A year since the release of the first Bollywood rom-com centered around an LGBTQ couple, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, directed by Hitesh Kewalya, has become the industry’s latest unification of classic, time-honored themes with today’s tolerance.
In the archetypical cascade of hilarity and humorous affairs, the film funnels into a meaningful reconciliation that will indubitably inspire positive reflection in a vast audience.
Released on Feb. 21, the 2020 title, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, loosely translating to “Performing The Rites Of Marriage With Extra Caution,” is a humorous play on the name of an earlier rom-com centered on a heterosexual couple, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, (“Performing The Rites Of Marriage With Caution”), that was released in 2017.
Thirty-five-year-old singer-actor Ayushmann Khurrana, awarded and acclaimed for his portrayals of men in the turmoil of a socially regarded dysfunction, plays Kartik Singh, a young man in love with Aman Tripathi (Jitendra Kumar), whose family is none too eager to accept his sexuality and strives until the very end to have him wed their chosen bride.
The film can be described as the quintessential, rather chaotic Bollywood romance.
This classic framework plunges the pair into the depths of dramatized family feuds, only to emerge at the climactic establishment of a happy ending, sometime — and in this case particularly — with the garnish of a moral revelation.
A series of clashes between an unaccommodating father and an unyielding son, traversing the landscape of traditional family values, is accompanied by the family’s comical attempts to avoid the truth of their son’s sexual orientation. This ends up resulting in spectacular failures and finally channeling into the film’s progressive validation of love as a factor beyond gender.
Supporting characters who face their own barriers to love, Aman’s cousin Goggle, who is blind in one eye and initially despairs in her unmarried state, and his fiancé, the girl Kusum, who loves a man from another caste, contribute to the film’s multifaceted message.
In scaffolding a gay romance in familiar, comfortable themes, the industry achieves more than another mere response to a modernist calling.
The genre also facilitates a commendable normalization, drawing queer representation out from the shadows of niche films and into the exuberant, buoyant light of the popular romantic comedy stage.
The previous year’s LGBTQ debut as the forefront of the Bollywood romantic comedy, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (“When I Saw A Girl, This Is How It Felt”), was written with this very purpose. Seeing the trend propagate lends added conviction in the ever-growing tolerance towards the LGBTQ community in India.
While the more skeptical viewer may wonder as to whether the film’s occasional oversaturation of humor implies the filmmaker’s need to shield the telling of a controversial story, this is a difficult angle to justify, as comedic excess is not uncommon in films of this genre. As a comedy, it is inherently difficult for the film to touch upon the darker, more profound consequences of discriminatory perception, yet it manages to treat its subject with a refreshing maturity amidst the ensuing jest.
The film’s powerful monologues and astute quips in favour of tolerance will undoubtedly resonate with a variety of audiences. These are peppered throughout the story as the young couple fights for their love to be accepted by those around them.
While some scenes leave something to be desired with regards to the realistic depiction of a family dynamic, it is worth reiterating that the genre embraces such nonsensical or overdramatized writing.
Analogous approaches punctuate the spectrum of comedic Bollywood film, and it is this seamless integration that makes the film so insightful.
Thus far, though the current landscape of major releases in Indian cinema is demonstrating declines for highly anticipated films, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan among them, the film appears to be riding the top of the wave.
“All in all, SMZS will give small-town parents the much needed nudge, and maybe, in the distant future, they will have the strength to accept their offsprings for who they are,” said critic Pallabi Dey Purkayastha of The Times of India.
Indeed, in taking a heavily nuanced subject and presenting it with the appropriate sensitivity balanced within the light of comedy, director Hitesh Kewalya chips further away at the need for caution as he promotes tolerance toward love in all its various forms.
As Aman responds to his father’s incredulity at his love for another man, “What difference does it make?” Love is love, after all.
For anyone who would like to watch Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, it is currently playing in local AMC Theaters. It is well worth the watch, and I wholeheartedly recommend.