To be fair, the story had potential. But I wish the film hadn’t normalised violence, or given the ‘message’ to young queer people that it’s ok to put up with such violence from family.

Kisses nose-rings triangle tattoos dont save Ayushmanns Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan
Flix LGBTQI+ Sunday, February 23, 2020 - 14:16

Spoilers ahead

I’ve laughed at a whole load of problematic comedy in my life – I’m definitely not a perfect ‘woke’ person. I’ve giggled at fat jokes, found people falling funny, laughed at things I definitely shouldn’t have… But when a middle aged scientist brought out a huge log and started hitting his son’s boyfriend in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, and the sequence was coded as ‘funny’, I found no humour in what was happening. When 20 people watch on as a gay man is being assaulted, and when his own partner runs away from the scene instead of trying to stop his father, it leaves the realm of problematic comedy and is just, simply, problematic at best.

Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan is a Bollywood comedy that was released this week and was touted to be the first this and the first that – although it’s not the first anything, as several queer people have pointed out in the past many weeks. It stars Ayushmann Khurrana and Jeetu as Kartik Singh and Aman Tripathi – a couple who live together in Delhi and have reached Allahabad to Aman’s family following a series of plot set-ups. Directed by Hitesh Kewalya, it’s a purely Bollywood film with perhaps little appeal to anyone who lives south of Maharashtra.

Credit where it’s due: the film has overarching ‘good intentions’. It deals with the reactions, the lack of understanding, and the journeys of a large family as they realise their son is gay, and has a boyfriend. It gets some things right – like it’s ok to want family and romance at the same time if you’re queer, and that’s not a privilege set aside for cis straight people. However, it also gets a whole bunch of things wrong – starting with the casting of Ayushmann Khurrana.

There were many hot takes when the trailer came out, with Ayushmann Khurrana in a rainbow cape holding a loudspeaker, being what I can only describe as a Delhi boy. The film has an extended run of this Delhi boy, who throws random ‘moral of the story’ dialogues through the film. There is also a cringe moment where Ayushmann’s Kartik decides to adapt the nursery rhyme ‘Jack and Jill’ to ‘Jack and Johnny’ in the middle of a railway station. Perhaps it was meant to drive some point about ‘love is love’ home – however, it failed badly. And that’s because Ayushmann Khurrana is not Delhi boy Kartik who is deeply in love with Aman. He is just cis straight man Ayushmann Khuranna playing an approximation of a caricature of a gay man called Kartik who is deeply in love with Aman.

While Jeetu’s Aman is an endearing character in the film, and at multiple points in the story, you want to relate to him, the feeling dies the minute Ayushmann is in the frame. There is little chemistry between the two as a couple, and despite the nose ring and triangle tattoo on his neck, Ayushmann Khurrana looks out of place in the film, he looked like he was overcompensating with some overacting in the film.

At many points, the film mixes up gender and sexuality – and does so with a large helping of ‘Hindu coding’. In one scene, Kartik says of Aman’s father Shankar Tripathi, that if the latter is Hindu god Shiva, he (Kartik) is both Shiva and Shakti. In another scene, a cousin of Aman’s Googles about sexuality and explains to the family that ‘sexuality’ is a spectrum that falls between male and female. Given this is supposedly a film that helps an (north) Indian family understand sexuality, this mixing up should have been avoided – whether it arose in the aid of ‘simplifying’ the script, or because the filmmakers themselves are confused.

The dialogue is clunky in many places – there is a rant about oxytocin and dopamine that felt very forced – and while there are a bunch of subplots, one in particular about black cauliflower, that I guess was meant to be a metaphor of some sort, was lost on me. However, one particular subplot about a 27-year-old woman with a disability who is desperate to get married is perhaps the best part of the film.

To be fair, the story had potential. But I wish the film hadn’t normalised violence, or given the ‘message’ to young queer people that it’s ok to put up with such violence from family if at the end of the day they ‘accept’ you. 

Views expressed are the author's own.

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