SUBH MANGAL SAAVDHAN. Director: K. S. Prasanna. Players: Ayushmann Khurrana, Bhumi Pednekar. Music: Tanishk Bagchi, Vayu. Hindi with English sub-titles (Eros).
Hindi movie scripts are galore with stories about first love, parental disapproval, jilted lovers, star-crossed lovers and lovers on the run. There is one interim phase that has stayed silent thus far. Since gay-themed scripts are yet uncommon, the trophy for the love that dare not speak its name needs a new host. In what contends as one of the most awkward matinee courtships ever, Subh Mangal Saavdhan may have just crossed that river. By taking on and punching sexual performance anxiety right where the funny bone unhinges from the libido, this is a delightfully ground-breaking entry buzzing with freshness.
For shy Delhi office worker Mudit (Khurrana), gathering courage to ask the outgoing Sugandha (Pednekar) for a date is merely the first trip-wire. First date turns into many dates, which in turn leads to a marriage proposal. Unknowingly breaking barriers, on one late evening extended entwining on the living room sofa followed by fumbling with a condom, Mudit unexpectedly suspects that he may have erectile dysfunction.
What of their pending nuptials? What of their friends? Most importantly, how to keep this tit-bit secret from their extended busy-body families who are already busy planning a bus trip for a traditional wedding in Haridwar?
While movies anywhere can have sexual content, the norm in Hindi movies is to treat sex topics—and pre-marital sex more precisely—to tease and titillate, often as a test for how far Indian cinema censors will lower invisible censor barriers or how the movie can define a new standard for what can be shown on the screen. Yes, kissing is still unofficially taboo—though filmmakers saw that ship sail a long time ago. And while men get away with shirtless, micro-briefed, male-cleavage revealing or otherwise scantily clad camera time, all female nudity—other than distant bikini shots or hip gyrations during cabaret dance numbers—is forbidden. Sunny Leone’s bare-back rain-barrel nude in Badshaaho (2017) is very much an aberration.
This makes Subh Mangal Saavdhan— coined for an auspicious Sanskrit verse uttered at Hindu weddings that lightly jabs the zodiac stalwart planet Mars, the god of all things manly—even more relevant. There is no sexual content. There is, however, frank discussion of sexuality in the confines of an intimate relationship. Here are middle class lives not the least bit unfulfilled because of this distraction. Kudos to director Prasanna in this re-make or his own original Tamil entry Kalayana Samayal Sadham (2013) for lighting up a topic often swept under the rug.
Khurrana and Pedekar together are modern counter-parts to what would be Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bhadhuri in the 1970s. Like in their pairing for Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015), both excel at onscreen personas that fit into grounded lives that will not rock the boat and yet are unafraid to stand their ground within social decorum. There is gorgeous tension—even pre-marital sexual tension—played out in between the unfolding wedding sub-rituals. Be it the suggestion that something about cow-urine can “cure” what ails Mudit or the pitfalls of keeping the parents in the dark.
Khuranna completes a weird career arc of sorts. In his marvelous debut in Vicki Donor (2012), he buffooned into an urban hunter-gatherer who lands a gig at a sperm bank and rather quickly becomes, you know, the facility’s star donor, crème de la crème—the very stuff of urban legends. If bio-emissions were a contest, his Vicki nailed the jackpot. The brilliant movie and Khuranna both landed deserved accolades.
With Subh Mangal Savdhaan, Khuranna veers to the other extreme of the script rainbow into a character with erectile dysfunction. From prolific producer to prolific remedy-seeker. The spermanator suddenly can’t perform and is looking for fault in the stars.
Khurrana’s Mudit emerges as an unsung champion for unheralded middle class anxieties. His meek, middle-tier office nerd effectively supplants silent pining not for political freedom or even economic emancipation but for sexual absolution. That, indeed, is uncharted territory.
Notch one for progressive topic and script selection.