Director: Laxman Utekar
Cast: Kartik Aaryan, Kriti Sanon, Aparshakti Khurana, Alka Amin, Atul Srivastava, Pankaj Tripathi, Vinay Pathak
Whoever knew, that come January, 2019 would soon turn into the year when lines between politics and entertainment would blur to reveal the zeitgeist of what truly drives India- desh bhakti, the lampooning of subjective desh droh – especially the kind that is accompanied by having an opinion and an honest criticism of the government, and of course, the ultra-predictable sanskaar.
So if Uri made your chest swell with nationalist pride, and The Accidental Prime Minister woke you up to the horrors of a largely silent ex-Prime Minister suffering under the thumb of dynasty politics, there’s Battalion 909 and Vivek Oberoi-led PM Narendra Modi later this year to help buff up these nationalist sentiments. I am not against beaming from ear-to-ear when it comes to saluting our armed forces for their exemplary courage and unparalleled sacrifices, but to bite into electoral fodder every other Friday is hardly my idea of entertainment. Thankfully, we are still breathing democracy, and have the chance to lap up some engaging, visual stories of what nationalism could look like. director Laxman Utekar’s Luka Chuppi falls bang in the middle of this nationalism train (actually, anti-nationalism), and delivers a hard-hitting message, albeit, softly and humorously, averting a wreckage imminent in such scenarios.
Luka Chuppi revolves around the bane of young Indians hankering for sexual agency and privacy – when confronted with self-appointed moral guardians lurking at every corner, all prepared to disgrace them, should they sidestep bharatiya sanskriti. This pack of crazy fundamentalists consists of members of the honourable Sanskriti Raksha Manch (cough cough) – an organization responsible for keeping uncultured, anti-national youth in check. At the start of the movie, the poster boy of anti-national, unsanskritik behavior happens to be actor Nazim Khan (Abhinav Shukla) who faces probing questions posed by the media for being in a live-in relationship. Elsewhere, in Mathura, ordinary hapless couples end up facing the ire of the Raksha Manch so they do not even dare think of innocent romance, let alone dream of living in.
Soon enough, the tentacles of moral policing cloud the town before being seized by a local news channel for the usual journalistic minting. This is where we meet Guddu Shukla (Kartik Aaryan), a star reporter of the said news channel, who is entrusted with an exciting new project: interviewing local people to hear their thoughts about live-in relationships. His friend and the channel’s cameraman Abbas (Aparshakti Khurana) is to join him on this mission. However, before the duo can set off decoding the locals’ views on live-in relationships, in walks Delhi-returned journalism graduate Rashmi Trivedi with her father, seeking to intern at the news studio before hitting the job market.
As the trio set about interviewing sadhus, old women and touchy nationalist men on the streets, Guddu and Rashmi steal a few moments to make eyes at each other, engage in banter – quickly falling in love. Guddu, being the small town man he is, makes the leap by proposing marriage. Except, Rashmi isn’t impressed and wants to try out living in with him first before the much-dreaded saat pheras. Guddu reluctantly consents to it; there’s only one little glitch in this arrangement: Rashmi is Vishnu Trivedi’s daughter, the leader of the Raksha Manch aka the vulture pack prowling around the city and hunting for their next victim.
Left with no option, Abbas, the loyal wingman suggests they try out this arrangement in Gwalior, away from the prying eyes of their families, in the guise of working on a journalism assignment. The deal is sealed and the two head off on a month’s adventure, basking in the throes of a new romance. There is sex, there is humour, there are talks of dividing household chores between the two as well as plenty of theatrics involving sindoor, mangalsutra and fake tacky wedding pictures to fool the neighbours. In short, it is a jolly good ride until they are caught snuggling by Babulal (Pankaj Tripathi), Guddu’s relative.
In less than 24 hours, they’re jerked wide awake from planning romantic destination weddings to playing “husband and wife” for their families, over and over and over.
What transpires from living in before marriage to still “living in” in a full-fledged marital setup is what forms the spine of Luka Chuppi.
From the word go, Luka Chuppi succeeds in drilling into your head the perils of indulging in young romance in a country like India. Be it the Sanskriti Raksha Manch’s hooligan-like antics in the beginning, Guddu and Rashmi’s sneaky live-in romance against the backdrop of the culture police or their desperation to living in like a sanskaari married couple, the urgency in these critical moments is palpable.
Kartik Aaryan and Kriti Sanon and perfectly cast for their respective roles, and fit in easily into their characters. While the chemistry between the two is hardly crackling, the duo is easy on the eyes and manages to draw genuine curiosity, sympathy and laughs from the audience. Thankfully, Kartik does not have yet another lengthy monologue as was the case in Pyaar ke Punchnama (which actually set off this bizarre trend) and Sonu Ke Titu ki Sweety, or dish out sexist dialogues in favour of bromance as was the norm in both these movies.
The film’s humour is the situational kind that you may have come to love if you’ve ever watched cult picks like Hera Pheri, Hungama, Hulchul and others of this genre. That said, it’s only in the second half when Luka Chuppi actually feels like a comedy of errors and tickles your funny bones, hard. A large supporting cast is intricately involved in the romance and boasts of weirdos such as Guddu’s much-older, single brother who feels betrayed much by the younger brother’s secret marriage and is merely a brink away from falling into irreversible depression.
Others in the cast include the top of the crop like Atul Srivastava (who plays the stumped father yet again mentoring his supposedly libidinous son on sanskaar) and Alka Amin (yet again the indulgent mother). Vinay Pathak plays the leader of the Raksha Manch and Rashmi’s father, his sole aim being to crack the election using the religious and cultural card. While earnest and at times even funny, Pathak’s role seems to have been written in a lopsided fashion – almost as if the writers could not make up their mind as to how they wished to paint him. On the other hand, Aparshakti Khurana, who seems to have undoubtedly mastered being the hero’s sidekick, plays it down for the film, securing a neat place as one of the highlights of the movie.
It is, however, Tripathi, dunked generously in broad strokes of a small-town stereotypical Romeo – donning shocking red trousers and a mismatched shirt – I had the most expectations from, which, I’m glad to say were largely met. Given the blatant typecasting, it is obvious the makers intended to write Tripathi’s character purely as a comic relief; nevertheless, it is to the award-winning actor’s credit that he prevents Babulal from slipping into that homogenous box and instead turns it into a key link in the chain of events in Luka Chuppi.
In a film about sanskaar (or the lack thereof), what else can make an audience sit up and take notice than the words of a saffron-clad sadhu endorsing live-in relationships by alluding to the ancient yet controversial tale of love between Radha-Krishna! Then there is swag with which Abbas handles dad Trivedi’s tacit disapproval of his religion, and by that token, his existence. The cherry on the cake, however, sits pretty in the implied accusation that well, the Raksha Manch has little to do with dharm, and more to do with chunaavi mudda. I kid you not, at this point, I was sitting with the stupidest grin on my face.
But you know what truly hits home with the film? Its rather straightforward, simple approach to young romance and the perils thereof, in a divided nation like India.
What else does the film score on?
The music. The movie is peppered with just the right number of songs to temper the slightly long-ish runtime and the occasional repetitive humour. Barring Poster Lagwa Do (sung by Nikita Gandhi), the remaining are generously infused with Punjabi lyrics and are a fun mix of slow romantic to high-on-beat music. My personal favourite is Tu Laung Main Elaaichi (Tulsi Kumar), a remake of 2018’s massive hit wedding song that, in Luka Chuppi, incidentally turns things around for the duo. In fact, since I watched the movie, I’ve listened to it no less than 20 times!
Yay or Nay?
Luka Chuppi, despite its obvious flaws is earnest, mostly hilarious yet social relevant – without being preachy. Plus, at a time when being political (and expressing condemnation of the powers that be) can get you trolled, fired from your job and everything else you may not have possibly imagined, Luka Chuppi is an act of courage. That makes it at least a one-time watch, and yay, yay, yay! All the way!