Director: Sai Kabir
Writers: Sai Kabir, Amit Tiwari
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Avneet Kaur, Mukesh S Bhatt, Vipin Sharma
There are some strange images floating around in my head. Like Nawazuddin Siddiqui speaking to a cat named Elizabeth. Or jiving to a Spanish song in a nightclub, while tight close-ups of his face try to salvage his moves. Or breaking down on a beach when his young wife threatens to abort a baby that’s not his, and then aggressively kissing her. Or breaking down everywhere – when he gets arrested, when he slaps his colleague, when he declares his love, when he breathes. Or newcomer Avneet Kaur declaring that she can’t tolerate poverty. Or – and this is the most vivid image – Kaur dancing for shady men on a stage, where Siddiqui’s idea of rescuing her is to turn up in drag and dance with her before whisking her away during a…shootout? I watched Tiku Weds Sheru and went to bed for the night, so now I’m not sure if I actually watched it or just had one of the worst fever dreams. And if it wasn’t a dream, how do I unsee these scenes? How do I go back in time and warn my 12-hour-younger self to be mentally prepared for one of the weirdest films of the year? Where’s a multiverse when you need one?
Over the years, I’ve learned that terms like “quirky” and “eccentric” in the synopsis are often red flags. They’re a license for characters and storylines to go rogue, follow no rules, behave like nincompoops and turn ‘losing the plot’ into an aesthetic. Sai Kabir’s Tiku Weds Sheru – which is also actor Kangana Ranaut’s maiden production – plays out like the most disorienting hybrid of Tanu Weds Manu (spirited small-town girl; arranged marriage), Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (old-kind husband; potential soulmate) and Satya (Mumbai story; hustler ready to straighten up for love). Siddiqui is Shiraz ‘Sheru’ Khan, a junior artist and struggling actor who doubles up as a fixer for sleazy politicians. I could swear there’s an early scene in which a politician suggestively caresses his thigh. But I can’t vouch for any of these visuals today. At this point, I’m better off believing that my mind is playing tricks on me. Kaur (whose spark is undone by the screenplay) is Tasneem ‘Tiku’ Khan, a girl from Bhopal who agrees to marry Sheru so that she can reach Mumbai and elope with her lover. (In their first meeting, she gets beaten up by her brothers; in their second, she chews gum like a boss). When she informs said lover that she might be pregnant with his child, the scene at a railway station is played for quirky and eccentric laughs. For some reason, it ends up with her chasing him. And we end up with the sort of second-hand embarrassment that stems from watching a bad stand-up routine.
Eventually, Tiku grows feelings for her husband Sheru because of two reasons. One, he accepts her child and rebellious past with open arms. And two, he pretends to be rich (the modest flat they’re staying in is apparently a make-shift space till some big business deals come through). In her eyes, he’s a film financier in cahoots with the underworld; it’s fine, because at least there’s (the illusion of) money. In the meantime, he decides to sober up. He abandons his part-time pimping gig because he has a family. His partner (Mukesh S Bhatt) gets very angry. But when Tiku tells him that she can’t stand poverty (no, not a dream), I think he doubles down and becomes a drug smuggler. I think, okay? Don’t take my word for it.
Absurd as it sounds, this is the saner half of Tiku Weds Sheru. When I say “saner,” I mean the only issues are terrible dubbing, derivative writing, uneven tonality and the fetishization of middle-class Muslim life. There’s no sense of who these two humans are. They’re not just careless caricatures; the design goes out of its way to make them look chaotic and unlikable. You know the phrase “having a moment”? We tend to use it for artists or athletes on a hot streak. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is having the exact opposite of a moment – an anti-moment, if you must. After his truly odd performances in the recent Afwaah and Jogira Sara Ra Ra, he dials up the confused-comedy vibe here. Again, it’s never clear if he’s spoofing edgy romantic movies or trying to emulate them. Is it snark or misguided sincerity? Even the Hinglish dialogue and quasi-Bollywood gestures are getting stale now. Still, as I said, this is the semi-watchable part of the film. A nice Mohit Chauhan song (“Tum Se Milke”) does the protagonists a few favours.
Then comes the point when Tiku Weds Sheru goes absolutely bonkers – and not in a good way. Sheru disappears from the movie, and it suddenly becomes a feeble sexploitation tale about a single mother falling prey to the predatory whims of the Hindi film industry. Every man is a monster, and Tiku is desperate to become a superstar. It’s all a blur. At this point, I started to feel like a frustrated detective interrogating a suspect: “Please tell me very slowly, again, the exact chain of events that led to that night. Don’t miss a detail. I beg you to be clear.” I wish I could figure out how we arrive at the picture of Siddiqui infiltrating a gangster’s party by pretending to be a beautiful female dancer. And sultrily dancing with Tiku, no less. It’s supposed to be a heroic scene. But I have nothing. Maybe it happens for those who forget that Siddiqui is still in the story; his re-entry is, if anything, unforgettable. I will remember it for the rest of my days.
I’ve seen a fair amount of movies hoping to pass off randomness as ambitious storytelling, but Tiku Weds Sheru joins the director’s first film, Revolver Rani (2014), right at the top (or bottom) of this pile. Now I remember the film also features Tiku’s teen sister, Sana, who accompanies the couple to Mumbai – and lives with them as a chaperone. The girl cooks, cleans, dutifully disappears during main-character drama, and dutifully reappears when the film remembers that there’s a baby that needs to be cared for. I’m sure there’s a baby. There is a baby, right? In the multiverse, the baby grows up to be the viewer watching this film and going to bed, in no particular order.