Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan Movie Review: Well-meaning, but tries too hard

With a little more saavdhani on the makers’ part, this could have been a film that truly spoke to the heart.

Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan: A riot that needed speed bumps along the way
Image Source: Google

Director: Hitesh Kewalya

Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Jitendra Kumar, Gajraj Rao, Neena Gupta, Maanvi Gagroo, Manu Rishi, Sunita Rajwar

From risking a Bollywood debut by taking on the role of a sperm donor (Vicky Donor, 2012) to playing a scientist (Hawaaizada, 2015) and having it fall flat at the box office to resurrecting a fading career by daring to play second fiddle to Bhumi Pednekar’s overweight-in-love-yet-ambitious-woman show stealing act in her debut (Dum Laga Ke Haisha, 2015), to playing a brooding, sentimental writer going rogue to win the love of his life (Bareilly ki Barfi, 2017) and then shocking us all by playing a freshly engaged man suffering from erectile dysfunction later that year (Shubh Mangal Saavdhan), Ayushmann Khurrana is not merely your boy-next-door or the everyman you inadvertently miss in the elevator on the way to your office. Just when you sit back comfortably slotting the man and the actor in a Bollywoodish tried-and-tested stereotype, Khurrana grabs your attention by the horns by starring in a neo noir cinematic feast titled Andhadhun (2018).

So when Khurrana hit the big screens last week with co-actor Jitendra Kumar (of TVF fame) as his love interest in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (the ‘Zyada’ is where the secret lies), the audience, deep down, knew what they were going to be served. It was his home turf – playing the genial, passionate love with aplomb.

Except, it did not seem to hit the right notes this time around. At least for me.

Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (SMZS, hereafter) in short, is about two gay men, confronted with the excruciatingly laborious task of convincing one of their families in small town Allahabad to accept their ‘unnatural’ relationship.

Aman Tripathi (Jitendra Kumar) and Kartik Singh (Ayushmann Khurrana) are salesmen who meet in Delhi and seem to be quietly enjoying a passionate relationship in their little bubble, away from prying eyes and nosy neighbourhood side-eyes. The smooth trajectory of their bond, however, comes to a screeching halt when they are faced with the tenacious regressiveness of the Indian mentality.

Coming out to a family that had presumptuously chosen a nauseatingly saccharine heterosexual bahu for their only son, Aman is met with only mountains to conquer. No faith to move it by even an inch. Given the dilemma of working out the debt of his father’s sperm over an entire lifetime by doing the latter’s bidding, we see a simmering intensity brewing underneath Aman’s rather uptight, socially conscious persona. He is clearly torn between love and duty.

Kartik, on the other hand, is the unabashed, fervent lover who may well have been called I-put-my-foot-in-mouth-Singh. Be it getting his PDA game on in the most perilous of public spaces or standing head-to-head in combat with his lover’s sanskaari dad – he knows a thing or two about stirring trouble.

Together, Kartik is the fire to Aman’s meek, shifty winds.

And their love story could have been portrayed as a love story like no other, had director Hitesh Kewalya toned down on the theatrics. From the opening scene where the two are found dramatically chasing a moving train, we get a hint of how over-the-top the movie is to be in the next couple of hours. Aman’s conversation with dad Shankar Tripathi (Gajraj Rao) and mom Sunaina Tripathi (Neena Gupta) could well look to you like it’s been stolen from one of their many TVF conversations – so no surprises there. You are bound to enjoy their verbal exchanges, but truth be told, it is cut from the same cloth as have so many similar small town parent-child dynamics in earlier movies.

There are a motley of characters thrown in to highlight dormant undercurrents within the family  – uncle Chaman Tripathi (Manu Rishi), aunt Champa Tripathi (Sunita Rajwar) and cousin Rajni Tripathi (fondly called Goggle, played by Maanvi Gagroo) form the other half of the crazies making up the Tripathi clan. They each have their own troubles and injustices brandished like a sword on their chest, each time they butt heads with the seniors in the family. And what better than a dubious wedding to draw out past resentment between the stakeholders, look deep enough to even out power imbalances in the household and redefine the meaning of love and life?

Herein lies the strength of the film. As well as its weakness.

Director Hitesh (who is also the writer of the movie) must duly be credited for according side characters their respective and rightful place in the film – no more is this characterised than by the fact that none of his supporting cast looks like a mere aberration in the plot, they are all integral to the story. That said, often times there is just too much talking happening in the film, too many preachy, bombastic dialogues exchanged, too much of an emphasis on sending out a message to the society. For a film as sensitive as this, SMZS would have done better to instead focus on the characters living their lives and trying to deal with its curveballs the best they could, than acting in a certain way to prove anything to the society.

In that sense, the immersiveness of the story and its characters is what is missing here. They do not just be and allow you to draw from their experiences. And so, even though the film has its heart in the right place, you come away not feeling much at all.

I was also disappointed with how the director chose to only focus on the family and their interpersonal equations without taking into context the beauty and history Allahabad as a city offers. The laser focus centred on the characters and that one house makes the film claustrophic at many points.

Gajraj Rao is sufficiently interesting and will certainly tickle your funny bone. It is, however, Neena Gupta as his wife who matches (and even tops) his frazzled, all-knowing, wacky scientist demeanour with some of the most memorable punchlines uttered in the film. Her scenes with Rao and Rajwar are some of the most entertaining ones in the movie, and fortunately or fortunately, bound to linger on in your mind longer than the leads’ acting might.

Between the leads, it is Jitendra’s nuanced, tempered performance that is likely to win you over rather than Khurrana’s overzealous, lover boy act. In fact, the latter’s costumes and that oh-so-sexy-nose ring stand out more in your mind than does the overall performance. I dare say Khurrana may just have played the tritest role in his career.

Then there are irrelevant plot lines involving kaali gobhi (black cauliflower) and vague farmer’s protests woven into the story, the absence of which could have easily reduced the run time of the film by a precious few minutes. Not to mention, Bhumi Pednekar’s extremely immaterial special appearance.

However, not all is wasted in the film. The music is in fact one of the better elements of the movie. With 3 of 7 songs proving to be chartbuster hits within days of their release – Ooh la la, Pyaar Tenu Karda Gabru and Mere Liye Tum Kaafi Ho – you get your money’s worth tapping to the high voltage drama weaved into these songs.

Despite the cinematic glitches and sub-par portrayal of the subject, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan tackles an extremely sensitive and controversial issue – gay love – that continues to raise eyebrows despite the highest court of law in the land decriminalizing homosexuality. To that end, and that alone, the movie is a must-watch for families across the length and breadth of the country. As long as they can come out of the theater being able to accept different choices – and different kinds of love – whether they wholeheartedly agree with/understand it or not – the movie will have its done job well.

P.S. Special mention for the grace with which the kissing scenes between the leads were handled. If that is not brave, then I don’t know what is!

Rating: 2.5/5

Kalank Movie Review: Grandeur personified and needlessly melodramatic sans Bhansali’s magic touch

Kalank is your staple star-studded elaborate cinematic launch that never takes off

Even the best of an ensemble cast does not save Kalank from bombing at the theatres
Source: Google

Director: Abhishek Varman

Cast: Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Aditya Roy Kapur, Sonakshi Sinha, Sanjay Dutt, Madhuri Dixit, Kunal Kemmu, Hiten Tejwani, Achint Kaur

Dialogue Writer: Hussain Dalal (had to mention this because I cannot fathom how all that Urdu could spout off from the man who made Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani relatable to the millennial audience!!)

The last time Sonakshi Sinha (as Pakhi) was dying of a deadly disease and managed to arouse our heartfelt sympathy was in Lootera (2013). Still recovering from heartbreak and betrayal, and grappling with abject loneliness, her sighs and whispers interspersed between painful bouts of coughing and breathlessness came across as relatable.

This time though, as a stunning Sonakshi (as Satya in Kalank) layered in the choicest makeup and grace fitting for the goddesses, leaves the doctor’s clinic saying, “Marne wale ko karam thik karne chahiye, tabiyat nahin”, we find it less than convincing. As if that is not enough, we are then taken straight to a modest home in Rajputana (Rajasthan) where Sinha makes a rather unbecoming request of Roop (Alia Bhatt) – she only has a year to live and wants her husband Dev Chaudhry (Aditya Roy Kapur) to marry again. And she wants them married right away, so she can assure herself that her husband’s life will not waste away like she will, very soon.

Now, we are never told, in the course of a whopping 170 minutes of the film as to what exactly Roop owes Satya (even though there are tedious hints throughout the film) to tag along in this bizarre plan; all we know is she reluctantly agrees to this proposal so she can lift her family (and especially, her other two unmarried sisters) off the financial trenches they were living in. If this is not the most regressive of Bollywood plots, then I don’t know what is. But since Kalank is set in the time of Partition, we reason to ourselves that of course, women were not as emancipated back then as they are now!

Fast forward to Husnabad (Lahore), Roop’s life begins on the most unexciting note ever. Dev is prompt and kind enough to let her know that while she will be accorded utmost respect as the bahu of the khandaan, she should not expect love in return from him. He loves his wife deeply, and will never be able to give her that place in his life. Sounds eerily similar to what Paro’s husband says to her in Devdas (2002) right? Fortunately or unfortunately, the references to “Bhansalism” don’t end here.

Trapped in the reality of her youth and her life nipped in the bud, Roop, while gazing out at empty skies on her balcony one day, is intrigued by a mysterious voice crooning out in the distance. It is none other than Bahaar Begum (Madhuri Dixit), the songstress and local courtesan who had wowed many a fickle heart (pun intended) and lives in Heera Mandi, the scandalous lanes of Husnabad, “jiska naam lene se bhi log badnaam ho jaate hain.” Or some such. No, I’m not saying it. The characters say it, over and over again, masking it with doom and making it sound as unpalatable as unpalatable can be. There is of course a dreaded link between Heera Mandi and Chaudhry villa, and the same becomes clear as day despite the characters humming and hawing through their lines, steeped in pointless sobriety.

Away from the stuffy, sombre atmosphere at Chaudhry villa, Roop finds herself mesmerized with Bahaar Begum’s singing prowess as she is by her nazaakat. Between working in the family newspaper business headed by Balraj Chaudhry (Sanjay Dutt) and learning music from Bahaar Begum, she gradually finds a purpose to soak herself in. All is decidedly well till she meets Zafar, the local blacksmith, who takes a fancy to her and even ends up grabbing her wrist the very first time they meet. Since this is the 1940s and stalking had not yet found a mention in society’s rulebook, Roop falls passionately for the audacious Zafar, against her better nature and the lines drawn for her as the bahu of the Chaudhry khandaan.

Zafar, abandoned at birth by an unwed mother (Bahaar Begum) and a cowardly father (guess who?) even prior to his birth, now wakes up every morning to be branded as “najayaz” and “haraami” by the local people, practically in every scene. Lives in the gutter (figuratively), sleeps around indiscriminately and throws himself away in murderous bullfights, while seething in rage directed at his mother as well as Sr. Chaudhry (Dutt) for having taken from him a life that could have been. When he meets Roop and finds her besotted with him, he decides to use her as a weapon to destroy the Chaudhry khandaan, to have them suffer the shame and humiliation he had endured all his life. There is a glitch though – and this is embarrassingly predictable – he inadvertently drops his seedy, Casanova image and does fall for Roop – but so does Dev (Aditya Roy Kapur), despite the noblest of intentions. And that is exactly where all hell breaks loose, because the filmmakers seemed to have realized that now, hearts must shatter and make noises loud enough to deafen the audience – so that the ornate setting, ostentatious Bollywoodized Urdu, jaw-dropping expensive costumes and heavy, practiced silences can be justified.

Nonetheless, despite director and screenplay writer Abhishek Varman’s tenacious efforts, none of the faux-intensity employed to tackle the project seems necessary or sincere. In fact, what gravely punctures the tempo of the film is the forced drama inserted in every scene (even those that could have done with some cheeriness sans Urdu dripping off the actors’ tongues) that makes it come across as disingenuous. Many a time my mind wandered back to Bhansali’s Devdas and Saawariya, as I found myself drowning in the carefully designed noir-ness of Kalank – made possible with veteran cinematographer Binod Pradhan’s work behind the camera. It is a shame though that the film had none of the urgency palpable in Devdas (well okay, I admit I cannot say the same about Saawariya), despite overt signs of a forbidden love, and explicit scenes of unrest, violence and gory included to render the love triangle more devastating against the context of Partition.

This is not to say that Kalank does not at all have its winning moments; these however, are sparse and stand out in your memory long after you’ve watched the film. For example, the confrontation between Dev and Balraj Chaudhry juxtaposed against the one between Zafar and Bahaar Begum feels mildly thrilling. So does the climax, which the makers seem to have worked hard at to prevent it from veering into the utterly predictable.

The cinematography and the dance performances in both Ghar More Pardesiya and Tabaah Ho Gaye are breathtaking, the only time the extravagant build-up of the movie feels good. Alas! Without a solid plot, the decorative aspects of a film can only go so far.

Barring Alia Bhatt who shines as the gentle yet bold Roop, the performances of the remaining ensemble fizzle without a trace. Varun Dhawan as Zafar is hammy in the first half and a spitting image of most of his previous characters (sans the kajal and the beard) as he rolls off one cliché romantic/cringey dialogue after the other. It’s only in the second half that you begin feeling for his character, even though you do not cross over completely to side Zafar.

Roy Kapur as Dev is restrained and dignified, so much that it robs away from the character’s motivations. I actually enjoyed his conflict with Sr. Chaudhry more than I did his equation with his dying wife and his newly-wed second wife, which were insipid to start with. Sinha has Satya is completely passable, her presence so diluted she might not have even been a part of the project. Dutt as the newspaper baron Balraj Chaudhry is authoritative without the menace that patriarchs don such hats with. He, however, fails to slip into the remorseful old father towards the end, an element that chips away at the core plot tool. And may I add he seems resolutely stone-faced through most of his scenes? Madhuri Dixit as Bahaar Begum is grace personified, but lacks the namak that a Chandramukhi from Devdas was draped in, in addition to the layers of ethnic fashion. Supporting actors such as Hiten Tejwani and Kiara Advani remain just that – on the fringes. Kunal Kemmu (as Abdul, Zafar’s friend) starts out lukewarm but gains range over the course of the film – he is actually more of a surprise element than the film’s plot itself!

One of the cardinal sins of filmmaking is rendering the execution too stretched, too thin, a glitch the makers of Kalank ought to feel guilty about. Repetitive scenes between Roop and Zafar to forcibly create romantic tension between the pair only made it monotonous and yawn worthy after a point. Begum’s well-meaning advice to a young, impulsive Roop could have come about at least ten scenes earlier, and so could the atmosphere of strife in Heera Mandi and their agitation for a separate homeland. At least four of the eight loud, bombastic songs could have been done away with – would have helped lower the budget of the project while saving us recurring headaches. And so could the item song featuring Kriti Sanon and the boys to establish a Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam-esque bond between the two suitors (except that HDDCS was classy, massy and was the ultimate treat for folk-song lovers). Against the setup of the 1940s, why on earth would a garishly-dressed woman be used as a crucial plot tool, is beyond me!!

All in all, Kalank feels stuck in time (was conceptualized fifteen years ago by the late Yash Johar and revived by son Karan Johar, so no surprises there), and pretty darn regressive for a Bollywood seeking fresher, more emancipated subjects to make films on. An exercise to rip off the highlights of Bhansalism, the film, while succeeding in emulating the director’s over-the-top treatment of plots, dives miserably in creating characters that the audience could have truly rooted for. There is awe-inducing grandeur, just no spark.

Or as Bahaar Begum says to Roop in their very first meeting, “Aawaz acchi hai, bas namak kam hai.”

Rating: 2/5