Kanpur joins the growing league of North Indian towns that have lately been used to locate and pin down charming smalltown romances about men and women with large families and loud voices who eat and belch and fart and insult one another without fear of being judged as crass.
You see, chote shehar ke log aise hi hote hain.
Before you holler about cultural and regional stereotyping, let’s quickly move on to meet Satyendra, alias Sattu and Aarti, alias…well, Aarti.They are aspirational 20-something smalltowners with stars in their eyes, a jaunt in their gait and a song on their lips. He thinks she looks like Juhi Chawla. She thinks he is her Shah Rukh Khan.
The thing about Rajkummar Rao and Kriti Kharbanda is that that they can play their aspirational characters with endearing assuredness. For Rao this is child’s play. But Kharbanda comes into her own imbuing her smalltown character with a sense of mounting exuberance and plummeting disappointments.
If only the screenplay matched the lead pair’s sang froid. Lamentably debutant director Ratnaa Sinha (she has done commendable work on television) often loses the plot in the flurry to catch the sweaty revelery of the Indian middleclass as it cruisesfrom its tradition-bound attitude towards social issues such as arranged marriage and dowry, into a new virtual world of smart phones and not-so-smart life’s decisions.
Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aaana is a very ambitious film. It wants to keep its protagonists Sattu and Aarti in the ‘cute’ area. But it also dares to take them into the grey zone. Aarti runs away from the mandap like Amrita Singh in Aaina and Vani Kapoor in Shudh Desi Romance because… well ,she wants to compete in the civil services. Not caring a damn about making her prospective bridegroom and his family look like stood-up idiots she does her own selfish thing(prodded, I might add, by an intellectually challenged sister who should really have minded her own business).
Then it’s Sattu/Rajkummar Rao’s turn to turn mean and vengeful. The moral makeover and the dramatic leaps of mood are achieved abruptly and with little concern for narrative smoothness. Many dramatic portions are done in the spirit of desi soap opera, and the “happy” finale seems more a hasty send-off than a real solution to a relationship which rapidly swerves into a messy tangle of irreversible wrong-doings.
Many of the smalltown-romcom stereotypes are way too obviously flashed into the frames to be convincing. The heroine Aarti’s sister awkwardly holding a cigarette in her hand in the nighttime and giggling about Aarti’s prospective sex life is that token “frumpy-mofussil-woman-talking-sex” scene that we have seen in all the recent smalltown rom-coms.
All the habitually competent actors including Manoj Pahwa and K K Raina (I kept looking for Seema Bhargava and Brajendra Kala) do their bit efficiently. But the narrative doesn’t allow them to soar higher than the glass ceiling that the film’s strenuous pro-feminism tone imposes on the characters.
All said and done, though, the film is worth a try for its unquestionable sincerity of purpose and its winking familiarity with smalltown mores and quirks.
If only these were not used with such placard-flashing righteousness.