Director: Luv Ranjan
Cast: Kartik Aaryan, Sunny Singh, Nushrat Bharucha, Alok Nath, Virendra Saxena, Ishita Raj
Luv Ranjan might just be India’s most famous “meninist”. Perhaps the strict dress code on his production sets dictates the use of #BrosBeforeHoes and #NotAllMen T-shirts only; good-natured girls are probably immediately ejected from sight. Three of Ranjan’s four films recreate feminist themes from a male point of view. In each, victimized men thrive on increasing degrees of brotherhood to fight back against deviously controlling women. This might have been masterful subversion if the director intentionally meant to satirize the female counterpoint.
But I don’t think his films are that self-aware. None of his choices are that cheeky or deliberate. While meninism is supposed to be a parody movement, this director has inexplicably elevated it into the realms of angry romanticism and turned it into a mainstream Bollywood genre. Unfortunately, Ranjan knows his target audience – there are millions of bitter men in a country that can’t distinguish between heartbreak and entitlement. Needless to mention, a (waxed) chest-beating film about aimlessly evil girls isn’t quite the need of the hour.
In Sonu Ke Titu ki Sweety, he repeatedly puts forward some of the darkest psychological mind-games and emotional manipulation with the casual flimsiness of a college sports competition.
Offensive stereotypes might have still been fine if these were shamelessly boyish comedies with zero inhibitions – like, say, a Wedding Crashers or an American Pie. But as much as he defensively claims in interviews that his films are just for fun (and not for dispensing “gyaan”), Ranjan, it often appears, is dead serious about his urban male gaze. The cartoonish sound cues and privileged North Indian milieu come across as clumsy ruses to disguise the political incorrectness – the vengefulness – of his vision. By simply basing characters in Delhi (or Meerut) time and again, one might earn the license to depict a certain kind of rooted toxicity (Badrinath ki Dulhaniya is an example), but one certainly does not get the license to trivialize this toxicity. And that has always been Ranjan’s biggest problem.
In Sonu Ke Titu ki Sweety, he repeatedly puts forward some of the darkest psychological mind-games and emotional manipulation with the casual flimsiness of a college sports competition. Rape technicalities, needy ex-girlfriends, character certificates and unhealthy obsessions are employed as “fun” devices to gaslight us – that is, if we read too deeply into its implications, the movie is designed to convince us that we are oversensitive, uptight people. Never mind the opening party song parading blonde twin girls in pigtails and hot pants to help a sad boy move on from his flaky ex.
Only the premise – that of an anti-love-triangle involving a girl (Nushrat Bharucha as Sweety) threatening to disturb a lifelong bromance (Kartik Aaryan as Sonu, Sunny Singh as Titu) – is mildly relatable. Ranjan however injects a truckload of alarmingly disturbing relationship philosophies into this seemingly harmless storyline. What could have been a perceptive behavioral comedy about Indian adulthood turns into a horribly tone-deaf tale about two men who should have come out of the closet long ago. Or at least, that’s how I see it. Because there is literally no other way any adult Indian male would exercise such a toxic mental stronghold over his closest friend if there weren’t a hint of untapped homoerotic undertones between them. Again, as much as I’d like to believe otherwise, Sonu ke Titu ki Sweety is not a brave South Asian New Wave gay love story hidden in broad daylight. So what if there are two mournful songs devoted to Sonu’s fear of separation from naïve Titu? So what if Sonu is the reason Titu will forever remain single, and vice versa?
Only the premise – that of an anti-love-triangle involving a girl (Nushrat Bharucha as Sweety) threatening to disturb a lifelong bromance (Kartik Aaryan as Sonu, Sunny Singh as Titu) – is mildly relatable. Ranjan however injects a truckload of alarmingly disturbing relationship philosophies into this seemingly harmless storyline.
Slimfit-wearing Sonu is unnaturally possessive about longshirt-wearing Titu, given that they have grown up together in the same house after Sonu was unofficially adopted by Titu’s wealthy, large-hearted family. So naturally, after a bad breakup, when Sweety enters the fray as Titu’s holier-than-thou arranged fiancé, Sonu suspects that she is a fraud – “chalu,” in his limited Delhi parlance (the other word being ch*tiye). The rest of the film is spent proving to us that life’s most pressing rivalry is between the outgoing best friend and the incoming girlfriend – through loud slow-motion shots of Sonu and Sweety walking past one another like stylish boxers and grinning suggestively after manipulating the hell out of poor Titu. To be fair, if your name is Titu, you probably deserve it.
Kartik Aaryan, the human equivalent of a Twitter rant, turns Sonu into a conniving asshole that doesn’t deserve our empathy. Sunny Singh turns Titu into a dumb fool who is happy to be swayed like a yoyo between two selfish devils. And Nushrat Bharucha – who is otherwise a competent actress – gets so carried away with the bitchy expressions that not once are we told why she is actually a dangerous prospect. Is she a gold digger? Is she a psychopath? Is she a robot sent by Japan on a test run? Is she a writer duping a simpleton for research purposes? Is she every Luv Ranjan “heroine” channeled into the plastic existence of one pointless antagonist?
Kartik Aaryan, the human equivalent of a Twitter rant, turns Sonu into a conniving asshole that doesn’t deserve our empathy. Sunny Singh turns Titu into a dumb fool who is happy to be swayed like a yoyo between two selfish devils.
Basically, everyone in this film – including the forcibly quirky members of the Sharma family – is a strangely terrible human being with no respect for each other’s feelings. Sonu tries to make Titu fall back in love with an ex, while Sweety just smiles as if she were a Bond villain stuck in an Abbas-Mustan thriller. If Titu was a slightly weaker (read: real) person, he’d have jumped off a balcony, and Sonu and Sweety might not have batted an eyelid before having angry sex with each other at his funeral. Again, this is just me fantasizing about one of the many saner directions this film could have taken.
Perhaps the only agreeable portion revolves around Titu’s grandfather, Ghasitaram (Alok Nath, being as un-sanskaari as possible), and his best friend (Virendra Saxena), who spend nights smoking and drinking Black Label in their balcony. Saxena considers the man’s wife – the family matriarch – to be his sister, and he even owns a tiny stake in their business empire. Theirs is an old-school equation designed to reflect an ideal future for Sonu, Titu and Sweety’s modern-day predicament. Back in the day this is what could have been, Ranjan seems to be telling us. Their banter – Ghasitaram is an amused onlooker despite knowing all the details, instead letting the “kids” learn from their own mistakes – is the only part that seems to be written with a purpose in mind.
Yet, his patronizing attitude is in sync with the language of the film – a grandfather gleefully underplays the conflicts of a lower generation, even as Sonu warns him of Sweety being a girl intent on inheriting his fortune. Token progressiveness in such stories doesn’t need to appear at the cost of protectiveness and common sense. We dare not take such issues too seriously, lest we are accused of not understanding the ‘sur’ of an alleged comedy.
Lastly, I’m not sure what kind of early life experience propelled Luv Ranjan to incessantly – and, in 2018, tastelessly – celebrate boyhood at the cost of girlhood. To the phantom woman who inspired him to wage a war on her kind, this is on you. Every meninist who forgets that he is not a real term is on you. Every subsequent Sonu ke Titu ki Sweety ka Punchnama will be on you. And the joke, as always, will sadly be on us.