Shashi Baliga

Middle-class love story

Shashi Baliga | Updated on September 12, 2013

Shuddh Desi Romance is a fabulous, funny movie that will go some distance in redefining the Hindi romcom, its heroes and heroines.

Shuddh Desi Romance is a fabulous, funny movie that will go some distance in redefining the Hindi romcom, its heroes and heroines.

Shuddh Desi Romance is a fabulous, funny movie that will go some distance in redefining the Hindi romcom, its heroes and heroines.

It’s not romance, it’s ‘romaans’. A love story that begins in a crowded wedding bus, and is played out over gulab jamuns eaten with out-of-shape spoons. In a poky flat with old grills, dusty mirrors, and clothes washed in buckets. In by-lanes filled with grimy windows and bicycles and Marutis, and electricity wires hanging all over the place. Over encounters in weddings filled with overdressed guests, blowsy mausis, and horrendous toilets. And ending in a fabulously matter-of-fact climax in Maneesh Sharma’s Shuddh Desi Romance

He has waved his magic middle-class wand again. The first half of this movie is so good I almost wanted to leave mid-way to hunt down the director, writer, cast and production designer and congratulate them. The disappointment that the second half threw up almost made me wish I had, but no regrets, and no cavilling here. This is a fabulous, funny movie that will go some distance in redefining the Hindi romcom, its heroes and heroines.

For decades, the Indian (okay, the North Indian and NRI) idea of romance was shaped by Yash Chopra’s films. The director was versatile enough to give us two versions that appealed to two distinctly different audiences. Intensely passionate men, ethereal women, haunting songs and lyrics and a sacrifice or two thrown in. This made up one half of Yash Chopra’s oeuvre. The other was filled in by the angry, troubled, cynical young man, and the unconventional, often rebellious woman who stood by him despite his fatal flaws. As Yashji grew older, his rebels receded, leaving us with just the first category.

His son Aditya Chopra and devoted protégée Karan Johar took the genre forward by glamming it up with designer threads, glittering, soft-focus karva chauths, elaborate wedding songs and dances. Somewhere along the way, all three styles merged into what is now called the Yashraj or Karan Johar genre of romance. For me, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham represents the icing on this three-tier cake. It’s an addiction that has become so popular that it has become part of contemporary Indian culture. A certain type of Indian wedding now wants to look like nothing more than a Karan Johar movie, down to the wedding video.

So it was that in 2010, when debutant director Maneesh Sharma stood on the same Yashraj’s shoulders to give us Band Baajaa Baraat, a movie that stood the genre on its head, it took the audience and film industry by storm. “Bread pakode ki kasam”? How cheesy, low-brow and unpoetic. And how utterly refreshing.

One of the best aspects of the movie — for me at least — was how brilliantly the movie used dialogue and locations. Maneesh Sharma told me soon after his film’s runaway success, “The core idea was the girl’s journey from middle-class Janakpuri to the plush Sainik Farms. I grew up in Pitampura, not too far from Janakpuri, and I wanted to be honest to her story and my own experiences. So the first thing I told my cinematographer was that we would not be shooting at the Red Fort or Humayun’s Tomb.” (And, of course, palatial bungalows filled with expensive vases like those in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.)

In Shuddh Desi Romance, Sharma is back in the same middle-class milieu (after a bit of a detour in Ladies vs Ricky Bahl) and this time, it gets even better. Because he has given us a heroine who breaks the template for the ‘bold’, ‘liberated’ Hindi film heroine. No simplistic justifications for her ‘unconventional’ (read ‘sexually adventurous’) behaviour or last-minute capitulations into tradition.

Parineeti Chopra’s Gayatri is messed up but unapologetic, bruised but defiant; she’s not a super-character, she’s just a believably confused Indian girl caught between freedom and the befuddled Indian male.

Vaani Kapoor is the pragmatic young woman, overcoming the humiliation of being ditched by the groom. Both these women don’t crumble, they move on. They make their mistakes, they’re suckers for the same man’s roguish and undependable charm, but they take their own decisions. And they don’t crumble like Kareena Kapoor’s Geet did in Jab We Met or Deepika Padukone’s Veronica in Cocktail.

They don’t even fight over the man — Sushant Singh Rajput’s Raghu, your small-town Romeo, egged on by leering friends, gutless when it comes to the crunch. Looming over them all is a deliciously camp Rishi Kapoor as Tauji, supplier of wedding guests, master of wedding illusions, and purveyor of strategic advice to young lovers. Tauji gets some of the best lines in the movie and he delivers them sometimes with aplomb, sometimes with just the glance or the pause.

Neither Tauji nor the movie offer any sermons or grand lectures. But the statement comes out loud and clear for those who want to hear. The great Indian wedding (and marriage) is exposed in all is tawdriness, fake from its manufactured emotions down to its hired guests. One of the film’s funniest scenes has an undecided bride rushing off for a quickie with her boyfriend moments before she sets out for the wedding mandap (with some help from Tauji). Like Kapoor, the other actors throw themselves into the job with such relish that it’s infectious. Parineeti is the star here, note-perfect in every scene. She’s beautiful, she’s sparkling and she’s the most engagingly natural actress we have today. Sushant Singh Rajput plays the impulsive and confused flirt at the right pitch. The only problem I might have is with Vaani Kapoor’s Tara, who incomprehensibly wears a mysterious half-smile even in the direst of situations. Perhaps she was mystified herself?

But the big winner is writer Jaideep Sahni (how does he do it?), whose dialogue crackles with wit and toss-away lines. His brand of toilet humour is the funniest we’ve seen since Delhi Belly. It’s his writing that makes these slightly way-out characters seem so believable.

There’s a good chance that you’ll be disappointed with the goings-on in the second half of the movie but I’m hoping that, like me, you’ll overlook them in return for the joyride of the first.

Published on September 12, 2013

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