Monday, September 09, 2013

Movie Review: Shuddh Desi Romance - never before has an Indian rom-com snubbed marriage so effectively

There is nothing shuddh (pure) or desi (Indian) about the romance in Shuddh Desi Romance so don’t go expecting a stereotypical Bollywood ending where the hero and heroine are united in matrimony. Anything but.

In the years to come, this unconventional Yash Raj Films movie will be remembered as the first Bollywood film to promote cohabitation (live-in relationships). Yes, there have been films such as Salaam Namaste and I, Me aur Main that featured cohabiting couples but never before has an Indian rom-com snubbed marriage so effectively.

Shuddh Desi Romance would have you believe that marriage is now a far less attractive prospect than it once was for many young couples. You may even feel sorry for wedding caterer and decorator (Rishi Kapoor) whose main business worry in the film is that traditional marriage may be heading towards extinction.

To be honest, any film which brought together director Maneesh Sharma (Band Baaja Baaraat) and screenwriter Jaideep Sahni (Chak De! India) couldn’t really have been formulaic. In an interview to Reuters, Sahni said his films are about real people. His characters certainly do not shy away from using the toilet. Indeed, much of the film revolves around the bathroom break -- even the intermission gets renamed.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Shuddh Desi Romance is the story of Raghuram, Gayatri and Tara and their intersecting lives in the historical city of Jaipur. Raghuram or Raghu (as he prefers to be addressed) is a tourist guide, part-time salesman and professional wedding guest. Just before his own nuptials, Raghu meets Gayatri, who is also in the wedding guest business and is being paid to pose as his sister. Soon, our hero thinks he’s in love with the lively instructor at an English-language school and forgets all about Tara, the woman he was originally supposed to marry.

Doesn't seem much of a storyline to sustain audience interest for two hours. But it surprisingly does. What eventually works for Shuddh Desi Romance is its dialogue. Screenwriter Sahni is at his witty best, effortlessly moulding situations and making his characters mouth unexpected lines. Jaipur city is a character in itself and lends an aura of authenticity to a well-shot film, one that depicts modernity trumping tradition in an India that is still largely conservative.

Sushant Singh Rajput puts in an impressive performance as the bumbling and indecisive lover, at a loss for words whenever confronted by Gayatri or Tara. Parineeti Chopra shines as the mature Gayatri who’s had her heart broken before. Newcomer Vani Kapoor plays the third corner in this love triangle, and does so confidently.

There aren't too many songs (to the film’s credit) but Gulabi is easily the best track. What lets the film down is a slackening of pace in the second half, a flaw Sharma’s Band Baaja Baaraat didn’t suffer from. But Shuddh Desi Romance is a film you should watch even if you disagree with its premise. It's a progressive film that might just work if enough youngsters make it to the cinemas.

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