A gay man and a lesbian woman decide to tie the sacred knot with each other to avoid the daily distress put upon them by their respective families. The decision may be a little short-sighted but still works. The catch is, of course, that their relationship will be that of a husband and wife only in public parks and family get-togethers, not in the bedroom.
The gay man is Shardul, played by Rajkumar Rao, who is a policeman posted in an all-women's police station and has a knack for bodybuilding. He has a thick moustache as a symbol of his masculinity, providing a subtle hint towards his insecurity about his sexuality. His female partner in crime is Suman, played by Bhumi Pednekar, whose struggles mostly revolve around shooing away the rishtas her mother sends her way and fending off a blackmailing pervert who tries to take advantage of her hidden identity. What follows is a pretty generic but comprehensive tale of love, life and family values.
A few weeks ago, I heard my grandmother asking my mother about the queer community after watching something on TV to which my mother, very ignorantly, replied 'Yes, there are people like this but they are mostly found in places around Mumbai'. True, this is a very myopic viewpoint but at least there is a viewpoint. And this is what these movies offer.
Filmmakers want to tell new stories but they also want to stay within the fabric of social acceptance and financial foolproofing. It is easy to empathize with them: the reaction to Hansal Mehta's Aligarh was not very accommodating. So why not tell these stories in a fun, family-friendly way that people can relate to, while still getting the message across. After having almost half a dozen films about LGBTQ+ characters in the last few years alone, the subject has started to take hold in people's conscience. And change doesn't happen overnight. To that point, I applaud these films.
Talking about this film in particular, even though the film is equal parts Shardul and Suman, it feels like it was a more holistic story for Shardul than for Suman. While Suman's struggles were mostly external, Shardul was fighting his inherent internalised homophobia about being a gay policeman. At one point, while drunk, he calls himself 'Homocop' in a slightly disapproving tone.
Another wonderful aspect of this film is its resistance towards sentimentalism. There is an important scene in the film when the families discover the truth about Shardul and Suman's sham of a relationship. When Suman talks to her family, she is bombarded with slurs and humiliation but when Shardul comes out to his family, nobody says anything. They listen and they walk out but nobody throws abuses at him. Later, his mother comes to him and simply hugs him. Another great moment of subtlety is in the last scene of the film where everybody is present during the pooja ceremony except for Seema Pahwa's character and there is no special mention of her absence. This invisible indication towards the inherent patriarchy in our society and the moments of emotional wit were a welcome change for me.
My dissatisfaction with the film mostly comes from the non-specificity of the setting: the milieu is Dehradun but it could've easily been Bareilly or Kanpur or Chandigarh and it wouldn't have made a difference. The place where a story is told often plays an essential part in crafting a film's identity. Dibakar Banerjee's Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, another recent film that is also set in Uttarakhand, captures the mountainous state with striking accuracy. Whereas here, the audience relies on certain signboards at railway stations and police stations telling us that we are in Uttarakhand, indeed. A similar arrangement has been crafted for the family setups, too: it is nearly impossible to distinguish between a phupha from Bareilly and a jeeja from Dehradun. The composition of these semi-urban families is supposedly based in reality but it's a little difficult to believe that reality can be this unvarying. The dilemma? This template has been tried and tested and it mostly works. At the same time, this is also what keeps these movies from acquiring a life beyond its days in cinema theaters because we have all seen it a thousand times before, so there is nothing new.
Having said that, by the end of the film, I had a smile on my face so I guess it was a mission accomplished. After all, everyone likes comfort food. But every now and then we all want some heavy calorie diet too. So here's hoping for the best from both the platters.