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If you liked Ayushmann Khurrana in the two comedies Shubh Mangal Saavdhan (2017) and Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (2020), there’s a good chance you will like Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui. The Hindi-language romantic drama with a twist was released on Netflix in December 2021. Directed by Abhishek Kapoor, the film portrays Ayushmann Khurrana as Manvinder Munjal (Manu), and Vaani Kapoor as Maanvi Brar (also Manu).
Khurrana is known for catching the proverbial bull by the horns vis-à-vis social issues. He has built up a reputation for taking on roles that push the boundaries, addressing issues typically deemed uncomfortable: sperm donation, middle-aged pregnancy, male-pattern baldness, and gender fluidity. While recent movies have addressed similarly uncomfortable themes–surrogacy (Mimi), female menstrual hygiene (Pad Man), and female agency (Pagglait)–Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui deals with an even more complex genre, a subject that is often a “no-no” in social circles: what it means to be transgender in India.
The story is told with brash humor in the setting of dysfunctional families. Perhaps it serves like a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down? Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui is a simplistic version of a story of a transgender girl finding acceptance in the “judgemental, mainstream world.” Before the general audiences open their eyes wide and say things like Hain, aisa bhi hota hai? — the movie is made more acceptable by glitzing it in glamor and sex.
Vaani Kapoor, as Maanvi, the sexy Zumba instructor, has a steamy affair with the bulked-up Manu Munjal of the 35 Sector Jat Flex It gym. Ayushmann’s character is a local pehelwan—a weightlifter—whose only ambition is to beat his rival Sandy in the local competition and be declared G. O. A. T. (misappropriated to Gabru of All Times).
I did not care for the uber masculinity of pulling jeeps with bare hands or overturning the family Fiat, where the actor tries his best to showcase his ripped body. I rooted for him only when he called upon his emotive prowess in the last scenes. Although his overprotective, loud, paneer-bhatura-gorging Panju family was caricatured, his appeal to them to accept Maanvi just as they did the mustachioed dadi (not quite the same thing) was droll. Perhaps the scriptwriter thinks Manu’s mind was more acceptable and different from the rest of the townsfolk because of his keto diet. But I think the hero responds to Maanvi’s open vulnerability. Vaani Kapoor, with her chiseled features, sculpted body, and defenseless portrayal of a trans girl, really owned her character. She deserves praise!
The couple shines in confrontational scenes but does not have enough on-screen time to develop a romance. The romance of Ayushmann Khurrana and Jitendra Kumar in the film Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, on the other hand, appeared more real, as did their families. Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui’s script gives a few hints about Maanvi being different but the camera does not stop showcasing her ripped attire, model-like good looks, and “devil-may-care” attitude, and does not probe the core of the problem. I can’t imagine this delicate issue being resolved so quickly with just a few climactic scenes on or off-screen, without lingering hatred or bloodshed.
Music is composed by Sachin–Jigar and Tanishk Bagchi. The song “Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui,” a remake of the same song from Aashiqui (2004) by Jassi Sidhu, with lyrics by Madan Jalandhari, is not that catchy. “Tumbe te zumba” has a better beat but is a bit ludicrous. When I looked up the word “tumba,” I realized it was a tall Cuban drum. Perhaps the preposterous juxtaposition will make it rock!?
Nevertheless, this is an important film to watch. There are over 500,000 transgender or intersex people in India, and in the US, there are over a million. For centuries they were ostracized, more so in Indian society. The British colonial authorities tried to eradicate them under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in 1880. So, for the typical Indian family, it could be a difficult topic to understand or empathize with. It makes you think: what would you do in a similar situation?
The fact that they showed the protagonist reaching out for professional guidance was a strength of the movie. There is a need for trained professionals who can make this socially and mentally more acceptable to the general public. Fortunately, Maanvi’s story had a positive outcome but in a real sense, it could have easily not. We need more films that talk seriously about social inclusion and mean it.
Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.