Director: Ratnaa Sinha
Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Kriti Kharbanda, K.K. Raina, Manoj Pahwa, Vipin Sharma, Govind Namdev
We’re conditioned to think a certain way about Rajkummar Rao when he stars as a bashful young man in overpopulated, middle-Indian, pre-wedding setups. In Queen, Behen Hogi Teri as well as Bareilly Ki Barfi, he starts out by playing traditionally timid characters whose parents own his existence. The women he romances can’t trust him to make his own decisions. His idea of love is sweet and naïve, and often derived from the movies.
In Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana, too, he shows signs of being the same emasculated, sheltered spirit. He praises his fiancé, Aarti (Kriti Kharbanda), by comparing her to Juhi Chawla and Divya Bharti. Even though he assures her that he thinks modernly and she will not have to be a housewife – incidentally the line that wins her over – we are trained to imagine otherwise.
At one point, his mother is heard mocking his “liberal” personality, “He has no say. I still buy his underwear, how can he decide?” This is enough for Aarti to feel betrayed. This film cleverly (intentionally?) uses Rao’s preconceived cinematic reputation to tide over her rushed runaway-bride scenario. The kicker: they are in love, but she doesn’t trust him enough to check with him if he was lying.
She doesn’t give him a chance to reveal himself. Because she, like many of us, believes that Rao (as Kanpur’s Satyendra Mishra) wouldn’t have defied his family. It’s an important, tricky plot point – one that helps justify an impossibly irrational decision. After all, she loves him despite an arranged marriage and unfair dowry settlement, and the film has spent two songs establishing their feelings.
Add to this a desire to have a career after clearing the PCS exams, and we buy the filminess of her impulse. Never mind the deafening background score, incessant weeping and stretched almost-wedding night. We might have not noticed the fact that there wasn’t a single scene of Satyendra and his parents in the same frame up until then. Which is why we genuinely feel sorry for him. We don’t quite know what sort of son he is unlike, say, Varun Dhawan’s man-childish, muffled misogyny in a very similar situation during Badrinath Ki Dulhania.
Badri takes the whole film to stand up to his patriarchal father, but maybe government clerk Satyendra would have shut his mother up immediately. Despite the OTT treatment, the first half raises some questions and allows us to empathize with both sides. It explores the cultural anatomy of such a move, and partly succeeds because of the older actors playing the family members.
Even Badrinath Ki Dulhania was designed as two separate films, but at least there was some continuity in the unhinged temperament of Badri as he went to seek her out in Singapore to avenge his family’s broken honour
The night Aarti runs away, director Ratnaa Sinha repeatedly intercuts between the slow-mo melodrama of her escape and the dancing baarat party approaching her house with a blissfully ignorant Satyendra. It makes for an odd sight – as if she were a TV tragedy and he were celebrating to the sounds of a Bollywood masala movie. If we thought this sequence was schizophrenic, the entire film soon assumes a horribly inconsistent mood in the second half.
Even Badrinath Ki Dulhania was designed as two separate films, but at least there was some continuity in the unhinged temperament of Badri as he went to seek her out in Singapore to avenge his family’s broken honour. They still looked like a volatile, small-town couple undergoing a transformation in a different environment.
But this film plays out like a tacky 1990s revenge love-drama set against the backdrop of Lucknow’s civil services system. In a Baazigar-ish swish of destiny, Satyendra becomes a big-shot IAS officer in the position to frame annoying Aarti (who is now a Sub-Registrar) in a bribery case.
The overall transformation is as disparate as Rao’s “double role” in Bareilly Ki Barfi, except that here he has naturally turned into a hard-nosed, cynical adult who bears absolutely no resemblance to the soft-spoken clerk he once was. One almost expects him to address her as Madan Chopra while looking at a revolving chair and recollecting the downfall of his heartbroken family. The film isn’t far away from these images.
As we know, there’s nothing like a jilted lover who can turn around his life by reaching the top of his traditionally corrupt profession with honesty and a sudden convent accent
We get it. He wants to punish her. He wants to do it in a manner that doesn’t involve murder or assault – because hey, they’re from Kanpur, not Haryana. As we know, there’s nothing like a jilted lover who can turn around his life by reaching the top of his traditionally corrupt profession with honesty and a sudden convent accent. But oh boy, it’s tough to see a female director mess up her story’s gender politics to this extent.
This may have just been feasible if Kriti Kharbanda had decided to enroll in acting school after her horrendous Guest Iin London performance. She talks Riverdale and walks Kanpur. And she makes Aarti such a monotonous soap-opera queen that I’d be worried for the future of this country if these are the kind of airheaded geniuses passing Civil Services. Who sets the papers?
Ironically, the only time I felt like being a part of this wedding was when it wasn’t happening. By the time they turn into accomplished adults, the movie begins its own conscious uncoupling with the concept of behavioral logic – initiating divorce proceedings with common sense and the very idea of a self-respecting (and sane) woman.
Watch the trailer of Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana here: