Director: Abhishek Pathak
Cast: Sunny Singh, Maanvi Gaagroo
Ujda Chaman is a remake of the Kannada film Ondu Motteya Kathe. Which means ‘story of an egghead’. Hair is only dead cells but so much of our identity and vanity stems from it. In Ondu Motteya Kathe, director Raj B. Shetty, who also plays the lead, captures the comedy and tragedy of being bald – one of my favorite bits is a fabulously choreographed dream sequence in which women declare that they prefer loneliness over a hairless partner. Gently and affectionately, the film persuades us to stop judging people by their looks.
Debutant director Abhishek Pathak takes this story from Mangalore to Delhi. Ujda Chaman is set in a middle-class Punjabi home in Rajouri Gardens. In the original, Janardhan teaches Kannada. Chaman Kohli is a Hindi professor. He’s only 30 but most of his hair is gone. Chaman has spent the last five years trying to get married but no girl can get past his barren head. The family jyotish declares that if Chaman doesn’t get married by 31, he will remain a bachelor. Which propels Chaman to go into overdrive. His attempts at finding a mate include – and I’m not kidding – dating a 20-year-old, first-year student. At one point, he’s checking out his housemaid’s cleavage. Abhishek and writer Danish J Singh who did the adapted dialogue and screenplay, design this as a joke. But it’s not funny. Chaman’s behavior is creepy and gross. He indiscriminately tries to date his colleagues and then finally gets on Tinder.
Chaman seems to have no life beyond his baldness and his raging hormones. He’s a moping, crashing bore. Honestly, even with a head full of hair, I doubt any girl would find him attractive
Ujda Chaman is about the ache of being ordinary. Sunny Singh, who plays Chaman, does an adequate job of being a wallflower but the script isn’t sharp enough to make a wallflower interesting. Chaman has the personality of a doorknob. In the original, Janardhan has a grand passion for Kannada. There’s a wonderful scene in which he writes a love letter with such complicated words that his confidante and advisor, the college peon, suggests he sends a dictionary along with it. But Chaman seems to have no life beyond his baldness and his raging hormones. He’s a moping, crashing bore. Honestly, even with a head full of hair, I doubt any girl would find him attractive. And Abhishek and Danish examine his insecurities at a superficial level – we see him gaze longingly at people with hair but it doesn’t get deeper than that.
The responsibility for keeping us interested then falls on Chaman’s family who are the stereotypical middle-class, over-excited Punjabis. The characters are wafer thin but they brighten up the screen, especially Grusha Kapoor as Chaman’s mother. She’s lovely as she tries to explain why Punjabi ladkiyan should be tandrust. The other bright spark is Maanvi Gagroo who plays Apsara, the overweight girl Chaman meets on Tinder. She has spunk.
The biggest problem with Ujda Chaman is that the film wants to have it both ways – first make you laugh with cheesy jokes about sex and virginity and then deliver an important social message about why we shouldn’t judge people by their looks
The film fleetingly touches on the Delhi class divides and DOP Sudhir K. Chaudhary captures the slice of middle-class localities that we’ve seen in films like Do Dooni Chaar and Band Baaja Baaraat. But the writing is too thin to adequately root the narrative in the city. Though we do get some nicely lit shots of Delhi at night.
The biggest problem with Ujda Chaman is that the film wants to have it both ways – first make you laugh with cheesy jokes about sex and virginity and then deliver an important social message about why we shouldn’t judge people by their looks. But by the time this message arrives, we can barely listen because we’ve been beaten senseless by the lackluster plot and the bizarrely loud and intrusive background score. It’s too late to be woke – literally and figuratively.
Ondu Motteya Kathe had a sweetness and poignancy that has been lost in translation. In one scene, Apsara looks at Chaman and thinks – tum toh khud pure ke pure compromise lagte ho. That’s pretty much what this film is.