When was the last time you sat down and openly laughed at gender stereotypes playing out in myriad ways on a 70mm screen, along with a bunch of other cackling adults (and teens, and hapless 2 year-olds who had no business being there), without a few pairs of eyebrows shooting up?
With serious projects like this year’s thought-provoking Padman (based on real-life revolutionary Arunachalam Muruganantham credited with generating awareness around female menstrual hygiene, particularly in rural India) – and the politically tainted, violence-inducing Padmaavat – that spoke of a beautiful Rajput queen’s fearless act in the face of savagery, lust and a probable miserable death at the hands of a brutal Muslim ruler – a lot of food for thought has been fed to the audience in the span of a quick two months.
And while I wholeheartedly agree with, and respect each of these premises explored in the aforementioned films, they are hardly viable opportunities for a regular movie-goer to burst out laughing without being judged. Not that we wanted to.
But if you, like me, have been looking to give your over-analytical mind some rest and play silly, Luv Ranjan’s latest flick might just help in loosening up those overworked intellectual muscles. In Sonu ke Titu ki Sweety (indeed, a tacky tongue-twister), you step in knowing what to expect, given the director’s penchant for making laugh riots of a similar nature in the past– in fact, you sort of look forward to leaving all the isms behind and just partaking in a rom-com that is of course ridiculous, and sexist, and audaciously stereotyped in chunks, but makes you chuckle anyway.
Borrowing the familiar shtick first used in Pyaar ka Punchnama to roaring success, and then re-used in Pyaar ka Punchnama 2 to relatively smaller success, Ranjan adopts a mix-and-match of sorts and inverts the popular love triangle on its head in this instalment.
The core elements remain the same – the director takes a laidback route and retains the film’s foundation on the commonly accepted Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus theory while introducing some interesting twists. This time it’s not just men versus women, it’s a battle of the sexes over a man. Yes, you heard that right.
At the helm of the story stands a young, love struck man who falls in love faster than you could blink an eye, a scheming, manipulative woman who does everything right by Sooraj Barjatya’s culture book (jarringly and nauseatingly so) and an equally kameena best friend who would do everything in his power to rescue his buddy from the clutches of this woman – who, by her own admission, is not the “heroine” but the “villain” in the story.
The film opens with Sonu (Kartik Aaryan) delivering a monologue styled along the lines he delivered earlier in Pyaar ka Punchnama and that had worked wonders at the time because it was fresh, and funny. Only this time it seemed tiresome already. Thankfully, it is directed at a customer’s tedious demands than his buddies stacked against the sofa like a neat row of pillows, waiting to begin his endless diatribe. Other details follow – we get to know that Sonu runs an event management company and his bachpan-ka-yaar from way back in nursery, Titu (Sunny Singh), takes care of the family halwai business. The duo are your classic, cutesy and sometimes annoying chaddi-buddies, meaning, they’ve been best friends since nursery and continue to be attached to the hip even at the ripe old age of 28.
Titu is the gullible, naïve quintessential romantic who seems to always fall for the wrong woman – it could be anything that threatens Sonu’s sniffer-dog sensibilities. Okay, let’s be fair, the first girlfriend (Ishita Raj Sharma) with her overzealous emphasis on maintaining Tinder privacy was too much to take, but that in no way discounts how badly Sonu wants to press the pause/stop button on Titu’s apparently glowing love life every time it takes a serious turn. Following which, Sonu apparates like a knight in shining armour to ‘rescue’ Titu by effectively leading him to break up with his girlfriend (s) in dramatic ways that could make even 70s’ actress Rakhi cringe. We are given to understand Sonu has had a practiced hand at this sort of thing.
Enter Nushrat Bharucha as Sweety (really, who goes around with a name like that in 2018 for Chrissake!), an educated, susheel, sanskaari, pretty damsel via the arranged-marriage scenario, a cardboard-cut bahu prospective grooms and their families publish ishtehaars for in the seedy-looking matrimony section of the Sunday newspaper. She looks right, says all the right things at the right moment without ever slipping up, and while this is ideally a dream-come-true for a big fat joint family that wants to retain its hold over the potential new member and mould her into the established setting, Sonu suspects this whole easy-breezy vibe around Sweety as too-good-to-be-true.
Thereafter, he swoops in once again and makes it his life’s mission to break Titu and Sweety up before the damage is done. His insecurity over losing his place in Titu’s life and the obvious dents in their friendship adds fuel to fire, stoking his otherwise noble cause. Sweety too, is no wallflower either and has no intentions of relinquishing her control over Titu and his entire family, and openly declares war when Sonu least expects it.
From that point on, it is the launch of one psychological attack after another – with fervent blows raining from both sides – from sex to ex to food to every other trump card in between and beyond.
An oddly exciting plot, Luv Ranjan optimizes popular male-narratives to the maximum, by brushing the women in strokes of monochromes – mean, manipulative, controlling gold-diggers, while painting the men as blameless bystanders in their own lives. That’s fine, as a director he is catering to the majoritarian viewpoint he knows will draw easy, cheap laughs. But apart from Sweety brazenly admitting she is ‘chalu’ and a ‘villain’ we don’t really see how she really is that wicked, wretched monster out to ruin Titu’s life. Much of what she does is how most women think, and if given a chance and/or possessed of brains like those of our anti-heroine, would do it her way – the Chanakya neeti way.
In the absence of any clear defined reason for the Sweety-hating, thus, the movie – especially in the second half – looks sort of scattered and tangled, leaving you impatient for the battle of the sexes to end asap, saved only by a startling climax. The heap of overbearing, dhinchaak Punjabi music, although enjoyable, seems overwhelming, at times taking you by surprise because frankly, movies these days hardly have enough songs worth tapping your feet to!
Notwithstanding the glaring yet bearable hiccups in the storytelling, the writing is crisp and the comic timing of the actors impeccable, which means you keep laughing through some genuinely smart punches, as well plenty of absurd misogynistic logic casually thrown around. While that might cause some discomfort at times, the biased script is sufficiently powered through with the actors’ (especially Kartik) earnest performances to let you keep feeling that way for too long.
Though Kartik is mostly credited with sincere performances in Ranjan’s movies, his best being Pyaar ka Punchnama, he seems to have a lot more potential simmering underneath, a glimpse of which we would like to see in a genre other than the women-bashing cinematic franchise he has helped build and popularise till date. Given the limited scope in the script, Nushrat Bharucha too pulls off a nuanced performance in a role that could’ve easily been overdone – and makes Sweety relatable than an outright evil witch who must be hated. Ironically, it is Sunny Singh’s Titu that, despite being the crux of this rom-com, has little to do and largely gets overshadowed by the other two, despite consistent attempts.
Keeping aside the lead actors’ performances, and a refreshing supporting cast (with all the members belonging to Titu’s family), it is Alok Nath’s rendition of the perpetually drunk, uber-cool granddad (Ghasitaram) throwing the swearing and the sexist jokes around that truly sinks into your memory, as you see him turn upside down his decades-long image of sanskaari babuji and fling it out of sight. Paired with his best friend Lalu (Virendra Saxena), he seems irrepressible – the duo consistently couched in the men-will-be-men zone, but never losing their charm – a camaraderie viewers will be compelled to dig.
The same cannot be said of Sonu and Titu though, who refuse to grow up and quit labeling the opposite gender in tones of black and while. Hypocrisy is generously sprinkled, with the men complaining of how God has stopped creating “good girls”, missing their own lack of worthiness as “good boys” by a mile and more. However, even under the heavy-duty influence of his childhood bestie, Titu seems to grow a brain at some point in the movie. Does he make it all the way to the other side of sense and sensibility or does he get pulled back into the frat-boy cult this side of the fence? Find out by giving this blatantly stereotyped, yet light-hearted Bromance versus Romance a chance.
Meanwhile, after watching three full-blown chapters of the all-male perspective on relationships, my eyes are itching to see the tables turned on the men, and a bunch of women sharing boisterous, guttural laughs over the same.
High time someone played to this section of the gallery, isn’t it?