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!
S. Prasanna directs Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. For a first time director R. S. Prasanna sure is ambitious to take on a subject like Erectile Dysfunction. Read on to find out if Prasanna manages to deliver a “hard” hitting and entertaining caper or turns in a “limp” biscuit of a movie.
Mudit played by Ayushmann Khurrana has been besotted by Sugandha played by Bhumi Pednekar. Unable to muster courage to ask her out he sends her an online marriage proposal. Sugandha who has been dreaming of the romanticised notion of a Bollywood love story reluctantly agrees to allow Mudit to court her. The first time they get frisky while Sugandha’s parents are out of town, Mudit ends up having performance anxiety and shares his “problem” with Sugandha and forever ruins biscuits for everyone everywhere.
Bhumi Pedneker who I have been mightily impressed in her previous two outings is surprisingly one note here. I blame it on the writing and direction more than her abilities. Because in the one scene where she tries to entice Mudit by reciting cheesy lines from a porno is testament to her talent. She is hilarious and vulnerable at the same time. Ayushmann who first burst onto the screen in Vicky Donor a movie based on similarly taboo subject (although diametrically opposite in terms of the subject itself) delivers a very confused performance. It isn’t clear if he is a shy romantic type or the Casanova who didn’t have this “problem” with his ex.
The supporting cast is what really brings the whole enterprise to a crashing halt. Both fathers are contemptible, Sughanda’s uncle a leftover from the 80’s doordarshan era acting, the mothers simpering messes. Seema Pahwa still manages to shine despite the laborious proceedings. The friends of Mudit unwatchable in the extreme. The movie seems to want to be many things at the same time.
One moment it is a budding romance movie, the next it is trying to take on a taboo subject, the very next it turns into a priyadarshan farce and the next it is a dysfunctional family dynamics dramedy The first half plods along with some carefully placed puns which elicit genuine laughs but the second half was just pure cringe fest. There seems to be no sense of continuity or any attempt at coherence. Take for instance the scene where Mudit – the groom ends up cooking the food for the wedding party, another scene is where Mudit’s father tells him if he pursues sughandha he cannot come back home or expect any money from him – Mudit all proud and indignant throws his wallet at his father and the final scene is of Mudit and Sugandha performing puja at his father’s house which they live in. the scene when Mudit and Sugandha are getting “busy” while the entire wedding contingent is waiting outside the bedroom and taking bets made me want to walk out of the theatre. The dialogues especially with a subject as sensitive as ED can quickly devolve into school yard heckling in the hands of incompetent writers and they range from juvenile to abhorrent.
Also seriously lacking is the female perspective towards sexuality. Sugandha never once seems to take into consideration her “needs”. sobbing she declares “Sex hi sab kuch nahi hota hai na” in a crowded market of all places and Mudit sends her packing in an Autorickshaw. At under 2 hours this movie isnt long by any stretch of imagination so there was sufficient reel time available to flesh out Sugandha’s character to something a little more than just a doormat.
Unresolved direction and underwhelming performances cannot save the movie from the grave its story and screenplay writers have dug for it. Stay far away from this and rewatch Vicky Donor instead.
Shree Narayan Singh directs Akshay Kumar and Bhumi Pednekar in Toilet – Ek Prem Katha. Akshay Kumar has hit something of a purple patch when it comes to the scripts he is picking and his performances in them. The critics are loving him as are the masses. I have had my challenges with the execution of some his more acclaimed work. I found Airlift too hackneyed and Rustom didn’t deliver on its potential. Will Toilet –Ek Prem Katha with its off-beat plot be the one that finally makes me sit up and notice?
Keshav played by Akshay Kumar is the son of a Brahmin played by Sudhir Pandey a veteran of the television world. Keshav is plagued by astrological irregularities which stop his father from getting him married off. Due to his being Manglik – he is wed off to a buffalo – a rather hilarious take on the surprisingly common ritual of Kumbh Vivah which is usually performed with a tree. Keshav falls in love with Jaya played by Bhumi Pednekar, the firebrand from the adjacent village and together they concoct a fake thumb to overcome Keshav’s second astrological issue. Hilarity ensues when the day after the wedding Jaya is invited by the women of the village at the crack of dawn to their Lota party – the practice of going into the fields to tend to nature’s call. The educated and “liberal” Jaya is shocked at the idea and refuses to “go”. Keshav tries everything he can to make his new bride happy but his Father is deeply opposed to the notion of defecating in the same place where they worship. Jaya goes back to her parent’s place and Keshav sets about the task of winning his wife’s heart and getting her back.
Akshay Kumar is spectacular as Keshav. He is the perfect mix of village bumpkin and yet evolved in many ways. His charming ways of trying to win over Jaya when he first sets his eyes on her and the not-so-quiet determination of winning her back after she leaves him to return to her parent’s is fantastic. Even tasked with maudlin dialogues like “ye mamla Sauch(Toilet) ka nahi Soch( Thought) ka hai” and “ jab biwi chahiye pass to ghar me ho Sandaas” he delivers them with such earnestness that you are not left cringing. Bhumi Pednekar who first burst onto the screens as the overweight newlywed in Dum Lagakar Haisha (a Fantastic film if you haven’t seen it already) is solid here. Her struggles at loving and wanting to be with Keshav but standing up for her dignity are highly nuanced. One moment she is directing her fury at the women who say nothing about the lack of basic hygiene and the next she is weeping in the middle of the night applying detol after she beat Keshav with a Laathi at the Lath-Maar Holi. Sushil Pandey as Bauji, Anupam Kher as Jaya’s uncle and the actors who play Jaya’s parents and veteran actor Shubha Khote are fantastic in the small but significant roles they play in the story. Divyendu Sharma who plays Keshav’s brother is good in parts but then like in Pyaar Ka Punchnama becomes overbearing and hogs the screen which really does not belong to him.
There are some serious missteps in the second half. When Keshav goes to Block Samiti to get approval for a common toilet for the village they try to wedge in the 3000 Cr. Sanitation scam into the narrative and it feels very ham fisted. The different government departments, and the whole narrative arc just feel very unresolved. But where the movie triumphs in is in making the unpalatable, palatable, making a very important issue – entertaining to watch and still managing to get the message through without necessarily being preachy about it. Also a big highlight for me is the song and the picturization of the song “Gori tu lath maar”. Set against the backdrop of the Lathmar Holi of Mathura where women beat men with a Lathi.
Despite the unresolved second half this is a well-made, excellently acted film. If this film is able to make even the slightest bit of difference in the furthering the cause of Swacch Bharat it should make everyone associated with the movie very proud. This is not a propaganda film, nor is it preachy – it is a socially aware and yet immensely entertaining movie.