35mm Reflections: SHUDDH DESI ROMANCE (2013)

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One thing any avid watcher of Hindi films will tell you is that it is useless to underestimate Yash Raj Films, because you never quite know what Aditya Chopra has up his sleeve. Either the experiment can go delightfully right (the Dhoom series, Band Baaja Baaraat) or horribly wrong (Dil Bole Hadippa, Aurangzeb and other crap). You just never know with the brooding Mr. Chopra.

Yet his latest offering, Maneesh Sharma’s Shuddh Desi Romance, takes all those chiffon-clad, Lata-crooned, Raj-Simran stereotypes so painstakingly crafted by his late father, and just dumps it out of the window like the garbage in the morning. Because this film dares to question those same notions of love and relationships so happily espoused by YRF over the years. Sharma, along with maverick writer Jaideep Sahni, crafts a narrative questioning the very ethos of Indian marriages, and the hypocrisy surrounding the entire “marriages are made in heaven” idea. Sahni’s crisp writing ensures that the film steers clear of being preachy, and yet holds up a mirror to our preconceived notions about relationships and commitments, reminding us that we live in a  country where the question of love is problematic and sexual encounters are more frequent than we’d like to admit.

The film kicks off with a short crisp monologue by Raghu (Sushant Singh Rajput), who deconstructs and disses the entire notion of the “arranged marriage” and the question of commitment, followed by a flurry of shots of Jaipur and its varied love-struck couples, set to Divya Kumar’s sprightly “Chanchal mann ati random”. On his way to get married to Tara (Vaani Kapoor), Raghu, an experienced baaraati­-on-rent himself, meets Gayatri (Parineeti Chopra) and sparks fly. Ten minutes later, we see that Raghu has escaped (read ran  away) from his own wedding, has got cosy with Gayatri and has started living with her. From here onwards, the film becomes a never-ending game of pakdam pakdai that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Nickelodeon, if not for Sahni’s racy script and dialogues. The best part of the plot is the entire Raghu-Gayatri romance in the first half (featuring the delightful “Tere mere beech mein kya hai”). The dialogues are lively—ranging from the snarky (“Na jaan na pehchaan, free mein ho gayi santaan?”) to the profound (“Pehle ek doosre ke pichhe bhagte ho, phir ek doosre se door bhagte ho….Ab bhagte hi rahoge, ya thehroge bhi?”)

Such a crackling script deserves convincing performances, and SDR possesses those. Sushant Singh Rajput is utterly believable as the lovable, bumbling rascal Raghu, while Parineeti Chopra adds equal doses of rebelliousness and vulnerability to her portrayal of Gayatri. Rishi Kapoor is lovable as veteran wedding planner Goyalji, while Rajesh Sharma is efficient in a cameo.

But the big mystery of the film remains newbie Vaani Kapoor. She does turn in a decent performance as the jilted Tara, but her character remains just a sketch, and nothing more. All we know is that a) she is jilted at her own wedding by Raghu, b) she wants to confront Raghu about this and c) she loves cold beverages. Wish the audience knew more about her.

Do give SDR  a watch. It’s not a classic, but it’s not unwatchable either.

STATUTORY WARNING: You may never look at a bathroom the same way again after watching this movie.