‘Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan’ review: Ayushmann Khurrana’s delightful comedy is a giant leap for LGBTQI+ representation in Bollywood

A scene from the movie.   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

From the first Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge inspired scene to the last, the “Ja Simran, jee le apni zindagi” dialogue uttered by an equally stern Bauji (patriarch) and an Aashiqui-inspired image of young love thrown in the middle. It’s evident what Hitesh Kewalya is doing with what could, perhaps, be the first unabashed same-sex love story in commercial, star-driven Bollywood. He places Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (SMZS) squarely in the aesthetics of popular culture. SMZS could have been about Raj and Simran, Raj and Bobby or Raj and Rashmi with class, caste and religious differences coming in the way of true love. But it turns out to be about Kartik Singh (Ayushmann Khurrana) and Aman Tripathi (Jitendra Kumar) and the enemy that the lovers have to fight here are the prejudices against an individual’s sexual preferences. Kewalya’s effective strategy turns out to be a canny tool to bring a queer romance into the mainstream. That is, normalise the LGBTQIA+ narrative in a commercial cinema space that has traditionally thrived on stereotyping the queer community.

Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan
  • Director: Hitesh Kewalya
  • Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Jitendra Kumar, Gajraj Rao, Neena Gupta, Manurishi Chaddha, Sunita Rajwar, Maanvi Gagroo
  • Run time: 119.37 minutes
  • Storyline: The love story of Kartik Singh and Aman Tripathi. Need we say more?

Jai and Veeru could have been gay. A nursery rhyme about Jack and Jill could be reinterpreted to suit Jack and Johnny. There’s even a clever reference to actor Arjun Mathur, who is often said to have been typecast as gay. It’s these challenges that the film throws at our popular imagination and consciousness that make it extremely interesting. SMZS takes a huge leap ahead of a film like Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga that, despite being the first off the mark, didn’t go the whole hog. And in fact, was too dainty to even show the two women together in the same frame.

On the flip side is the familiarity of the customary elements—the primacy of family, a garish, loud wedding for the setting, drama, kitsch, colour, much song and dance and bordering on slapstick humour. Kewalya is pushing the envelope without quite tearing it apart. Parents, relations, and family are seen as the biggest battleground for gay couples but they are simultaneously held on to, negotiations are done, successfully at that, despite questioning them. Kewalya isn’t judgmental about those who are in denial or intolerant. As one character says, prejudices take time in getting demolished, a change of heart and mind can’t be expected overnight. And such minds are spread across the societal divides. A scientist growing the atypical black cauliflower (a persistent metaphor through the film) could well be as homophobic as a poor and illiterate ironsmith. The hope is that they will eventually get to realise that the real sickness of mind that needs to be cured is not homosexuality but a condition called homophobia.

In his first directorial venture, Kewalya continues to be great (like he was as a writer in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan) with little details of the heartland life—like the sly alcohol consumption in steel tumblers in the boot of a car at the wedding—and the fantastic use of lingo and wordplay. Just to hear Hindi words and phrases like utpeedan (persecution), arth-vyavastha (economy) and vyavhaarik chumban (pragmatic kiss) is music to the ears. It’s the reason why Kewalya’s evocation of small town North India feels more lived-in and grounded than several other such films traversing the same zone. All the tropes succeed: the quirky family, its spontaneous quarrels and brawls, the wonderfully realised characters played by a delightful ensemble of actors. It’s interesting to see a star like Khurrana get adventurous at the peak of his popularity. But what is of greater note, is the scope and space the film grants to a relatively little known actor like Kumar. Khurrana’s character may have the bluster and be more attractive in his disruptiveness but it’s Kumar who gets the best “dopamine”, “oxytocin” inspired lines about the nature of true love.

On the downside, somewhere midway the script tends to go round in circles and get messy even as the messaging gets heavy-handed. But the organic humour keeps surfacing to save the day. Kewalya’s call for our collective change of heart is irreverent and playful with a touch of warmth. It’s hard to resist that!

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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 8:35:06 AM |

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