Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, Bollywood’s first romantic comedy depicting a gay couple, is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. Albeit a very hasty step, absentmindedly taken while gazing up at the sky so that no one is sure of what exactly they are walking towards, but a step nonetheless. Comedy and social commentary are not mutually exclusive; on the contrary, both tend to go splendidly well together. Directed by Hitesh Kewalya, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan has moments where it manages to deliver scathing one-liners that leave the viewers in stitches, but never at the expense of the sexuality of the protagonists. The bar here is depressingly low, but gay men not being depicted as caricatures is an achievement in itself.
Ayushmann Khurrana as Kartik and Jitendra Kumar as Aman have a romance that doesn’t fall horribly flat, and are at the very least convincingly fond of each other. Kartik is a spirited and whimsical man who has been out of the closet since he was a child, while his lover Aman is more reserved, not wanting to come out to his family just yet. Perhaps making out in full view of anyone passing by is not the best way to keep one’s sexuality a secret, especially in a train full of family members, but to each their own. Aman’s father stumbles upon the couple, because why wouldn’t he, and thus the trial begins: trying to convince the family to accept their ladla beta as he is. Kartik’s insistence that Aman’s father is educated (a botanist), and hence might not be a complete bigot is a well deserved jab at the hypocritical nature of the educated Indian class.
Aman Tripathi is easily relatable, and so is his reluctance to stand up to his family for fear of alienating himself. Kartik, other than his winning smile and personality, also has a glorious nose ring. However, it is the supporting cast that steals the show. From Neena Gupta as Sunaina Tripathi to Maanvi Gagroo as ‘Goggle’, the women in the story are written with striking efficiency. Whether it is the bride refusing to wait for her family and riding the horse to the mandap by herself, or Kusum playing the role of a ditzy fiancée only to reveal surprising depth later on, the viewer is left with no choice but to cheer for them. Sunaina Tripathi has some of the most memorable dialogues, and in a film that tries to run itself almost entirely on dialogues, that is saying something.
A few instances of sincerity, however, need not dampen a comedy. Even though the movie does, very sparsely, try to add gravity to certain moments- it falls short of being heartfelt. The theme of the movie makes it impossible to ignore the perils associated with the situation that Aman has been put into- having his sexuality exposed to a family that quite honestly believes homosexuality to be a disease and tries to bring about his ‘rebirth’ as a straight man, uses suicide as a guilt tripping mechanism, and subsequently forces him to marry a girl. A few moments not littered with awkwardly placed one-liners (My sexuality is my sexuality, none of your sexuality) but rather with genuine introspection would not have ruined the comedic nature of the movie, but perhaps have provided it with more substance.
There are moments which are genuinely rib tickling, and combined with the repeated subversion of Bollywood tropes to depict a queer narrative, the film is not difficult to watch. The plot however, or the lack of coherence in it, becomes glaringly noticeable after a while. Other than various unnecessary subplots, there was an attempt made to construct a far-fetched metaphor on black cabbages, although it is difficult to confirm what the cabbages were supposed to symbolize. The storytelling is abrupt in parts, but seems to drag on in others. The resolution to the central conflict essentially turns out to be a joke- and not of the funny kind. The problem depicted in the movie was never a legal one- Kartik did not get beaten to unconsciousness because of a legal disagreement- yet once Article 377 is abolished the problem seems to resolve itself. The confrontation between father and son was perhaps the intended catalyst for the change, but the entire scene was rushed, and then quickly overshadowed by the arrival of the cops.
Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan aptly ridicules the senseless nature of patriarchal traditions, and the hypocrisy inherent within society, but fails to leave a lasting impression in the way that one might expect from the first gay rom-com in Bollywood.