“Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan”… The latest Ayushmann Khurrana Movie™ has a gay angle and is an okayish watch

Posted on April 5, 2020

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When Karan Johar was producing films like ‘Dostana’, the broadness was a way to neuter the sensationalism of the subject. What does it say that a decade on, there still needs to be a foot in the door in the form of (very broad) comedy?

Spoilers ahead…

Every actor needs a niche. But can the niche be too… niche? How long does it take for “oh wow, I love this stuff” to become “oh no, not again”. I keep asking myself this every time I watch an Ayushmann Khurrana Movie™, with all its well-established must-haves. In Hitesh Kewalya’s version of the Ayushmann Khurrana Movie™ — this one’s called Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan — the actor plays Kartik, who’s in love with (and living with) Aman, played by Jitendra Kumar. The acting is never a problem in an Ayushmann Khurrana Movie™. Both actors are so good — heck, every actor is so good — that the small scenes work as well as the big ones. Early on, Kartik’s leaning on Aman, who’s driving a bike. When they stop at a signal, Kartik sees a girl leaning against her boyfriend, who’s driving a bike. He smiles at her. The smile says: That one’s yours. This one’s mine. This moment effortlessly sells the film’s premise: gay or straight, love is love.

But this tone is no longer enough to carry an Ayushmann Khurrana Movie™, which is one of the few sure shots the industry bets on every six months. You need to bring all audiences on board: A centre or C centre, box-office love is box-office love. Hence the scene where Aman’s father, Shankar (Gajraj Rao), sees his son kissing Kartik and vomits violently. Now, movie vomit comes in various flavours. There’s the Pushpak “this box in my hand actually contains human shit” vomit. There’s the “oh, I didn’t know that’s what intestines looked like” vomit, which we get from rookie cops in films about serial killers. Shankar’s vomit is hard to categorise. It tastes like repulsion, judgement, and the supposition that this is how most viewers will react to Aman and Kartik.

Shankar, in other words, is meant to be the audience stand-in. He’s Kantaben — if she’d been a man of science. He has tinkered around with genetics and invented a kali gobi, which many others regard as a “freak of nature”. And yet, he cannot see that his son could be God’s version of a kali gobi. He thinks Aman and Kartik are freaks. The “irony” is as broad as the film’s tone. When Karan Johar was producing films like Kal Ho Naa Ho and Dostana, the broadness was a way to neuter the sensationalism of the subject. It was a way to get people like Shankar laugh loudly about something they’d vomit about in real life. The comedy was the proverbial foot in the door. It said: Okay, you’re laughing. But at least you’re talking about it. You’re acknowledging that such a thing exists.

What does it say about our mainstream cinema that a decade on, there still needs to be a foot in the door in the form of (very broad) comedy? I know that this is the formula of the Ayushmann Khurrana Movie™: hot-button issue + belly laughs. But look at Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, which I felt was spectacularly mistreated. I don’t think it’s a classic of any kind. But it didn’t just stop at the door. It barged in and made itself comfortable in your living room. The play acting that Sweety — the protagonist played by Sonam Kapoor — does at home (hiding the truth that she likes girls) is channelled into her acting in a play that’s about her. The audience of this play, thus, become a stand-in for the audience of the movie.

Some of the audience on screen cannot stomach this “perversion”. They walk away. Others stick around. Some are moved. The film wasn’t stentorian about its message. It just said that some people are going to be able to handle gayness, while others are going to be harder to convince. (And maybe some won’t be convinced at all.) I thought this was very classy, but in hindsight, I suspect the film never got a chance because of its star. Sonam Kapoor is the anti-Ayushmann Khurrana. She could move mountains and we’d still be like, “She’s a nepo-kid, and that accent is so, like, weird.” At least, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha had the guts to fight it out, instead of relying on a ridiculous deux ex machina, as Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan does.

This is a light film, the equivalent of Kajol prancing around her bedroom in a towel — criticising it feels like getting all Amrish Puri on her ass. Oh, did you think that was an utterly gratuitous DDLJ reference? It’s at least fresher than the one we get in this film, a repeat of the climactic train scene with extended hands and a platform only a few feet shorter than the Great Wall of China. All that said, as far as the assembly line of the Ayushmann Khurrana Movie™ goes, I didn’t mind Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan. That’s the thing with good actors. They make you look past the patches of bad or preachy writing.

There’s some good writing, too. I was relieved that the gayness of the couple wasn’t saved for a Big Reveal. (Ek Ladki Ko Dekha made this mistake.) Very early on, it’s… out, with a big public kiss in the middle of a big fat Indian wedding. Ayushmann Khurrana gives it his all. He’s always had a bit of a gender-bending side (watch him again in Nautanki Saala), and here, he ups his natural flamboyance. He dials up the gesturality a bit — but just a bit. He doesn’t come off as camp. After a limp, um, you-know-what in the earlier film, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, he isn’t affecting a limp wrist here. He’s not channeling Anupam Kher in Mast Kalandar. He treats “gay” as a synonym for high-spiritedness rather than one for a kind of sexuality.

Jitendra Kumar has the tougher role. He has to make the straight-arrow (in a matter of speaking) foil seem interesting. He does. Watch him berate his scientifically inclined father with this line: “Aap ka oxytocin pyaar aur mera oxytocin beemari?” It’s a carefully thought-out line (by the screenwriter) but Jitendra has to make it sound improvised. And he does that, with a mix of annoyance and frustration and also defiance: “You are making a kali gobi and you’re calling me the black sheep?” You want to see him happy. And when that happens, to the tune of one of our most beloved Hindi film songs, I misted up a little. Rarely has a song elevated a situation to this extent. But the real treat is when a single woman (the sensational Maanvi Gagroo) tires of waiting for the right man and does the saat phera-s on her own. Now, there’s a pink revolution.

Copyright ©2020 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi