Filled with fluids, Comedy Couple is flush with references to coffee, beer, and gau-mutra. Deep Sharma (Saqib Saleem) and Zoya Batra (Shweta Basu Prasad) are live-in lovers, performing comedy together on stage, against brick-lined wallpaper- the eponymous Comedy Couple. Deep is a compulsive liar, frazzled, and charming, and Zoya is radically truthful, with a mother (Pooja Bedi) who, as an artist, took off to Paris, eventually renouncing heterosexuality. (This is that kind of a film where a mother's personality explains the daughter's.)
Zoya loves her coffee chilled, and Deep wakes up earlier than her, refrigerating fresh brewed coffee. Deep uses beer as a metaphor for a relationship in their stand up routine, one whose punchline, written by Zoya, is about gau-mutra, which lands him in trouble with the bhakts. Every aspect- of their life and their routine- is collaborative, and immediately the fear seeps in- when their love is tested, who frays more?
It's a 2 hour film, so there is bound to be tension, and their paths will part, if only to meet up eventually. This much is assumed for the get-go, the first scene establishing them as a couple, performing, successful, and in love. From here, the only way forward is downward.
Both Saleem and Basu have a very charming, lived-in together-ness. When they perform together on stage it's not electric, but it's sweet. When they kiss, it's not erotic, but it's endearing. It's a middling affair, which explains the middling humour. Most of the good gags, oddly, were off-stage.
Saleem's beauty is downplayed- he isn't allowed to be shirtless. At one point Zoya tells Deep that at his best he is a 5 or a 6, while at her worst she is an 8 or a 9. Deep nods, having internalized this disparity. It made me wonder if he is desperate to be with her, or has just reconciled to it. We are not given an answer, which is a safe way to ride this out.
Deep hasn't told his parents- strict, loving, regressive- that he has given up his job, and is in love. This comes to bite him in his behind, and makes for the most fun in this film. There's a very cutting, brilliant, but subtle moment here- when Deep's father, armed with a thali of aarti and agarbatti meets Zoya, she reaches out to hover her hand over the thali, but he pulls back slightly, and frowns, "Zoya?", and she says "Zoya Batra" and the father, assuaged, places the thali forward for her to hover the hands and touch her eyes after. The name "Zoya" is so important here – as easily Hindu as it is Muslim. The father's bias is immediately known, and Zoya being used to this bias is also known.
It was these small moments that added up for me. The bigger moments are too on-the-nose. When the bhakts batter the Comedy Couple as Laughter Jihad after they make that aforementioned gau-mutra joke, I softly chucked, but realized, a hot-second later, that this has happened before, similar if not same, with Agrima Joshua. Like political films make most sense after a certain distance from the political event, I can't help but wonder, if the same is true of humour. It felt too tacked-on, undeserving of the real anguish that inspired it.
That said, the film while sweet and engaging, was a tad bloated, and thus doesn't remain consistently frothy or funny. The separation didn't feel as urgent or as necessary for their love to resurrect. You didn't need to root for them more than you already did. As a result there's a stretched-but-not-snapped quality to the film. Like the abundantly referenced warm beer, this film fulfills its purpose, but you wish it were served chilled.