Writer Jaideep Sahni was behind what I think were YRF’s last two genuinely great films – Chak De! India and Rocket Singh – Salesman Of The Year. Maneesh Sharma was behind YRF’s last genuinely good film – Band Baaja Baaraat. These two combine to give us Shuddh Desi Romance (SDR), a film that falls somewhere between good and great. It is difficult to place this effort simply because of great expectations, not least because it also involves Parineeti Chopra and new hope Sushant Singh Rajput.
Set in small town India (Jaipur), with remarkable attention to detail and production design only YRF productions can pull off, it is director Maneesh Sharma that should walk away with most plaudits. He is the man behind a first half that will make every one of you, no matter how cynical and battered, blush at a real time blossoming relationship between two instinctive flawed individuals. You’ve all done it before, you’ve all seen the girl with a past putting on a front of emptiness. You’ve all seen the confused guy who sways willingly – yet surely and firmly – every time he gets a whiff of attention from the next attractive complicated girl he sees. But you’ve seen these people up close, in everyday life, you’ve gossiped about them on the phone. You wouldn’t imagine them to be so free and bare on screen. Maneesh Sharma strips Raghu Ram (Sushant) and Gayatri (Chopra) down to their souls, and makes them forget there is a weird whirring device and a few dozen crew workers around them in the cozy space that is theirs. The last time one felt so intimately involved with a couple was during Blue Valentine, where you’d cringe and tremble with how relentlessly natural the performers are.Were they even performing?
Make no mistake, this is a contemporary love story (or triangle, depending on which angle you look at it from) made with no pretentions, with two characters that are resoundingly familiar and real. However, the third wheel, played by debutant Vaani Kapoor, is where even the great Sahni falters a bit, making for the film’s only but significant flaw. Vaani’s character Tara has a slightly vague, almost bordering on dangerous outlook to life. It doesn’t help that she constantly smiles through every line she speaks – happy, sad, angry or hurt. How do you deal with a girl like that, a girl who tells you “I just wanted to hurt you” with a bright smile? But, girls like that do exist, as creepy as they can be. I can already see most of you guys nodding violently while reading this. Yeah, we’ve seen her too.
Rishi Kapoor plays the conscience effectively, with a healthy appetite for grease and money. While Sushant represents every boy in the world that feels like a lovesick puppy as soon as he kisses a girl, his chemistry with Parineeti is one for the ages. They are an instant classic. His body language compliments her fabulous ability to express the subtlest of emotions on the writers’ mind. Her drawls, eyes and smirks are superbly timed – her backstory doesn’t even need to be spelled out. They hit it off so well that we, the audience, turn shades of red and blue when they cootchie-coo. It isn’t even the ‘Ha, who does that?’ sort of ‘janu-loving’, but a very uncomfortably familiar back-and-forth between two individuals that are extremely aware of their own limitations. And they try so desperately to get rid of them. This is where the film becomes a bit preachy about arranged marriages and monologues on commitment issues. The problem is that this occurs right in the beginning, almost giving you a sinking feeling about the rest of the film, which, thankfully, is handled astutely by the actors and their director. One must admit, however corny this sounds, that Maneesh Sharma has a unique flair for shooting onscreen kisses, and you know it, because when they kiss, the last thing you’re watching is their lips. To be able to say that as an Indian audience member. that says a lot.
While Raanjhana oozed of passionate madness and energetic young restless love, SDR is 2013 holding a stark mirror to every 20-something in this country confusing love with relationships and relationships with marriage. What better way than use weddings as a backdrop to get this across?
Hindi, Romance, Drama, Color