Before belles started asking beaus out on dates, Hindi movies thrived on hundreds of plots where the beau brought along less-than-chaste baggage while the belle was chastity personified, keeping only the home fires burning. A slight turning of the deck here, a small switcheroo in gender roles there and, a song or two later, voila, here is Tanu Weds Manu, a romantic comedy of epic arranged-marriage proportions. By the time the wedding parties gear up and the airborne flower petals and rice hit the ceremonial dais, there emerges a sweet movie that is both off-beat and fun to watch.
Taking leave from a successful medical career in London, Manoj Sharma, aka Manu (Madhavan), arrives in India after agreeing to an arranged marriage with a bride of his parents’ choosing. Manu’s well-meaning parents take him on a whirlwind tour to introduce Manu to as many potential brides-to-be as possible in the hopes that Manu finds a suitable mate. At one such match-matching afternoon tea, Manu meets the feisty and free-spirited Tanuja Trivedi, aka Tanu (Ranaut), who takes an instant dislike to Manu and wants nothing more to do with him. Even as he is being shown the door, Manu realizes that he is very attracted to Tanu. Tanu and Manu drift on, only to accidentally meet up again when each gets invited to their respective friends’ nuptials as part of opposing wedding camps.
There are several elements working in TWM’s favor. One is Wasiq Khan’s sumptuous production designs which capture the celebratory vivacity of a traditional Indian wedding. The full-length ghaghara and lenghas burst out in colorful aplomb. The ethnic threads fit the wedding sub-rituals hand in glove. There is also newcomer Krsna’s eclectic score, held in place by Mika Singh’s techie bhangra number “Jugni.” Even though the foot-stomping wedding-party ditty “Mannu Bhaiyya” opens like A. R. Rahman’s “Genda Phool” from Delhi 6,with help from Rajshekhar’s fine lyrics, Krsna pushes the score to a commendable perch. The onscreen score (not on the CD) also taps into some excellent old school Hindi tunes—think Mohammad Rafi late night solos and a reenactment of Asha Bhosle-Shamshad Begum’s cross-dressing classic “Kajra Mohabbat Wala.”
For their parts, both Madhavan and Ranaut sail through in non-starry turns. Tanu and Manu’s chemistry nicely crosses a cultural divide—he is meekly Londonish and she is wildly desi. As a testimonial to gradually shifting mores, Ranaut’s foul-mouthed, decidedly non-virginal Indian bride-to-be would have set tongues wagging not too long ago and, yet, invites neither ridicule nor scorn here. The only non-plausible factor to the goings on is Shergill, as Tanu’s competing boyfriend Raja. Raja’s over-the-top angry outbursts threaten to prick the party-balloon atmosphere that otherwise pervades the scenery. In a season void of major releases, Tanu Weds Manu is a wedding well worth attending.
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.