Rating: Two and a half stars
Films in recent years have dug into small towns, where they portray the ‘real India’ which is quite different from a westernized urban India. Hitesh Kewalya’s Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan may focus on a same sex couple, but could well be about the endless compromises people make in the name of pleasing the family and worrying about what others would say.
Breaking one romcom rule, Kewalya does not waste time over a meet cute between the gay protagonists, the outgoing Kartik (Ayushmann Khurrana–overacting) and the relatively timid Aman (Jitendra Kumar-convincing). When they are first seen, they are peddling toothpaste, dressed in ridiculous costumes.
Aman is reluctant to attend the wedding of his cousin Goggle (Maanvi Gagroo-excellent), but Kartik drags him, and when the former’s father Shankar Tripathi (Gajraj Rao) sees them kissing, all hell breaks loose. Tripathi is so appalled, he throws up, and then comes the anger, hurt, the making of excuses for the son’s aberrant behavior, the odd rituals to change him.
When Goggle’s prospective in-laws see the two men kissing, the whole Tripathi family explains it as a family tradition, but nobody is fooled; the ‘gay’ word is uttered and the wedding is called off.
Now Aman and Kartik have to fight to gain acceptance for their relationship, and it just happens to be the eve of the Supreme Court’s pronouncement on Article 377 to decriminalize homosexuality.
There is a curfew in Allahabad due to Tripathi’s strange hybrid black cauliflower – not in the least believable in a film that’s otherwise realistic– so Kewalya gets a chance to look at the dynamic between other members of the family. Aman’s befuddled mother Sunaina (Neena Gupta) still dreaming of a past love, his uncle Chaman (Manu Rishi Chaddha) and aunt (Sunita Rajwar), straining under the petty resentments of a joint family. Their daughter Goggle has a damaged eye and a defiant spirit, but marriage is a must, so she is willing to wed a much older man.
A neighbour’s daughter Kusum (Pankhuri Awasthy), who has been chosen to be Aman’s bride, is practical enough to propose a marriage of convenience to him, so that she can be with the man her parents do not approve of because he belongs to a different caste. Everybody is seething with a quiet desperation when the irrepressible Kartik chucks the challenge to the Tripathi clan by flaunting their homosexuality; strangely, he is not willing to confront his own father, a blacksmith, who is just mentioned in a couple of lines.
Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan is, of course, politically correct in its plea for a ‘love is love’ inclusivity, but it is also loud and chaotic, with too much of Bollywood spoofing—how many times can one chuckle at DDLJ-inspired running-after-train scenes? There is hardly a normal conversation in the film; everybody speaks in self-conscious punch lines.
While it may be true that humour is the best way of getting a message across, the story perhaps needed a moment or two of introspection and sensitivity to the emotions of others; as the mother says, they can’t be expected to change in a single day. Sometimes, there is a more interesting story hidden behind the big, noisy one, and in this film it happens to be that of Goggle or Rajni, the young woman with both courage and compassion and a positive graph of transformation. In contrast, the gay couple seems self-absorbed and somewhat insipid.