Director: Satramm Ramani
Writers: Sasha Singh, Mudassar Aziz
Cast: Huma Qureshi, Sonakshi Sinha, Zaheer Iqbal, Mahat Raghavendra
If you’re on social media, chances are you’ve seen multiple posts that attack body shaming and urge people to not just accept their bodies, but celebrate all the jiggly bits. From everyday overweight women who wear figure-hugging clothes, to celebrities like the musician Lizzo and influencers like Varshita Thatavarthi (you’ve seen her in Sabyasachi ads), the internet is full of people who take pride in being plus-sized queens. The commentary they offer is a takedown of the idea that thin is the only beautiful body type. When in addition to all this online chatter, a mainstream commercial Hindi movie casts not one but two large women as the leads, you may think that the times really are a-changing (with apologies to Bob Dylan). Double XL, starring Huma Qureshi and Sonakshi Sinha, is here to remind you that especially when it comes to women and beauty standards, Bollywood being progressive is much like the average person’s plan of losing weight by going on an extreme diet — doomed to fail.
The first time we meet Rajshri (Qureshi) is in a dream. At a gala event, cricketer Shikhar Dhawan asks Rajshri for a dance. If Rajshri had been an average Dhawan fan, it would make sense for her to imagine gazing into his eyes while the two of them twirl across a dance floor. However, Rajshri doesn’t love the cricketer as much as she loves cricket. She’s got a loyal following on social media for her post-match reviews and she’s hoping to become a sports presenter. Under the circumstances, you’d think her dream would be to sit in the commentary box or discuss finer aspects of the game with cricketers. As far as Mudassar Aziz’s story is concerned, these distinctions are pointless and a woman as well as her experience exist only to be translated into the most basic of clichés. So instead of actually showing us Rajshri’s dream, we’re shown how Double XL sees Rajshri — as a dolled-up stereotype, who needs a love interest to make her interesting. The film is not even five minutes’ old, and already a Fair & Lovely ad can lay claim to having presented a better portrait of ambitious, cricket-loving women
Still, Rajshri as the girl from Meerut who wants a career while her mother nags her to lose weight and get married, is still more logically coherent than Saira. Delhi-based fashion designer Saira has pitched to a channel the idea of a travel show that will showcase her designs (which appear to be mostly sequin and ruffles) and whose pilot will be shot over two weeks in London. If you think that’s illogical, hold on to your skirt. When Saira breaks up with her boyfriend — he was cheating on her with a thin girl who smokes. Cigarette smoking really is injurious — she also loses her show’s director because the director was her boyfriend’s friend. While cursing her fate in a bathroom, Saira finds Rajshri who agrees to be the show’s director (don’t ask). Meanwhile, a perennially-stoned gent named Srikanth (Mahat Raghavendra) gets the cameraperson’s gig. Once in London, Saira meets line producer Zorawar (Zaheer Iqbal), who proclaims he’s a Pathan. If the tokenism doesn’t hit you in the face, it’s because there’s so much else to distract you — like the lacklustre acting performances, Kapil Dev with long hair (and accompanied by a guitar riff) and British extras who sound like runaway Shakespearean actors (one of them says “Pray tell”). Oh, and the fact that instead of a pilot, our awesome foursome shoot an advertisement for Saira’s fashion label.
On paper, Double XL is a film that a lot of us want to love. It has a friendship between two women who are ambitious, confident and support each other. Saira is overweight, Rajshri is fat, and they’re both beautiful. There’s a song sequence in a bar where the men try to find their inner Magic Mike and fat girls have fun. When Rajshri doesn’t get to audition for the position of a sports presenter because of her weight, she unleashes a monologue that points out the sexist double standards that give opportunities to Harsha Bhogle for his extensive knowledge of cricket, but judge a woman aspiring to do the same job by only her appearance. Unfortunately, there’s a problem — despite its avowed intention of celebrating its two leading ladies, Double XL doesn’t see Saira and Rajshri as heroines. Instead, the film treats the two women and their vulnerabilities as a joke. Its greatest failing, however, is that it’s mind-numbingly boring.
You’d think that a film about body confidence, which has Qureshi as both producer and protagonist, would be rich with insight and charm. After all, both Qureshi and Sinha have faced criticism for being curvier and heavier than the size-zero ideal of Hindi commercial cinema. While promoting Double XL, both actors have spoken about how this is the one film for which they weren’t asked to lose weight. Instead, both of them tucked into their favourite, fattening food and put on the kilos (approximately 20kg for Qureshi and 15kg for Sinha). Unfortunately, this film does its best to ignore that there is more to the characters Qureshi and Sinha are playing, than their weight. Rajshri mentions Rohit Sharma’s cricketing statistics once, but aside from that, there is nothing to suggest she has the makings of a good sports presenter. Her shining moment — which includes an unwittingly hilarious cameo — is supposed to be when she scores a coveted interview, but the script couldn’t be bothered with letting us hear the conversation that would establish Rajshri being knowledgeable about cricket. The film pretends Saira’s decision to be a designer for plus-sized women is unheard of, but more disappointingly, the designs she shows are monumentally unflattering. By the same token, both Qureshi and Sinha have been styled to look as drab as possible. It doesn’t help that the two women are saddled with love interests that are flatly disappointing. It’s difficult to decide what is more off-putting about Zorawar — his repeated insistence of “call me Zo, Zee, Zaa” or how happy he is with himself when he cracks a rape joke. Srikanth is presumably supposed to be the strong, silent type and as a result all we know about him is that he smokes weed and breaks into Tamil songs for no reason.
Double XL is desperate to be seen as a comedy and to this end, it strips Rajshri and Saira’s stories of all emotional complexity. For instance, the scene in which Saira is seen weeping in a bathroom could have been a tender moment and shown that way, it would have felt instantly relatable to countless people who have found themselves in similar situations. Instead, the scene plays out against a comic soundtrack and Saira howls melodramatically, turning misery into a ham-handed performance. We’re encouraged to laugh at Saira and Rajshri, and they’re tasked with delivering punchlines for our entertainment.In her legendary stand-up special Nanette, comedian Hannah Gadsby had said, “I have built a career out of self-deprecating humour and I don’t want to do that anymore. Do you understand what self-deprecation means when it comes from somebody who already exists in the margins? It’s not humility, it's humiliation.” This is what Double XL does to Saira and Rajshri. It humiliates them by reducing them to tokens and pretends that this is the only way to package clever, unconventional women as acceptable to an audience of commercial cinema.