Ayushmann Khurrana stars in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, probably India’s first Rom-Com with Same-sex Lead Couple. Hitesh Kewalya a former dialogue writer makes his feature film debit as a director with this movie. Does Ayuhsmann continue pushing the envelope with his risk-taking choices as a leading man, does the movie successfully move beyond the often caricatured LGBTQ+ character portrayals that seemingly stem out of self-loathing in Bollywood? Or does this end up being the same flaccid dissatisfaction that was Shubh Mangal Savdhan?
In a baffling opening sequence Kartik played by Ayushmann and Aman played by Jitendra Kumar are on a bike dressed as bargain basement super heroes off to helping Bhumi Pednekar elope. As it turns out Aman and Kartik are in love and Kartik convinces Aman to go to his cousin’s wedding to get away from the mess of having helped Bhumi elope. Once on the wedding express – literally a train ferrying the wedding party all hell breaks loose once Aman’s father catches Kartik and Aman kissing.
First things first – Jitendra Kumar is an absolute revelation. He isn’t the conventional Bollywood leading man as far as his looks are concerned but when it comes to screen presence and acting chops, he more than holds his own against Ayushmann, often showing him up. While Ayushmann’s overtly flamboyant portrayal seems jarring and forced in places Jitendra’s struggle to reconcile his identity with the pressures of his family is writ large on his face but he doesn’t need exaggerated body movements to communicate. Ayushmann is charm personified when he is with Jitendra but when it comes to interacting with an ensemble cast of Aman’s Father played by Gajraj Rao, Aman’s mother played by the incomparable Neena Gupta and others he goes overboard. The cast of characters are almost given too much of a back story which they try to ram into the story to try and add layers to the dysfunctional setup. Gajraj Rao is a scientist who has invented a maggot infested Black Cauliflower that threatens the peace in Allahabad, he is also apparently pining for his lost love Rani Asthana, Neena Gupta is still hung up on her former lover Rakesh, Gajraj’s brother is a failed law student who perpetually lives in the shadow of his older brother, his daughter is called Goggles because she lost one eye and now no one will marry her so she is marrying a man who has a son her age, Ayushmann’s father beat him up when he came out of the closet, there is a Kusum character who is meant to be comic relief but is just annoying after the first time.
The dialogue are overwrought and schizophrenically switch between the Love is Love enlightened liberal talking points to absurdities about comparisons about peeing and the chemical deconstruction of what the body goes through when you love someone. Character development is seriously lacking and because of which you do not engage with the plight of any of them. Take Goggles for instance. She is this loud mouth bratty child who seems intent on getting married but her angry portrayal makes very little sense. There are many a lost opportunities to give the characters some depth even within the confines of the story for instance, instead of Goggles being angry at everyone for not getting married she could just as easily be mad at everyone for always wanting her to get married to an unsuitable match due to what her parents see as a defect in her. Instead of both Neena Gupta and Gajraj Rao actively pining for lost love and living half a life, one of them could be allowed to have gotten over their lost love and see the light in letting their only son chose a life of love in its fullest. But alas it is not to be. Instead we must endure a Priyadarshini like slapstick comedy that is not worthy of Ayushmann’s choices in movies, Jitendra’s talents and Neena Gupta’s effervescence. Also what is the point of the movie title? What does Zyada mean in this context? Also are we not done with directors who think DDLJ is the gold standard in RomComs! enough of the running to catch the train sequences!
This movie does however get some things right. The kiss between its two leading men 20 minutes into the movie that is not made to feel salacious or scandalous, Aman’s struggle and his compliance to his parents in spite of everything. Being sat in a theatre with little kids around me laughing at the right moments and not cringing or groaning tells me that maybe there will come a time when this movie for all its shortcomings will be looked at having made this the new normal. Hopefully Neena Gupta is still around then to light up the screen with her mere presence still. Ayushmann Thank You for your courage you were however under-served by the script and the direction!