It isn’t often that Yashraj Films, the largest movie house in India, falters in their marketing. After the megahit Ek Tha Tiger (2012) and money-making Jab Tak Hai Jain (2012), the studio came up with less than impressive Aurangzeb (2013). After the very expensive 2012 entries, perhaps the studio needs a breather. Ever to spot rising talent timely, Aditya Chopra has zeroed in on Parineeti Chopra and Rajput with Shuddh Desi Romance, a smaller, smartly made romantic comedy that carries no pretentions and yet walks away with light-hearted kudos.
Set in Jaipur, Jaideep Sahni’s story enfolds three altar-bound characters whose lives appear to be inextricably intertwined. There is Raghu (Rajput), a budding tour-guide about to take the plunge with Tara (Vaani Kapoor) as his bride. Last minute wedding jitters win out as Raghu flies the coop and becomes a runaway groom. His initial reason for the leap: the very forward, bossy and chain-smoking Gayatri (Parineeti Chopra) who Raghu shared a bus seat with on the way to his wedding.
Parineeti Chopra turned out an impressive performance in Ladies vs. Ricky Bahl (2011) as well as Ishaqzade (2012), both smaller budget entries that were received well critically and at the box office. She is clearly Yashraj’s new muse. Carefree onscreen, she is able to inject a youthful, slightly-wayward, sexually sophisticated and very mod city-dweller that finds a ready niche in India urban markets. Rajput made a respectable debut with Kai Po Chhe earlier this year and continues the off-center persona that served him well earlier.
Together, they take turns being oil to the other’s vinegar. Amusingly awkward as a couple, down to devising the sexually-exclusive (for the moment) cohabitation under the always-triangulating eyes of gossip starved neighbors, Raghu and Gayatri build up enjoyable rapport. Their pent up libidos provide ripe fodder in their relationship. In a crowded city, in an outwardly modest society, the slightest body moves can amount to—as they do here—pretext for foreplay.
Take the afore-mentioned bus-ride. A trick of the wedding planner’s trade in certain Indian circles is to include in a travelling wedding party “professional” wedding guests. These are English-language savvy, smartly dressed, upwardly mobile appearing special “invitees” whose job is to give out an air of importance to increase the social stature of either the bride or the groom’s party they are accompanying while getting paid to attend the wedding. This social twist is elevated to comic perfection here. Fake guests must mean fake wedding, get it?
As a marital farce, Shuddh Desi Romance works like a charm. At the heart of Raghu, Gayatri and Tara’s on-again-off-again interest in tying the knot, however, there is a social anxiety that is seldom talked about in India.The pressure to marry by a certain age—regardless of personal aspirations—has no doubt forced more than one young man or woman to contemplate unhappy lives and instead opt to elope or, worse, commit suicide.
Music makers Sachin Jigar, collaborating with lyricist/writer Jaideep Sahni here, come up with a catchy score that taps into the wedding mood with Mohit Chauhan and Sunidhi Chauhan’s “Tere Mere Bich Mein” as well as a sedate and yet still ear-worthy number with Jigar and Priya Saraiya’s “Gulabi”—a nod to the pink city of Jaipur.
Solid support is also provided by Rishi Kapoor as Goyal, the wedding planner whose matrimonial choreography links together all the musical nuptials going on here. Goyal’s choice words unleashed on his employee Raghu hints that Raghu’s actions may not be as rash or unpredictable as Raghu would have us believe. Perhaps that “other” generation knows a thing or two about human interactions after all!
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.