One of the trailers for Shuddh Desi Romance begins with, of all things, a statistic: “77% women feel it is wrong to kiss on the first date” (or something to that effect). This is followed by a shot of Raghu (Sushant Singh Rajput) and Gayatri (Parineeti Chopra) going at it, presumably on their first date; after which comes yet another ticker: “If you disagree, come watch our movie” (or something to that effect, again).
This, of course, is complimented by a week full of afternoon news on TV channels with headlines like: “27 KISSES!!! IS Sushant Singh Rajput the new Emraan Hashmi?!” Forget food security, riots in UP, Wawrinka’s almost there genius, Syria and the rest of the world, because this, really, is quite the crucial question that all our lives depend upon. But, umm, I can’t overdo the sarcasm bit at this point because I, after all, did go watch this film, intrigued as I was by the prospect of seeing that beautiful man locking lips and acting skills with not one, but two, women! (voyeur much?)
So, ladies and gentlemen, imagine my disappointment when, by the time the intermission (or bathroom break, as they call it in the film) has arrived, I realise that he’s done nothing but kiss so far, and that his acting skills seem to be some kind of a mirage, an illusion that emerged thanks to those glistening bronzed six-pack abs that took our collective breath away in Kai Po Che, his debut film. As Raghuram Sitaram, he plays the tour guide + local loafer + baarati available on hire, who falls in love (at first sight) with a random girl he meets on a bus, en route his own wedding. What should’ve been an awkward but adorable guy comes across as horny and not a little retarded with his repetitive ‘kya hai’s.
Now this girl he’s fallen in love with is your average Indian cutesy thing, who talks about her previous boyfriends, and smokes, incessantly. And this girl (Vaani Kapoor) he’s about to leave at the altar (at the pretext of taking a leak, no less) is a beauty of epic proportions and seems to be the well-behaved, demure kind that is the stuff of Indian guys (and their mothers’) wet dreams. But the heart wants what it wants, so run away we must, safe in the knowledge that we shall find her.
After a rushed, incoherent proposal, Gayatri and Raghu end up in a live-in relationship (which lasts for 15 mins screen time, but I hope is supposed to mean at least a month?). After a few ups and downs, and a lot of dancing at the camera to a song that goes “ab chali meri love life” (along with smoking, drinking and shaving together), they decide to get married one drunk night.
To cut a long story short (and to avoid spoilers, and because the plot is not what I want to talk about), let’s just say that there’s a love triangle brewing. All three have commitment issues, get cold feet easily and are in the bad habit of leaving without saying goodbye. There usual excuse is that they must visit the loo right this very moment. Rishi Kapoor and his royal moustache are a pleasant break from the monotony of secret looks and winks and nudges that this film relies on. And the choice of Jaipur and Jodhpur as backdrops make sure the aesthete in you is satiated. And the stylistic moorings of the film are fresh and deserve praise.
But, finally getting around to what I actually wanted to talk about: This film attempts to put the spotlight on live-in relationships. Jaideep Sahni, the man who’s given us gems like Khosla ka Ghosla and Chak De India! in the past, experiments with the modern-day idea of a relationship — speedy, raunchy, naughty and with an exit always in view. For this, he looks at the concept of a live-in relationship and, it seems to me, approaches the subject like a star-eyed little child: there’s presumption aplenty and a thought not well-executed.
Since I belong to the generation of people he’s put his lens on (and seems quite sympathetic towards), I feel that his characters are just caricatures. These semi-etched people then fall in and out of love in the wink of an eye, think themselves street-smart but are actually blind to the motions of cupid and dear old Goel saab, and are also quite scarred by the travesty that is life. Towards the end, while analysing (or rationalising?) his behaviour, Raghu finds blame in all these fake weddings that he sees day in and day out. “How can I bring myself to commit to someone when I bear witness to the sham that Indian weddings are?” he asks of his companion (as promised, no spoilers).
This is where things get problematic.
First, weddings do not a marriage make. I mean, of course, you can’t have a marriage without some sort of ceremony to put you in binding contract, forever and for always. But there’s so much more to making a marriage work than simply the rituals. Yes, we do go crazy, bordering on intense insanity, during weddings. Yes, there’s ample posturing. But beyond that, what you make of your relationship is entirely based on your mutual capability and will to adjust.
Second, our main characters here seem to choose a live-in relationship as an alternative to, quite in rebellion of, marriage. All the people I know who prefer to do live-ins are actually opposed to marriage as an institution, not tired of weddings (or out of money to buy a good pair of Nikes). In Shuddh Desi Romance, the raison de etre for a live-in relationship just seems to be an aversion to being “forced” to be in a relationship.
Third, this “being forced” comes from the assumption that marriages are forever. For characters as independent and strong-minded as these, divorce or separation can’t be out of the realm of possibility, logically speaking. So, for Raghu to say “this getting married business doesn’t suit me” because it feels like imprisonment, is a little out of character too.
Sahni’s intention is clear — he wants to normalise the idea of a live-in relationship by placing his film and the characters in a tier II city, a little away from the melting pots that metropolises like Delhi and Mumbai are becoming. He also wants to show what factors could lead up to a couple choosing to keep in informal. But, the reasons he finds along the way are confused, and end up portraying an entire generation of people as thoughtless, naive and childish. Can’t see this going down too well around here.