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MR YA MISSMR YA MISS. Director: Antara Mali and Satchik Puranik. Players: Antara Mali, Aftab Shivdasani, Ritesh Deshmukh. Music: DVD (Ultra). Hindi with English subtitles. Target audience teens and older.

Sex comedies work best when they refuse to take themselves seriously. In what is likely the lightest offering ever from the Ram Gopal Varma camp, Mali stakes her considerable talent behind this tongue-in-cheek man-trapped-in-a-woman’s-body romp. Before all the gender bending is sorted out, we are treated to an intentionally shallow comedy that bites off just a right-sized morsel.

Sanjay (Shivdasani), a womanizing ad executive, finds himself in more than hot water when the multiple women he is courting all converge to cause him bodily harm. Lest his sins go unpunished, certain divine powers intervene to perpetrate Sanjay back to his office existence—albeit in the form of a shapely gal. Quickly rechristening himself Sanjana (Mali), Sanjay sets off on a farcical journey to 1) get in touch with his inner woman and 2) (hopefully!) learn a thing or two about being on the receiving end of the sexual harassment many women encounter in their daily grind.

And did we forget that Sanjana’s gender-test-by-fire includes her best friend Shekhar (Deshmukh), who finds himself strangely attracted to the curvy femme who was once his best friend Sanjay? Although the central premise of androgyny is akin to the Rob Schneider comedy The Hot Chic, first-time directors Mali and Puranik branch off into new directions. Just when the silliness appears to have worn out, Sanjana find herself arrested for murder!

Since more screen time is devoted to Mali playing Sanjana, she must express the comic pain of a woman learning to pee standing up or being reminded that not crossing one’s legs when sitting down in public may unwittingly invite come-ons from lecherous bystanders. Mali and Deshmukh work up a gender-challenged chemistry that does not disappoint.

What is most refreshing here is the attitude towards sexuality in general. This same premise even 10 years ago would have been drowned by Mali’s character having to act coy. The low-watt battle-of-the-sexes that is the core of the Mr Ya Miss makes its point without resorting to any lascivious displays of affection; even the token girl-on-girl liplock is more clinical then erotic. The other item of note is just how far the directors allow Sanjana and Shekhar to go with their love-hate physical intimacy.

Finally, it’s surprising that the sexually charged interplay between Shekhar and Sanjana met no outcry from conservative groups in India. The same conservatives, who flexed their political muscles to keep Deepa Mehta’s magnificent Water, a story about widowhood, from filming in India, raised no objections to the overtly androgynous and covertly homoerotic Mr Ya Miss. To some, apparently, on-screen widowhood is scarier then on-screen androgyny. The former touched off a firestorm and the latter was dismissed. It’s true what they say: India still exists in several centuries at once.

Aniruddh Chawda writes from Wisconsin, on America’s north coast.

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