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Director Maneesh Sharma is in safe territory directing a well-meaning comedy on (north Indian) marriage. His first film, the successful and competent Band Baaja Baaraat (2010) was a middle-class romance between two wedding planners. Weddings move this story forward too—adding extra bursts of colour to over-populated sets. The milieus of both the films, although in different settings, Delhi and Jaipur, are similar—aspirational, partly hypocritical and partly liberated, and aggressive in an earthy way.

In this film, Sharma falters from the moment the love story abruptly begins inside a bus. Jaideep Sahni’s screenplay is ardently committed to the blandness of his characters. The principal cast, Raghu Ram Sitaram (Sushant Singh Rajput), Gayatri (Parineeti Chopra) and Tara (debutant Vaani Kapoor), have no distinguishing feature. The man’s name pretty much defines him—outdated, purposeless and muddled. Astonishingly, the two women, seemingly liberated from small-town trappings, make Raghu the pivot around which their lives rotate. No sparks emanate from the romantic rumblings of this trio—think passionate romance between canned pickles and oversized tofu. The characters have some long pieces to the camera (remember the first and last time it worked in When Harry Met Sally...)?, explaining themselves.

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Rishi Kapoor (left) and Rajput in a scene from the movie

The live-in love affair between Raghu and Gayatri, a topic of conversation in the Jaipur neighbourhood they live in, has some darling moments, but those are like stuttering attempts at kindling a tepid narrative.

Rajput adopts a woebegone manner, with laboured dialogue delivery and the same grimace for every situation he is in. Until the last scene, Raghu does not know what matters to him. Vaani Kapoor is stilted and contrived. Chopra shows some mettle as a woman whose spunky exterior hides emotions. Romantic comedies sometimes compensate for the lack of spirit in the central lovebirds with wacky secondary characters. Rishi Kapoor’s cute and gung-ho father-figure, bullish about propagating the goods of marriage so his business won’t close, is a bright spark, but even he is a hotchpotch of clichés.

Manu Anand’s cinematography heightens the kitsch of the setting with some neon touches and warm-hued interiors. The production design has detailed authenticity. The run-down, patchily-coloured small town Rajasthan kitsch is uninventive, but it makes the canvas of the insipid characters seem sprightly.

Shuddh Desi Romance released in theatres on Friday

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