Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan

Director: Hitesh Kewalya

Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Jitendra Kumar, Neena Gupta, Gajraj Rao

To begin with, let’s applaud the fact that Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan exists. For too long, Bollywood has trapped homosexuality in cruel stereotypes. A mainstream movie with an A-list hero playing a gay man without apology or explanation is a cause for celebration.

Debutant director Hitesh Kewalya, who has also written the story, tries valiantly to establish that there is little difference between homosexual love and heterosexual love – a same-sex relationship has the same passion, heartache and insecurity. So Kartik complains that Aman isn’t enthusiastic enough when they kiss. Early in the film, we see Kartik and Aman on a motorcycle with Kartik leaning into Aman exactly like a girl is leaning into a boy on a bike that stops next to them at a traffic signal. Kartik and the girl exchange glances, basking in this public act of intimacy with their partner. In fact, Hitesh positions Kartik and Aman as the new Raj and Simran from DDLJ. And just like Raj in India’s favorite love story, Kartik must work on Aman’s family and convince them that it’s perfectly normal for a man to love another man.

Writer-director Hitesh Kewalya tries hard to inject laughs into every scene and some of the lines sparkle but as a result, the emotions and characters don’t get enough room to breathe

The leads, Ayushmann Khurrana and Jitendra Kumar, fully commit to their characters. Ayushmann, with nose-ring in place, plays the more flamboyant partner. Kartik is aggressive in his pursuit of happiness with Aman. Ayushmann gives him flash and swagger but also vulnerability. Watch his conflicting emotions in a lovely scene in which Kartik explains to Aman that parents instinctively understand the truth about their children, that their parents have known that they were different all along. It’s admirable that Ayushmann is willing to go out on a limb and kiss another man on screen. Clearly this is an actor secure in his talent and his masculinity. Jitendra Kumar, popular as Jeetu bhaiya from Kota Factory, is equally good. In contrast to Ayushmann’s exuberance, he exudes a mildness and an everyman charm. His haplessness in love and in war with his parents is relatable and endearing. He instantly makes you root for him.

These two are propped up by terrific actors – Gajraj Rao and Neena Gupta, who’ve become the hit senior citizen jodi after Badhaai Ho, play Aman’s parents who must make peace with their son’s sexuality; Manu Rishi Chadha and Sunita Rajwar are the concerned aunt and uncle and Maanvi Gagroo is cousin Goggle, called that because she always wears them. Familial acceptance is the focus of this film. You might recall that the first film, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, also featured the extended Indian family – Hitesh who wrote the film – skillfully mined these relationships for laughs and drama. Seema Pahwa was excellent as the mother as were Neeraj Sood and Brijendra Kala as the constantly bickering brothers. That film had a lived-in feel and authenticity. And the subject of erectile dysfunction was tackled with wit and warmth – you remember those limp biscuits?

Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan wants to be both – an impassioned defense of same-sex love as well as a family entertainer. But the writing can’t seamlessly blend the disparate elements

But this is a tough balancing act. And despite the good intentions, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, doesn’t manage to replicate it. The blend of social issue with emotion and laughter is clunky. The burden of being the first mainstream film to tackle head-on the subject of men in love seems to weigh heavily on the makers. They want to make the subject palatable to a larger audience. So humor becomes a constant crutch. Hitesh tries hard to inject laughs into every scene and some of the lines sparkle but as a result, the emotions and characters don’t get enough room to breathe. Loud, jarring background music by Karan Kulkarni underlines every punch almost as though the viewers can’t be trusted to respond. The tonality is purposely frantic. In the beginning, there are scenes which seem incoherent – there is a track about Aman’s scientist father creating a black cauliflower that I just didn’t get. The frames are crowded and busy and yet long stretches in the film feel flat.

Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan wants to be both – an impassioned defense of same-sex love as well as a family entertainer. But the writing can’t seamlessly blend the disparate elements. Even the leads don’t have enough depth – apart from their sexual preference, we understand little about Kartik and Aman. Intriguingly, the film views them with deep empathy but that doesn’t extend to Goggle. Her desperately sad situation is fodder for comedy. But these jokes feel shrill and forced.

It’s admirable that Ayushmann Khurrana is willing to go out on a limb and kiss another man on screen. Clearly this is an actor secure in his talent and his masculinity

Also, apart from the gay angle, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan feels overtly familiar. The small-town textures and the eccentricities of the middle-class family are hardly new – Ayushmann’s last two films had similar settings – Dream Girl in Mathura and Bala in Kanpur and Lucknow. As I said in my Bala review, the Ayushmann Khurrana sub-genre of social issue in small towns is now in imminent danger of becoming a formula.

In an interview, Ayushmann described Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan as an introduction to homosexuality for an average Indian homophobe. The film might work as that. But for those of us who aren’t in this target group, it doesn’t connect enough. Though it’s heartening that with this film and Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga last year, Bollywood has at least begun the conversation.

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