Director: R. S. Prasanna
Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Bhumi Pednekar, Seema Pahwa, Brijendra Kala, Anshul Chauhan
Weddings are stressful. They are supposed to be happy occasions, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a truly happy person in the lead-up to a wedding. Love becomes an event that has to be meticulously arranged. For those involved, it turns into a necessary chore: a device to integrate themselves into the foundations of social structures. They “go through it” instead of experiencing it.
This brings out the dysfunction in everyone; personalities wilt, amongst other things. There’s pressure everywhere – pressure to make it memorable, pressure to celebrate, pressure to entertain, pressure to be respected, pressure to smile and, of course, the pressure to perform.
Perhaps this is the reason a traditional baaraat procession is composed of people who dance angrily, limbs flailing and faces contorted, as if they’re letting off steam on the road instead of on a treadmill. This “nanga naach” syndrome is often more of a frustrated reaction to society than an act of genuine celebration. For outsiders, this inelegant defiance to rhythm can be an amusing sight – a temper tantrum scored to music.
Shubh Mangal Saavdhan is the cinematic equivalent of this dance; it encapsulates the clumsy chaos, egos and contradictions of this moment by dissecting the noise shaping it.
In fact, at one point, Mudit (peak Ayushmann Khurrana), the “pressurized” groom, forces his own baaraat to re-approach their destination at the dead of night because he didn’t do it right the first time. Sick of being scrutinized, he dances with rebellious rage, not once shifting his gaze away from his sulking fiancé, Sugandha (Bhumi Pednekar; Bollywood’s favourite corpse bride), who has just berated him for playing the whiny victim. She watches from the terrace, minutes after soothing his fragile masculinity, semi-impressed that even his spontaneity is a recklessly planned response to their crowded situation.
This is an incurably romantic scene, starring two lovers struggling to preserve their privacy in an inherently public culture. Despite the drama, they are in their own little bubble. Nobody else exists, but unfortunately everyone does. It is his way of apologizing by embracing the commotion – he cannot escape it yet – in stark contrast to another apology towards the end, when all we can hear are their voices while the relentless din in the background fades away. The commotion is now solely their own. This final fight is messy and an anticlimax of sorts, but at least it’s on their own terms. It is this politically incorrect quest – from being everyone’s problem to being each other’s problem – that defines the essence of this story.
Much of it is funny, but not because it educates us about something as awkward as erectile dysfunction in a roundabout way – no, this is merely a device to touch upon all the flaws and failings of the Great Indian Family brigade. The two families skirt around the actual term, but have no qualms about misunderstanding it. On one hand, they are brazen and almost comically modern in their stance of acknowledgment, and on the other, they are regressive in their desperation to control and “cure” a condition that should be none of their business.
Shubh Mangal Saavdhan is a funny film because it is an angry and progressive and surprisingly romantic film even when it has no right to be one
It isn’t so much about their understanding of sexuality as it is about their attitude towards the sanctity of sex. It’s almost as if they don’t want the plot to simply read: Mudit and Sugandha fall in love, get married and sort out their own issues. While yesteryear parents would object to the very concept of physical togetherness, these parents are a more intrinsic set of villains: they are merely oblivious to the contemporary politics of togetherness.
Shubh Mangal Saavdhan is a funny film because it is an angry and progressive and surprisingly romantic film even when it has no right to be one. Sugundha’s well-meaning mother (a brilliant Seema Pahwa) is a riot because her personality is unintentional, and because her behavior is an organic outcome of her daughter’s embarrassing predicament. You can sense Sugandha’s growing impatience with her, just as you can sense Mudit’s growing irritation with his own folks; their oblivion is tragic to the point of hilarity to their own children. It also helps that Khurrana looks and sounds like a Mudit; he seems born to play these temperamentally challenged lovers.
While director R.S. Prasanna is wise enough to not dwell on their words, he exhibits a tendency to punctuate some of their theatricality and action with what I can only assume is his own loud grammar of filmmaking
Ironically, as soon as the film tries to be just funny – by highlighting the idiosyncrasies of its characters in isolation of the narrative – it loses its charm. For instance, the film is set in Delhi and Haridwar. North Indians are notoriously emotional people. Their spats can be nasty – the kind we’re cinematically conditioned to expect permanent rifts from – but their reconciliatory hugs can be just as quick and generous. More than once, the fathers here have an ugly go at one another. And more than once, Mudit stands up (no pun intended) for a generation whose anxiety is only enabled by their elders’ freewheeling dispositions. While director R.S. Prasanna is wise enough to not dwell on their words, he exhibits a tendency to punctuate some of their theatricality and action with what I can only assume is his own loud grammar of filmmaking.
There’s an exaggerated energy (peculiar sound effects, extended rants, context-less cameos, over-expressive faces) and pace one would normally associate with commercial South Indian cinema. I’d imagine this treatment might have been fruitful for the original film from which this is adapted, the Tamil-language Kalyana Samayal Saadham. After all, most mainstream storytellers from the region overstate their craft to compensate for the academic sobriety of their culture. I’m not sure this style works consistently for an environment that’s already loud to begin with. Which is why perhaps the softer scenes stand out.
The awkward, tender moments between the two – a rishta-setting Skype call, the first kiss and failure to launch – are mostly devoid of musical pointers. There’s a lovely picnic sequence where Sugandha, encouraged by the promise of mainstream seduction techniques, attempts to use a juicy fruit and soft-porn audio recording to “help” Mudit. It starts off as a comical misfire; she mouths the English lines with all the oomph she can muster.
But midway through, a gentle score seeps in, as we notice the change in Mudit’s expression. He notices how awfully uncomfortable she is, and how far she is willing to go for his sake. It turns into a profound scene of guilt and self-loathing; suddenly he feels humbled, and almost unworthy, of her feelings.
This filminess creeps up on us, just as the filminess of her story creeps up on Sugandha; she had opened Shubh Mangal Saavdhan with a voiceover about how she craved for a “Bollywood” brand of troubled, eloping romance, but instead settled for the averageness of her destiny with Mudit. Perhaps I wouldn’t have appreciated such moments as much if not for the loudness that enveloped them. Just like the couple might not have appreciated the significance of their marriage if not for the chaotic wedding – and hostile baaraat dance – that preceded it.