The voice of Sanjay Mishra sullenly welcomes us into the modest Varanasi life and ancestral home of Yashwant Batra. He’s four years from retiring from a cushy job at the post office. He’s been married for 24 years to Kiran (Ekavali Khanna). Their daughter Preeti (Shivani Raghuvanshi) goes to college and has a secret relationship with the neighbour’s son Jugnu (Anshuman Jha).
Yashwant is a deeply chauvinistic, egotistical man, who believes he is doing his duty as husband, father, provider. To this end, the women in his world must wait on him hand and foot. He takes Kiran for granted and is almost deliberately and cussedly unkind to her. Yashwant is truly despicable. It’s hard to find a redeeming quality in him. Yet, Preeti and Kiran orbit around him.
One day, pushed to the edge, Kiran confronts Yashwant. “You don’t know what love is. You think duty and work is marriage." And with that she walks out. It takes this move, and an empty house, for Yashwant to finally realise Kiran’s value. He thaws a little more when he sees a gentle man named Feroz nursing his ailing wife, Suman, at her bedside. In a brief role, Pankaj Tripathi adds soul to the prosaic and gives Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain a much-needed shot of adrenaline.
With a little help from Preeti and Jugnu and inspiration from Feroz, Yashwant begins his clumsy attempts at professing love and wooing his estranged wife. As we move into Cyrano de Bergerac territory, the mood of the film goes from grim to pastel. But the tonal shift comes too late and the comedy relies more on slapstick humour than words.
Khanna plays demure well, but flounders in the emotional scenes. Mishra takes on the part of the patriarch with gusto but overdoes the comedy, coming across as a buffoon rather than an endearing man discovering love in his twilight years. Raghuvanshi and Jha are immensely likeable as the younger couple guiding Yashwant on the path to reconciliation.
Writer-director Harish Vyas uses the ghats of Varanasi liberally to shoot songs and imbue the film with cliched exotica. While at first you believe this will be a gentle slice-of-life comic-drama, Vyas often leans on Bollywood tropes (there is a Sufi song) and creates caricatures around the Batra family, in particular Kiran’s family, which seems to have been borrowed from a TV soap.
Vyas skims the surface of what really upsets marriages—men and women conditioned to step into pre-set roles, of being bread-winner and homemaker and so on, forsaking respect and love along the way. He also doesn’t give Yashwant enough shades to render him likeable. It’s hard to root for someone so belligerent.