Director: R. S. Prasanna
Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Bhumi Pednekar
Shubh Mangal Saavdhan is a delightful film about erectile dysfunction. I bet you never thought you would see those words in the same sentence.
Director R. S. Prasanna remakes his own film Kalyana Samayal Saadham transposing the story from Chennai to Delhi. This is the world of DDA flats with thin walls, where middle-class families live and love and argue incessantly, where traditional values collide with technology and where the younger generation refuses to conform to tired notions of marriage, relationships and masculinity. Here a marriage can be love cum arranged cum love.
Mudit and Sugandha are in the throes of wedding prep. An evening of thwarted passion leads to the discovery that Mudit has, what he calls, “a gents’ problem”. Which is illustrated onscreen by a limp biscuit. Later, Sugandha uses a biscuit to illustrate the problem to her bestie Ginni. And Ginni exclaims: life main kabhi biscuit nahin khaa paoongi. Meanwhile Sugandha’s mom, played by the consistently good Seema Pahwa, works her own metaphor of a woman’s body being like a mysterious gufa, which opens up only for Alibaba and not for the chaalis chor. It’s hilarious.
Prasanna and writer Hitesh Kewalya mine this material for humor but the tone never veers into vulgar or tacky. Neither is it in-your-face. It’s the genteel wit of a Hrishikesh Mukherjee that arises from conversations that every Indian family has – so Sugandha’s father and his cantankerous elder brother have a running feud about everything – money, who did or didn’t touch feet, arriving late for the mata ka jagrata. These characters are written with a great affection and familiarity. These are people we all know.
The skillful writing is enhanced by terrific performances – led by Ayushmann Khurrana who seems to be getting better with every film. Ayushmann doesn’t have a flashy bone in his body. Nothing in his acting is labored. Even in the big climactic speech, Ayushmann doesn’t break character. Mudit is vulnerable and ridden with anxiety but also tough enough to fight for the woman he loves.
Over three films, Bhumi Pednekar has established herself as the go-to actor to play the extraordinary ordinary woman. She brings an innate strength to Sugandha. There is a wonderful scene in which Sugandha is trying to help Mudit by being overtly sexual. What starts out as funny becomes poignant and unbearably sad in a heart-beat. These two are supported by a roster of terrific actors – Brijendra Kala, Anshul Chauhan, Neeraj Sood and Chittaranjan Tripathy. They help to create a relatable world that lives and breathes.
Have you noticed that the North Indian family and romance has become a sub-genre in Bollywood – a sort of counterpart to the posh people NRI narrative propelled by Karan Johar or the UP noir fashioned by Anurag Kashyap. One of the key architects of this sub-genre is director Aanand L. Rai who serves as co-producer on this film. Other filmmakers who’ve explored this territory include Nitesh Tiwari who wrote Bareilly Ki Barfi, Shoojit Sircar who made Vicky Donor and Piku, Dibakar Banerjee who made Khosla Ka Ghosla!, Maneesh Sharma who made Band Baaja Baaraat and co-produced Dum Laga Ke Haisha and Habib Faisal who was an early proponent with Do Dooni Chaar. These stories determinedly celebrate ordinary people.
Be warned that Shubh Mangal Saavdhan deflates marginally in the second half. The film ends in a bizarre action sequence, which includes a star cameo – all of which seems patched on from some other movie. It feels like Prasanna and Hitesh decided to hurriedly wrap up the loose ends.
But that doesn’t take away from the energy and wit that propels this immensely likeable film.