“SHUBH MANGAL ZYADA SAAVDHAN” (“Extra Careful of Marriage”)— A Gay Romantic Bollywood Movie

“SHUBH MANGAL ZYADA SAAVDHAN” (“Extra Careful of Marriage”)

A Gay Romantic Bollywood Movie

Amos Lassen

 Hitesh Kewalya’s “Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan” is a romantic comedy that uses the Bollywood theme of parental disapproval, while a couple wars with their relatives for acceptance of their same-sex relationship. We do not get gay characters much in Hindi cinema or see them treated sympathetically, but here the love story is treated exactly the same as a more traditional romance— it just so happens that the couple are both male. The film is a good attempt at a different kind of love story and is hopefully will bring about more realistic portrayals of LGBTI characters in Bollywood. 

When the film opens, Aman (Jitendra Kumar) and Kartik (Ayushmann Khurrana) running to catch a train setting the stage  for a classic romance. There’s a flashback that shows Aman and Kartik living happily together in Delhi. Kartik’s family is aware of his homosexuality but Aman’s parents have no idea and are thinking about who his future life partner will be as they prepare to marry off his cousin Goggle (Maanvi Gagroo). Kartik is estranged from his parents who cannot accept the fact that their son is gay, but he convinces Aman that because his father is an educated man, all will be well. They plan to keep their relationship secret while attending Goggle’s wedding. However, on the train to the wedding, Aman’s father Shankar Tripathi (Gajraj Rao) sees Aman and Kartik locked together in a kiss and the secret is out. Shankar is appalled by his son’s behavior and is determined to ‘fix’ him by any means possible. The film follows the family’s attempts to deal with what they see is a life-style choice despite Aman’s attempts to convince them otherwise. 

Kartik is the more flamboyant partner, but he never becomes stereotypical and his portrayal of a gay man who is happy in his relationship is as it should be. Aman is quieter and seems to be the product of his small-town upbringing in a large and mostly dysfunctional family. Even though the film is billed as a comedy, there is genuine heartache here on all sides as Aman battles through the difficulties of coming out as gay to his prejudiced and self-centered father. The mix of personalities (Aman’s quieter and more introspective and Kartik’s exuberance and energy) works beautifully despite a flimsy backstory. The romance feels genuine simply because the two are believable as a couple. 

Aman moves back and forth between vulnerability and despair while trying to explain to his parents why there is no difference between their love  and his love for Kartik. However, Shankar and Sunauna (Neena Gupta) had an arranged marriage and there appears to be little love on either side. Aman’s explanations involving dopamine and oxytocin are designed to appeal to his scientist father, but Shankar is relentless in his homophobia and Aman seems helpless to resist his family’s attempts to “cure” his sexuality. We see a symbolic death and rebirth ceremony followed by an attempt to make him marry Kusum (Pankhuri Awasthy) thus making it understandable why he feels as if he cannot destroy his family for his own selfish satisfaction. (Kusum has her own issues too as she is in love with someone deemed totally unsuitable by her family). A marriage of convenience seems an excellent way out, even though Aman is definitely not thrilled by the prospect. It is left to Kartik to fight for his lover and win the family’s acceptance and try to save the day. 

Kartik attempts to overcome the Tripathi family’s prejudices provide some great comedy. The supporting cast is excellent and the actors make sure that most of the scenes are genuinely funny despite the underlying seriousness of the issues. The family dynamic is well played for laughs, particularly in the relationship between Shankar and his younger brother.

In the storyline about Aman’s family’s inability to accept his relationship with Kartik, there is a sub-plot about Shankar’s invention of disease-free black cauliflowers, Goggle’s really quite distressing marriage difficulties Aman’s brother’s own difficult relationship with Shankar and his mother. In the process of dealing with so many characters and sub-plots, the film misses some good opportunities to deal with some of the significant and serious issues facing Kartik and Aman. Even with poignant and keen observations about how difficult it is to find family acceptance of gay relationships, the thought of the next laugh is great, and the film rapidly moves on, instead of letting us savor these brief glimpses into the all too real issues facing many people today.  Although many of the more serious aspects are brushed aside to make way for laughs, the film is a move  in the right direction to open conversations and show the possibility of acceptance of same-sex relationships. It’s a lot of weight for the film to carry, which is perhaps why director Hitesh Kewalya avoids most of the serious points and focuses more on the comedy. This might also explain why there are so many sub-plots to act as a smoke-screen for the more controversial romance. The film is a fun look with some light-hearted entertainment that doesn’t push its social message too hard.

At its heart, this is  film about families that is blunt in its message.

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