner on. Oh, wait. It is.
The thing about Daawat-E-Ishq is that it never lets its characters know who they actually are, rendering said characters as confused as their audience. For instance, both the fact that Abdul Qadir is so insistent on putting a full-stop to his daughter's education, and his willingness to go along with a plan as unscrupulous as it is shaky (something he surely knows considering that he is a lawyer's clerk), are thoroughly inconsistent with his behavior during the rest of the film. There is no good reason for a girl who knows her mind as well as Gulrez seems to, to victimize herself to such an extent that the whole dowry plot becomes justifiable. There is even less reason for Tariq to forgive and forget just in time for yet another interminable song-and-dance.
As far as the food is concerned, it is nowhere near as much a part of the story as to warrant being featured in the title. It is more like a side character. Like if Daawat-E-Ishq were a perfectly good biryani ruined by too much seasoning, and the Daawat part were the garnish to make the whole thing seem palatable.
The sad part is, you get just enough glimpses of the rom-com that could've been to tease you into staying through yet another jarring scene. Parineeti Chopra is as appealing as ever, jauntily trying to make sense out of her incomprehensible character. Anupam Kher is pretty sincere and shares a better chemistry with Chopra's character than Aditya Roy Kapoor. Roy Kapoor, on his part, shows that he can do more than just look really pretty on screen, which was important because the costume department apparently tried their best not to let him depend on his looks. The rest of the cast is pretty good, too, and performances are not ever a problem with the film.
The music is thoroughly mediocre. The camerawork on the other hand is just as much of a treat to the eyes as you would've imagined.
In all, Daawat-E-Ishq is just good enough for you to wish it were better, while consistently keeping that hope out of reach. Recycle your Julia Roberts stash for date night, and leave this one for when it turns up on TV.