“Shubh Mangal Saavdhan”… Not as snappy as the original, but a lot of fun nonetheless

Posted on September 2, 2017

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Spoilers ahead…

RS Prasanna’s Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, a remake of his Tamil hit Kalyana Samayal Sadham, has many jokes — but none funnier than the name of its leading man, played by Ayushmann Khurrana (who continues to spin astonishing variations on the persona of the not-quite-macho man). The name is Mudit, which anagrams with “tumid” — the film’s premise is that Mudit cannot get tumid. In the days leading up to his “love-cum-arranged-cum-love” marriage with Sugandha (Bhumi Pednekar, another actor spinning variations on the same screen persona, that of the woman whose issues are exacerbated by marriage), Mudit discovers he suffers from erectile dysfunction. Like the Tamil original, SMS stands out for its warm embrace of a, well, prickly subject.

Prasanna — a friend, by the way — continues to find inventive ways to depict his hero’s condition. In the trailer, you might have seen the damp biscuit fall into a cup of tea — a visual metaphor right out of the Carry On series. But that’s just the culmination of a scene filled with visual metaphors. Mudit drops Sugandha home on his bike, and they try to kiss but the visor of his helmet comes between them. Inside, when they decide to do it, there are many more causes of interruptus: a broken phone, a bottle of Tiger balm, Mudit’s dinner, photos on the wall. The point is well-taken. The reasons behind big problems are often the smallest, most unremarkable things.

Or not. What does one make of the bear? Yes. A bear. This leads to one of the many laugh-out-loud lines from writer Hitesh Kewalya. Mudit’s mother says, “Tu us ladki ke chakkar mein yahan se wahan ho raha tha aur tujhpe bhaloo chadh gaya?” (Translation: A bear?) The line is funnier because it isn’t hammered home. The woman is bustling about the kitchen, not posing for a reaction shot. Sugandha’s mother (the superb Seema Bhargava) gets even better lines in a stretch that will forever change the way you regard the Arabian Nights. Kewalya helps SMS become more than just a cash-in remake. He colloquializes the original. He gives it new… thrust.

One way to enjoy SMS, then, is to simply wait for the next zinger. I loved the bit where the prospective in-laws try to make small talk around the Pan Parag ad that used to show on Doordarshan — and I wondered why no one had thought of it before. Even the straight talk is filled with flavour. Sugandha is a romantic who dreamed of eloping (cue shots from Hero, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak). When Mudit pings her on a matrimonial site, she says he tossed an arranged marriage into her visions of love, so she’ll put love back in the arranged marriage. It isn’t just cute for the sake of being cute. It’s very real scenarios (“digital India!”) made cute. There’s a difference.

If you’ve seen the original, comparisons are inevitable. The very specific (and unusually authentic) Tam-Brahm milieu gives way to a more generic North Indian setting, which Anand L Rai (this film’s producer) has practically made his own. It’s vivid and rooted — it’s just not all that new. But we get the same mix of tradition and modernity. Rituals are conducted on Skype, and the woman decides that she will have as much of a say in her future as the man. I missed the hero’s well-rounded friends (we barely get to know them here), but the heroine gains a best friend who puts an additional female spin on a male problem.

The attempts at extra character shading (like Mudit’s issues with his father) don’t always work, and they confirmed my  suspicions that this premise is perhaps best treated like a sitcom, as in the Tamil version. But a lot of the flab — the subplot about where the wedding is to be conducted, Mudit’s encounters with quacks — are now trimmed, shoved into songs. I wished some of the setups, like Sugandha going lingerie shopping with her mother, had been milked more. The Tamil version was snappier, more alert to comic possibilities. SMS also seems a tad stretched, with scenes that are lingered on for more time than necessary.

I did not buy some of the reworking. An annoying ex-girlfriend character is a strange inclusion, and this time around, everyone knows about Mudit’s “gents problem.” At a conceptual level, it makes sense — because nothing is really private in India. But it’s a little hard to accept that everyone’s taking the same gently exasperated tone towards the central issue as the film is. And the elopement from the original film is a strange exclusion, given Sugandha’s dreams. Instead, we get a contrived cable-car episode — again, conceptually fine (just the two of them, far away from everyone else) but far away from the rest of the film as well.

I preferred the hero’s deflation of patriarchy in the Tamil version (he says he’ll wait for her to say yes) to the lectures around rituals here, though Khurrana is so good at sustaining that breaking-point zone that you almost buy it all and even ask for more. And what about the pressures on the heroine, which the hero is oblivious to? Again, more convincing in the original.

But these comparisons won’t matter to those who haven’t seen Kalyana Samayal Sadham, and Prasanna orchestrates such a good-natured air that many of those who’ve seen the original may not care either. Bhumi Pednekar gives us a heroine not as blase as her predecessor, but someone to whom all this is a very serious matter. A fantastic scene has her trying to seduce Mudit in a park, and our smiles quickly vanish as the mood changes. She really wants this. He’s the first guy who liked her. She’s prepared for a life that will revolve around children, for the eventual cooling of ardour — but she wants a big, fat wedding to compensate.

Hence the film’s best scene, where Mudit gives Sugandha the baraat procession of her dreams — he doesn’t want to, but he gives it to her all the same. It’s funny and touching at once, one of the most beautiful depictions of compromise in our cinema. Shubh Mangal Saavdhan is yet another “small” film that shows where so many of our bigger movies go wrong. It’s not rocket science. It’s just the basics. With an alert cast, flavourful writing, good filmmaking, it’s not… hard..

Copyright ©2017 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Posted in: Cinema: Hindi