Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan Is Ayushmann Khurrana’s DDLJ Update – And We Absolutely Love It
I heard someone say “Ayushmann ka film hai na, hit toh hoga hi” while I stood up for the National Anthem when I went to watch Bala. I smiled. It is heartening that Khurrana has been able to establish that kind of faith in the audience. It is a healthy sign for the actor and the box office.
Ayushmann Khurrana is not just an actor anymore – he is a genre. When I chat with Hitesh Kewalya, the director, after walking out of the Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (SMZS) screening, I tell him how SMZS also fits into that “genre” seamlessly. Kewalya enthusiastically agrees. It is also important for us to note that all of Khurrana’s recent films have been conversation starters. The films are meant to light the match, kick up a storm of questions, and bring forth to light frictions, hypocrisies, and insecurities that have forever been dusted under the carpet. For the evolved sections of the audience, the films are entertaining social satires and comedies. For a vast majority, they are textbooks. Khurrana is schooling an older generation to change their archaic ways of thinking and teaching the younger generation new rules.
None of Khurrana’s films come as shockers to me. I am privileged enough to not be affected by the shackles of caste, I don’t have a gigantic hypocritical close-minded family (thank heavens), I have been brought up healthily enough to not weigh people – and myself – by appearances, my circles don’t breed toxic masculinity and, most importantly, I am allowed to fall in love with whomever I want. Privilege is not just defined by the economy in today’s world.
SMZS is not the first film on homosexuality in India. But, like, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, it brought the subject out of the niche indie cinema space – thanks to mainstream stars and production houses – and presented the subject for the potboiler-loving audience. I applauded Sonam Kapoor, Anil Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao back then. I applaud Ayushmann Khurrana now. This is not the saviour syndrome. It is important for opinion leaders to talk about problems that our societies face because marginalized voices don’t always have that opportunity. And, additionally, we cannot deny the reach of commercial Hindi cinema. It becomes the perfect vehicle for social change if used engagingly and intelligently. Take Nagaraj Manjule’s Fandry and Sairat as examples. Both his films spoke about caste-based abuse and politics, but Sairat’s commercial cinema format pushed the message out for a wider audience. Having said that, does that mean that a certain conversation might just have to be dumbed down a tad to make it more palatable for all audiences? It does. SMZS could have been an intense gay love story about a couple fighting against the family. It could have had brutality, graphic sex scenes and been visually violent. It would have then found a niche audience, and that defeats the purpose of the Ayushmann Khurrana Genre. Instead, the film is a howlarious comedy with a warm, fuzzy heart that refuses to take itself too seriously – while putting out nuggets of social awareness that are bound to strike a chord with the audience. The privileged, like me, walk-in for a refreshing, well-crafted, social comedy. The rest walk out with the germ of new found curiosity. Khurrana is not only making films for the aware – he is trying to wake up the sleeping ones.
SMZS is a remixed DDLJ – Kartik (Khurrana) is in love with Aman (Jitendra Kumar, in a delectable debut) but Aman’s family is forcing him to get married to a girl, completely unaware of his sexual orientation. When Aman’s father, Shankar Tripathi (Gajraj Rao, in his career-best), a kooky botanist gets to know the truth about his son, war ensues. It becomes a tiff between science and log-kya-kahenge, leading the family to try out various strategies – fake suicide attempts, severe emotional blackmail, brutal maar-dhaar, and even an outrageous funeral rite – to cure Aman of his bimaari. Kartik, on the other hand, inspired by Amitabh Bachchan’s Vijay, pulls DDLJ’s SRK – he will cure Aman’s family of homophobia, change their minds, not elope with their son but leave with their blessings. He dons the LGBT flag like a cape, gets beaten up by Aman’s father (in a crazy slow-mo spoof of 90s altercation scenes where the hero bears the pain stoically when he is beaten up by the heroine’s father and his goons – only, in this case, Khurrana is constantly wincing and howling in pain) and refuses to budge even when his boyfriend is on the horse, ready for his baaraat to take off.
Like in all Khurrana films, the ensemble cast is absolutely stellar, especially Manu Rishi, Sunita Rajwar and Maanvi Gagroo as Chaman Chacha, Champa Chachi and their one-eyed daughter Goggle. To be honest, this time around the supporting cast might have eclipsed Khurrana a tad, with the additional help from Gajraj Rao and the fabulous Neena Gupta. Neena Gupta’s mother act – sometimes strong, sometimes illogical, sometimes, shrewd, often nonsensical – definitely captured the middle-class confusion with homosexuality. Her sterling delivery and adept performance take the film to a different level altogether. It seemed like everybody was trying hard to keep up with her. The script ably creates a Priyadarshan-like commotion but suffers from too many distracting subplots and add-ons that are unnecessary to the main running narrative, which is engaging and impressive as is. The dialogues are top-notch and the sly nods to homoeroticism – especially the Jai-Veeru trope – make for great “aha!” moments. The direction is able, but meanders a tad in the second half, seeming a little overwhelmed with all the masala in this recipe. It could have been a tighter and shorter film.
But none of these gaffes seems to matter whenever Khurrana comes on screen. We are getting a little tired of singing his praise, but the man has been able to create a startlingly different character, unlike Bala or DreamGirl. Khurrana’s Kartik is the out-and-proud, bold and self-confident counter to Jitendra’s demure Aman. Kartik doesn’t have a family. He had to stand up against the brute of a father. As he mentions wisely, gay people have to fight against something on some level every day. But unlike Aman, Kartik didn’t have a family to fight against – and fight for – which he deems as the most important one when establishing one’s true identity. What Aman sees as a problem, Kartik sees as a privilege. If he can change Aman’s father, maybe, just maybe, he might be able to call him “Papa” too? Khurrana portrays a strong but vulnerable hero, who is exaggerated and energetic and is unabashedly indefatigable in his quest to win over his lover’s family. You want Kartik as your BFF because he would be the perfect wind beneath your wings. He makes you feel proud of who you are and inspires you to embrace yourself.
Let me round it up with a secret: When I sat down to watch SMZS, echoing that man I overheard, I told my colleague – “Ayushmann ka film hai na, hit toh hoga hi.”