Film Review: Shubh Mangal Saavdhan
In 2015’s Dum Laga Ke Haisha, the consummation of a newlywed couple’s marriage becomes the subject of family discussion. Two years later, the actors from that film, Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar, find themselves in a similar situation in RS Prasanna’s Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. In this Hindi remake of Prasanna’s own 2013 Tamil film, Kalyana Samayal Saadham, they play a young couple on the verge of marriage faced with the problem of sexual dysfunction and the meddling of family members who won’t leave them alone to sort it out.
The scene that sets up the central conflict is a comic beauty. Mudit and Sugandha have met in person, seen each other’s families online, gotten engaged, and are now growing fond of each other—in that strange but not uncommon order. One night, after he drops her home, they lean in for a first kiss. His motorcycle helmet visor is in the way—an early warning of the trickier interruptus to follow. Once inside, they begin to make out, until he abruptly excuses himself. Sugandha waits for him on the bed; he panics in the bathroom. A voice on the radio describes a romantic situation gone south. Eventually Mudit emerges and, over tea, with the illustrative help of a limp biscuit, mutters something about a “gents problem”.
Shubh Mangal Saavdhan might not be hailed as boundary-pushing cinema—and yet, in its own unassuming way, it is. Like Vicky Donor, which kicked a hole in the middle-class-morality wall simply by saying “sperm” some 500 times, this bright, unembarrassed film discusses a somewhat taboo subject loudly and sensibly. The dysfunction may be on Mudit’s end but Sugandha makes it clear—over the sound of his self-flagellation—that this is a problem for them to solve together. It’s also made clear as the film progresses that there are insecurities on both sides. One surprising scene in a Delhi park starts out comic, with Sugandha inexpertly attempting to seduce Mudit, and ends with her crying and being comforted by him. Mudit describes their impending marriage as “love-cum-arranged-cum-love”, and even though their relationship walks over its share of hot coals, this seems about right.
There’s been a notable resurgence of middle cinema in the last few years, from Ankhon Dekhi to Bareilly Ki Barfi. Shubh Mangal Saavdhan fits snugly into this very Indian subgenre: its comedy is rooted in the everyday, its conflicts life-size. Hitesh Kewalya contributes a sparkling screenplay—one sublime moment occurs when Sugandha’s father and uncle each yank a slipper off to beat her younger brother, but then become sentimental when this reminds them of their late father (the uncle’s parting shot: “Use mariyega zaroor (Do hit him, though).” Khurrana has shown more inclination than perhaps any of his contemporaries to explore the idea of fragile masculinity in his work; Mudit can be seen as the flipside to his Prem in Dum Laga Ke Haisha, as insecure but less bitter. He’s well-matched with Pednekar, who takes her almost-too-understanding character and gives her just enough of an edge.
With so much going for it, it’s disappointing when Shubh Mangal Saavdhan doesn’t come close to sticking the landing. The film’s final 20 minutes includes an elaborate, less-than-sensible gag, a spot of screenwriting panic, an on-the-nose sermon, and a deus ex machina when none was required. But this doesn’t erase what’s come before: a funny, hopeful film, with enough dry wit and generosity of spirit to allow it to circumvent the farcical pitfalls of its subject matter.