5 Weddings Review: Don’t expect to find love in this documentary-styled cross-cultural tale

The title of the movie is so predictably self-explanatory that I don’t even have to tell you what it deals with. Nevertheless, I will unburden myself of the twenty-pound weight on my chest so you can partake in some of the mind-numbing trauma this movie subjected me (and other innocent cine-goers) to.

5 weddings is centred around the theme of the typical Big Fat Indian wedding, and two strangers falling in love as we’re taken through the pomp and show, dramas and songs, latkas and jhatkas in these weddings. Honestly, that is not half as bad as it sounds; after all, there is a cult following around movies like Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding (2001), Ishaan Trivedi’s 7 ½ Phere (2005)and Maneesh Sharma’s Band Baja Baaraat (2010), with Nair’s directorial sweeping us off our feet even till this day, in a way few other movies ever have.

5 weddings though, looks bored with the usual trope followed in these movies and decides it will take a circuitous route – it will infuse heaps and heaps of drama, but offset it with a loud and clear social message so the audience just doesn’t have fun, but also takes home something that can change their lives and outlook towards a certain marginalized community.

Except, neither are we drawn in by the “fun” or moved by the plot twists promising a hard-hitting social message. There is inherently nothing wrong with the message, it’s just that it is executed in a slipshod fashion and overpowers the actual crux of the movie, which is, by the way: 5 Weddings and whatever love or ‘happily ever after’ that should’ve sprouted out from that.

Shania Dhaliwal (Nargis Fakhri), a fashion journo from Los-Angeles, is sent to India to cover the glitz and glitter of Indian weddings and make a documentary (of sorts) about five different ceremonies that make up the traditional Indian wedding. She is a self-proclaimed arachnophobic (as we’re told five hundred and ten times during the course of the film), and so, that is her deep, dark secret for never wanting to go to the land of the snake-charmers (and now insects), India. Also, she hates Indian weddings and cannot be bothered with those. But she must, as she is gently persuaded by her American mom (Bo Derek) who, incidentally, wants Shania to meet her father while on this journey. Shania, who hasn’t seen her father since she was six and came away to America with her mother, now has a purpose that looks like it will make the actual mission bearable.

Side note: At one point, you’re compelled to think if India is a land swarming with spiders andrats and scorpions waiting to make a lunge at her if she set foot in here. I may have sympathized if her editor were sending her to the Amazon rainforests to cover the story.

In any case, the ‘overseas assignment’ is a ticket to keep her job alive and to qualify for the position of editor-in-chief she has been eyeing at her media company. Before we know it, she jets off to Chandigarh.

Rajkummar Rao aka Harbhajan Singh (I mean, really? That was the one name you found in the whole of Punjab?!) a Chandigarh police officer is assigned the duty of supervising Shania’s trip to ensure she doesn’t cause trouble. Specifically, the kind of “aatankvaad” foreign journalists these days are wont to do. By now you’re laughing your guts out – for someone like Shania who is worried she might die of an arachnoid attack soon and talks like her whole life is a beauty pageant, spreading journalistic terrorism would need more daredevilry and determination than she can manage at the moment.

Your assessment of Shania’s ability to grapple with unknown things is soon confirmed – when she lands at the Chandigarh airport on Holi, is smeared with colours and dashes off to report “the attack” to Harbhajan and his aide. Harbhajan shoots off a dialogue that is too heavy to handle for his character in this film, and you instantly start dreading the forced culture-clashes and drama awaiting you ahead in this venture.

Escorted around the city, Shania is taken to these 5 weddings, and as she (first reluctantly) and then voluntarily participates in the wedding shenanigans, zipping off colourful pictures and juicy titbits on Punjabi weddings, she is drawn more to the eunuchs who grace these weddings for a livelihood than she is in the real purpose of her assignment. Witness to the violence, humiliation, and derision this community is subjected to at every juncture, every day, Shania then decides to take up their cause and write a feature on them.

If you’re wondering how and why the movie steered from microscopically analyzing how big fat Indian weddings to a social drama, fret not, we are all in the thesame boat. 

However, what is worse is that –even this purpose Shania filters out from the overall larger purpose she has been driven to India for, falls flat on its face. The execution is awful, the script , limp, and the dialogues hammy. What could have been a somber case offun-cum-activism takes a bewildering turn as the head of the Chandigarh police department instructs Harbhajan to dissuade this “foreign journalist” from covering this feature at all costs. Why, you keep wondering? I’ll tell you why:so the movie could rope in some more meaningless contraptions in the name of a love story, and a battle of wills, and a clash of ideologies, and some much, so we, as an audience, could latch on to some semblance of something happening in this movie that’d make us sit up and notice. Even this doesn’t. It merely leaves you rolling your eyes.

Bollywood, which is known for unabashedly capitalizing on its song-and-dance routines and the chemistry between the leads to pull off spineless scripts flagging in places, comes to a grinding halt in 5 Weddings. The wedding sequences look pallid and forced, and the music agonizing. At one point, it makes you wonder if you’ve traveled back in time and watching a bunch of teenagers trying to pass off as grownups. Even 90s pop icon Daler Mehndi’s U U Yeah sounds like a stubborn hangover from the 90s, failing to lift your spirits. A special mention for the really unnecessary, loud makeup on the brides and the jumpy,worse-than-documentary style cinematography. I constantly kept wondering why I was watching the 2000s all over again!

Rajkummar Rao is completely wasted as an actor here. No matter how hard he tries, he manages to infuse neither sensibility nor liveliness in his character. The same can be said of Nargis Fakhri, who, believe it or not, has delivered better performances in Rockstar and Madras Café, movies where her sole motive was to make the hero look larger than life. She simply sleepwalks through the whole film, looking sullen and disinterested, irrespective of the situation she is thrust into. So it comes as no surprise when she looks phony as hell throughout the film.

Did I mention Harbhajan and Shania’s chemistry feels colder than a bag of ice and that they would have looked better as siblings than as the obligatory cross-cultural lovers they had to portray? There is even an airport sequence in the end which is just as pointless as most of the other additions/inclusions in the film. I will refrain from commenting on any of the supporting cast performances, considering the leads themselves look like they belong to the supporting actors’ camp.

And if, only if the makers had thought of making the movie entirely in Hindi and adding English subtitles instead, it would’ve fared a lot better. To watch Hinglish accents and dubbed conversations against a Hindustani background, right in the heartlands of Punjab simply snipped away little emotion you may have otherwise felt for any of the characters.

5 Weddings, as I understand, is a labor of love, and plenty of painful harangued waiting since its initial conception in 2008. Helmed by Indian-American Namrata Singh Gujral, it faced a delay of over 5 years, owing to Gujral’sbattle with both breast and blood cancers. Her tryst with two back-to-back- life-altering events and a string of related incidents later gave her the impetus to include the social angle focusing on the transgender community. And while this was a laudable motive, it, unfortunately, seemed misplaced in the theoverall premise of the movie. That said, kudos to Gujral for coming out stronger on the other side of life, hopes and telling stories that matter, for as long as one can.

I sincerely hope we get to see better from the director who has headed leaner projects before, and my absolute favorite, Rajkummar Rao.

Rating: 2/5 (For the director’s sheer gumption, determination and well, Rajkummar Rao)

Author: Shravani

Content-cum-Copywriter by the day. Dreamer and an idea juggler by the night. Foodie, Movie buff, Bookworm, Chai-holic, - in that order. A truckload of money to throw into that mix, and that's all I'll ever need.

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