How far would you go for love? Since time immemorial, stories have flirted with this question. With two men as lovers, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan asks the same question. He approaches his punches with humor, protecting himself in a large, turbulent, slightly irritating and often useless family. But his success is not just about going where Bollywood hasn’t gone before. It lies in his coherent portrayal of Kartik (Khurrana) and Aman (a superb Kumar, in his first film role) as a simple couple, neither “gay” nor “straight”.
The two men are already in a relationship when we meet them, a disappointing and uncomplicated relationship in the anonymity of the metropolis of Delhi. Closer to home, Kartik’s father broke up with him after a resounding slap. Aman’s family in Allahabad soon discovers the nature of their relationship when his father catches him kissing Kartik and can’t help but vomit.
How do the Tripathis deal with this discovery, one of the highlights of which is to board the special Vivah train with the family on their way to a wedding?
Director Kewalya, author of Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, with Khurrana as a groom with erectile dysfunction, embarks on the journey with Kartik and Aman. The Tripathis use science, blackmail, suicide, shame, even rituals in which Aman is “killed” and “reborn”, and in some cases violence to separate the two. What Kewalya tries to do is to keep things light and fluid, with the usual quarrels, disagreements and discontent that arise when a large family overflows at regular intervals. Sometimes it is too much, and the story of Aman and Kartik, who could have benefited from more development, gets lost in the process. On the one hand, they are very contrasting personalities (Kartik is a ball of energy, Aman is light and reserved), and it would have been nice to see them outside of Aman’s authoritarian family, which fits perfectly with the small town model that has been a Bollywood darling of late.
But Kewalya’s excellent casting makes everything light. Neena Gupta is another winner in the role of Aman’s mother, while Gajaraj Rao plays his father, who, in what could have been a nice touch, is a little scientist behind a “sprout free” black cauliflower variety. The film stretches the theme of nature versus science a bit too far at the end, but Gupta and Rao, who fit so well in Badhai Ho, are still funny. Their years of living together manifest themselves in their frequent bickering, as does the fact that she is his rock.
Through them, the film also explores its strongest theme: that of unrequited love. Like others before them and others who will surely come, they miss someone special and “what could have been”. Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan evokes these memories not with bitterness or anger, but as one of those moments that make a life.
It raises other relevant questions, about husbands and wives, fathers and sons, mothers and sons. At one point, Aman asks, “Why should sons alone be heroes? Why can’t a father be a hero for once?”.
Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan’s blindness towards women who are neither mothers nor wives is particularly evident. The other three female characters here aspire to love or marriage to varying degrees, with physical disabilities played out for cruel laughter (it is to Gagroo’s credit that his “Mask” manages to go beyond this simple outline of his character).
At the same time, the pursuit of love is Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan’s raison d’être. The love that could form between two men as banal in appearance as Kartik and Aman (Khurrana is good, but Kumar is almost heart-breakingly fragile; all the marks of the former for making the film revolve so much around the latter). The love that eventually reunites the families and manifests itself in unexpected ways. A love that transcends Romeo and Juliet, that transcends Shirin and Farhad, that transcends Jack and Jill, that transcends even Simran and Raj. A love that knows neither color nor class, nor the sex of the hand that helps you board a moving train.