Yup, this is a ‘sau pratishat’ shuddh desi romance alright! And that’s owing to its plucky reflection of young Indians and their confusion over marriage and love. Things have never been more uncertain. There was a time where marriage was arranged and had to be borne through one’s life. It was the ‘done’ thing, and the decision was already made for you. Now, there is a choice, and therein also the problem. To marry or not to marry? To live-in or not?
The film begins with a charming montage of couples – holding hands, posing for photos, inscribing hearts on walls, laughing together.
Raghu (full name Raghuram Sitaram) played by Sushant Singh Rajput talks to us directly. He’s had relationships ‘jamm ke” but is nervous about getting into an arranged marriage. He can’t understand why Indian society pressures people into “settling” down.
A tourist guide, Raghu sells overpriced dupattas to unsuspecting foreigners, while posing as a groom’s baaraati for money. It’s a flourishing business and all he has to do is wear a shiny suit and turn up for the party.
Now it’s his turn to get hitched, and his avuncular boss (Rishi Kapoor) has just hired Gayatri (Parineeti Chopra) as part of his baaraat. He wanted “English-speaking gentry”, you see.
On their way to the wedding venue, Raghu blabbers his anxiousness to Gayatri and the two get a bit cozy. He wonders how people can get married without knowing if they are compatible in “every” way.
“Shaadiyon mein poore Bharat ka jhooth aur double standards bahar aa jaata hai (the Indian wedding exposes all the hypocrisy and double standards of Indian society)," he says. Quite true, this, as you see the groom’s baaraati’s (even if on hire) demanding special treatment from the girl’s side, keeping them on their toes.
The girl (Vaani Kapoor) he is about to marry is beautiful, prompting one friend to comment, “Arranged mein mil gayee, love mein nahin milti” (he got such a beautiful girl because the marriage is arranged; he wouldn’t stand a chance with love).
But something’s amiss. He can’t get Gayatri out of his head. And just like that, he gets stuck in a messy love triangle, that’s entirely his doing.
The characters are modern and utterly desi, and the two together shouldn’t surprise anyone anymore. That’s the whole point of the movie in the first place—that modern is the new desi. Even in this kitschy, colourful small-town of Rajasthan.
So Gayatri lives alone, on her own terms, and has had her heart broken several times. Her fondness of smoking has made the nosy neighbours call her cigarette-wali. Raghu’s bride-to-be is also quite something. Tough and emotional at once, these girls are very real, very likeable and very solid.
Raghu, wedged between them, simply can’t make up his mind, and is many ways an Indian boy who hasn’t yet realized he’s a grown-up and has decisions to make.
Raghu and Gayatri’s romance has a child-like naivety, led by what they admit is an overwhelming attraction. Raghu’s other relationship is more taxing, forcing him to grow up a little.
The film has a great start, moves to a tepid climax, but makes up with a refreshingly bold ending.
Where the film falters is the absence of the word ‘divorce’, when marriage is being discussed. Surely, rising divorce rates is one of the reasons why young people are questioning the strength of this institution. Secondly, two gorgeous, sorted women interested in the out-of-work and coarse Raghu is a bit of a stretch.
The characters have a propensity to run for a ‘bathroom’ break when things get awkward (which is often). Indeed, the interval is also called a ‘Bathroom Break’ as a tribute.
The performances are marvelous. Parineeti Chopra’s hearty rendering of Gayatri is the best part about this picture. Hers is a talent that can elevate a film to another level. Sushant Singh Rajput is utterly adorable as the perpetually confused Raghu— a good-hearted guy who’s got it all wrong.
Debutante Vaani Kapoor shows spunk and confidence and is definitely an actress to look out for. Rishi Kapoor is superb, as always. Several character actors light up the screen for a few scenes and are outstanding.
Technically, the film is a treat from the cinematography, to the editing and sound. The production design (water stored in Roohafza bottles, bangles stored in a hanger, tea with FM radio, makeshift loos with ‘Chalta Firta Shauchalay’ written outside is superb. There’s nuance and humour in the tiniest details.
Dialogue is intelligent, contemporary and humorous. Yes there’s the affected North Indian twang with a ‘by god’ etc. thrown in, but overall the dialogue folds in a lot of thought, without weighing you down.
Director Maneesh Sharma (Band Baaja Baaraat) does fall back to the tried-and-tested ways of his debut film (shaadi-vaadi, contemporary characters, modern love etc), but you really don’t mind at all. He brings you a touch of humour here, a hinted emotion there, as the characters address you once again against shimmering neon lights.
With knockout performances, interesting characters, and an even more fascinating love saga, Shuddh Desi Romance has so much worth savoring. Do try.
Rating: Three and a half stars