Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan Review: The Love Aaj Kal We Deserve

Bollywood

Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan Review: The Love Aaj Kal We Deserve

Illustration: Arati Gujar

Midway through debutante director Hitesh Kewalya’s Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan comes a sequence that justifies the existence of the film as well as its motivations.

At Aman’s (Jitendra Kumar) wedding – brokered by his father Shankar Tripathi (Gajrao Rao) as a “cure” for homosexuality – his lover Kartik (Ayushmann Khurrana) reveals the reason behind his family’s inability to confront the truth that their son loves another man. It’s not that they can’t wrap their head around the idea of love, Kartik tells him. Indians are after all, reared on the aspiration of romance, having memorised the love stories of Romeo and Juliet and Laila and Majnu by heart. Instead, he claims that society’s objection to homosexual love stems from their unfamiliarity with it. They won’t understand that two men can love each other because there have been no examples to fall back on, Kartik suggests. As the first mainstream Hindi gay love-story, a counter of sorts to the all-encompassing legacy of Raj and Simran, Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan wants to set that example – both for Bollywood and for a post-377 India.

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One of the strengths of Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan is that the film commits to the idea of a mainstream queer romance by refusing to exploit the sexuality of both its leads as a secret.

Colour Yellow Productions

A spin-off to 2017’s Shubh Mangal Savdhaan, a crackling dramedy about erectile dysfunction, Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan is foremost, a film about the insidious and outdated nature of the Indian family-enabled homophobia. Set in 2018 Allahabad, it revolves around 25-year-old Kartik, an animated, Bollywood-obsessed orphan irrevocably in love with Aman, a shy introvert who is yet to come out to his bickering, orthodox parents, Shankar and Sunaina (Neena Gupta). The film’s lovely opening sequence distills their childhood backstories in overlapping voice-overs that underline how their different upbringing have come to inform their personalities. While Kartik responded to his abusive father’s temper by becoming even more unapologetic about his sexuality, Aman took to his family’s subtle attempts at forcing him to blend in by retreating into a shell. So even as Kartik seems perennially ready to stand up for himself, leading a near invisible double life away from the prying eyes of his family, becomes Aman’s only coping mechanism.

When Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan opens, Aman’s 27-year-old cousin Goggle (a particularly enjoyable Maanvi Gagroo) is about to get married. That’s reason enough for a family reunion: Aman’s mother insists that he visit home for the wedding. Like every Indian mother with an arranged marriage trick up her sleeve, Sunaina has already “booked” a daughter-in-law and secretly planned a wedding the moment Aman lands back in Allahabad. The catch? Aman brings Kartik as his plus one.

One of the strengths of Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan is that the film (written by Kewalya) commits to the idea of a mainstream queer romance by refusing to exploit the sexuality of both its leads as a secret. Both Aman and Karthik’s sexual orientation is established from the film’s opening sequence itself. That Kewalaya doesn’t offer exposition to rationalise their romance makes for a nice touch, given that it normalises same-sex love as a routine occurence. In declaring Aman and Kartik’s sexuality instead of shielding it as a plot-twist, Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan boasts of a rare candour that isn’t only invested in making homosexuality a living room conversation, but also in mainstreaming it as a way of life. For instance, when Aman’s family finds out that he is gay, the film doesn’t treat it as his burden. Kewalya instead, takes his family to task for going out of the way to not acknowledge his sexuality (“My sexuality is my sexuality, none of your sexuality,” mouths Khurrana in one hilarious scene), putting a magnifying glass on their reactions instead.

In a completely modern setting, Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan compellingly charts the distance that love has traversed in the last two decades.

At times, Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan’s humour doesn’t possess the same bite as its predecessor – some of the gags aren’t as effortless and the sub-plots are a little crowded. But these are minor setbacks, for the writing is consistently clever. One sequence has Khurrana don a rainbow flag and announce “homophobia” is a “disease” with no “cure”, a sly nod to Indian politicians frequently labelling homosexuality as a disease that can be cured. Kewalya strays away from indulging in false equivalences, calling out the Indian middle-class ignorance toward homosexuality without unjustly villanising it. A parental backstory that reinforces the extent to which the egos of Indian parents can mess up the lives of their kids possesses an oddly touching vulnerability, elevated by Rao and Gupta’s electric turns. The film’s appeal then, lies in it achieving the delicate balance of talking to Indian families in a language they can decipher without dumbing its queer sensibilities down. It is no mean feat to stretch the boundaries of homosexuality within the confines of a family-friendly film.

In that sense, it is admirable how Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan acknowledges its post-377 existence by packaging itself as a queer romance that looks like it belongs to the current times. The romance between Khurrana and Kumar – both of whom bring an effective tenderness to their parts – isn’t asexual. Aman and Kartik are physically intimate with each other as they are emotionally sincere: they hold hands, hug, kiss with an abandon (I loved a discussion that had the two leads “proclaim” their love for each other by claiming that they close their eyes during a kiss), and stare at each other with eyes full of longing. That the two actors make their love look believable and not a gimmick is worth the price of admission alone.

Moreover, the film is stacked to the brim with explicit queer vocabulary and imagery, an instance of it possibly being the first mainstream film that addresses homosexuality, sex, and even same-sex kissing without any trepidation. A nod to Section 377 being repealed (the way Kewalya works it into the narrative is impressive), lends the film sentimentality and the subversion of Sholay’s “Yeh dosti” as a same-sex love anthem is ingenious.  It’s this steadfast dedication to a queer universe that guarantees that Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan becomes more than just a statement.

Yet what singlehandedly propels Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan’s ambitions as a queer romance is its revisionist attitude towards Hindi cinema’s enduring romantic tropes. There are the usual suspects: a runaway bride, a forced wedding, love in the face of familial opposition, the disapproval of the patriarch (Khurrana refers to Rao as a “chashmish Amrish Puri” in one scene), and lovers being thrashed for daring to love. But it’s in how Kewalaya reframes these recognisable moments centred around two people standing up for their love as two people also standing up for their freedom to love whoever they wish to, that is equal parts thrilling and revolutionary.

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One film that it evidently takes a knife to is Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge: Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan ends with a similar running-to-catch-the-train sequence that is triumphant in mainstreaming a modern record of love.

Colour Yellow Productions

One film that it evidently takes a knife to is Aditya Chopra’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan ends with a subversion of Raj and Simran’s train scene, a shorthand for happily-ever-after, that is triumphant in mainstreaming a modern record of love. But the film’s most touching moment comes a minute before in Kewalya’s reimagination of the angry Indian father. As a mark of apology, Shankar drops Aman and Kartik to the station on his bike. Before leaving, he reminds his son that his ignorance shouldn’t be a reason for Aman to not live his life to the fullest. Earlier in the film. Aman angrily asks Shankar “Why can’t Indian fathers be the heroes for a change?”. In making an Indian parent interrogate his injurious pride before uttering “Jee le apni zindagi,” the indisputable romantic blessing, Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan compellingly charts the distance that love has traversed in the last two decades. All it asks is that Indian families keep up.

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