Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan Review (No Spoilers): A Movie I Didn’t Like But You Will

This is the review to read before you watch it! And you should watch it because (based on the taste of the people who tend to read my reviews), you will very much enjoy it.

As a reviewer, I want to tell people what movies they will and will not enjoy based on my understanding of the people who regularly follow my reviewers. But I also want to talk through my own reaction to the film and try to understand why I feel what I feel. So on the one hand, I need to tell you that you all will greatly enjoy this film. It’s very witty, and lighthearted, and goodhearted, and has a happy ending. All my readers, from the sarcastic young desi feminists, to the aging liberal non-desi ladies, to my little baby college kids who like movies that make you think, will enjoy this. Go forth and be happy! My very small subset of young queer radicals, not sure what you will think but I am kind of curious to find out!

Image result for shubh mangal zyada saavdhan

But I didn’t like it. And you know, I’m not 100% sure why? I can break it down objectively, the good bits and bad bits of the film, but I’m not sure why the bad bits in this case out weighed the good for me.

There are a lot of good bits. First, and most importantly, the male-male couple is never treated as comic in and of itself. They are just a couple who are in love. Second, a heck of a lot of other stuff is comic and is truly funny! The subtitles are infuriatingly bad, but even with that handicap a lot of the little witty humor comes through. It’s also the rare film that has humor of all kinds, visual and verbal and physical mixed together. I sincerely laughed out loud through most of the film. And third, it has that overly family and love and songs kind of feel that makes us love Hindi films. It’s slightly less than 2 hours long, and there are two half songs and two full songs (including an end credit song).

There’s even something that’s just for me, and I’m still not happy. This movie has an INSANE number of cross-film references, and I love cross-film references. Sholay is mentioned so many times I lost count, and the list line of the film is a DDLJ quote. How perfect is that for me? On paper I should love this.

But then there’s the bad bits. There are a few things that are thrown in and just left there as “ha-ha, how things are in India” and it bothers me. It is how things are in India, but I don’t want to see that in movies. I want to see little bit more of a fantasy, something to aspire towards. Or else I want to just see more of a bright side attitude to it instead of taking the most pessimistic version and laughing and accepting. I’m not talking horrible human rights violations, I’m talking about stuff like a couple of 25 years who don’t really love each other and couldn’t marry the ones they loved, but they tolerate each other. I want the movie to give me the fantasy that they love each other now, or at least the reality of “but we’ve had a good life and I am happy” instead of this sort of acceptance of mild unhappiness.

There’s also a few characters that feel underserved, and they are female, and that bothers me. The one small downside of a male-male romance is that it removes the requirement for a lead female character of the film, and I miss that. I don’t like that the only female characters left are the ones with kind of half a story because they aren’t the leads.

But the two biggest things that bother me, I think, is that this is a movie about gay relationships made for people who aren’t familiar with them, and a movie about gay relationships not made for a gay audience. That’s not a bad goal, it’s a mainstream movie trying to ease the mainstream audience into this reality. I’m not the mainstream Indian audience though, and to me the speeches in the last third felt patronizing, and also straight up inaccurate. I, as a person who has been paying attention to this all along, found it very odd that the film put so much focus on 377’s status as though it would change everything without ever talking about how it was struck down and then held up again in the past. I also found it straight up WRONG how they were implying 377 would be used, wrong to a degree that was almost offensive to people who were punished using 377. And also just the general discussion of this issue, or that issue, this problem or that problem, that had me feeling just bored and irritated and a little bit patronized.

And then the other part of it, while the gay relationship is at the center of this film, I never really FELT it. We have the characters over and over again giving very long speeches explaining their feelings for each other, but I wanted to see the love story, to be drawn into their emotions, and over and over again the camera turned away from them to focus on the family around them. There’s a very sexy kiss, and some other nice moments, but I don’t have the big swoony moment of feeling their love, instead I feel like I am always on the outside looking in.

But again, there is so much good in this film! And my critiques aren’t even necessarily critiques, they are just considering what bothered me about the film. I am a person who has deeply researched this area, so the (very minor) inaccuracies, and the slightly remedial tone, bothered me. And I am a person who wants the big emotions that will draw me into a movie, so I missed that too. But that’s just me. You will probably like the film.

24 thoughts on “Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan Review (No Spoilers): A Movie I Didn’t Like But You Will

  1. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but when i checked my fandango app this afternoon, i saw all the evening shows were sold out. Is the NRI audience this progressive, or is it more of a rubber-necking curiosity factor driving the opening night crowd in?

    Your review reads like the review I would have written for ELKDTAL if I wrote reviews.

    Someday you will finally watch Romil & Juggal on ALTBalaji, and you will thank me for it 😉 Based on your review of this movie, and the major and minor objections you have raised, I’m sure you will find R&J so much more satisfying.

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    • It’s totally a movie made for the NRI crowd. There’s the gay love story so they can pat themselves on the back for being openminded and progressive, while also being told “hey, it’s okay, everyone’s homophobic to begin with! The gays are cool with it”. But the bigger part of it is selling a new age fantasy of India. Remember how HAHK was a record breaker because it let all the diaspora folks live in this fantasy of happy happy food and family and festivals? This feels like it is coming at a similar place. A little less fantasy and stuff, but still combined household and weddings and in jokes about that life. And the basic premise of the film is that the two men really really want to be accepted and be part of this family because family is great.

      I feel dumb for not putting that together before, but I guess Badhai Ho and the others were a little less obvious in the message. Anyway, the Ayushmann genre is totally about nostalgia for a lost India! Right? You can watch the movies and laugh and be happy and think about all the good things.

      On Sat, Feb 22, 2020 at 1:20 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Oh yeah of course. This whole crop of “local” movies, starting from either Dum Laga ki Haisha, Band Baaja Bharaat, Tanu weds Manu 1, or Delhi 6, are the inverse of the NRI fantasy films of the 90s&2000s. These movies give NRIs the “phantasie” of what life “back home” was or is like. And to some degree, what it still is like for them because when they visit India for 2 weeks a year during their summer or winter break, their relatives present them with this fantasy version of India and of family, since they ate now guests instead of family.

        Liked by 1 person

        • And I guess part of what bothers me is that now the NRI experience has become so removed that these movies aren’t erasing problems (like HAHK) but instead they are showing the problems and just pretending they aren’t problems. Ha-ha, people in India are still homophobic. Ha-ha, middle-aged couples are judged for getting pregnant. Where’s the actual concern about these problems?

          On Sat, Feb 22, 2020 at 4:37 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. Well, it’s not like they’re showing it at a time and place where I can actually watch it, so you won’t find out my thoughts for ages, Margaret.

    I agree that this review reads kind of like my one for ELKDTAL, so I will probably have the same reaction to this as I did to that. I know I will love the cross-film references to old school homoeroticism though (I begged for that in ELKDTAL in my review loool).

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    • The cross film references are INSANE.

      SPOILERS at the end, they confront the family and announce they want to get married. The priest refuses to sing the hymn for them, so they hold hands and walk around the fire singing “Yeh Dosti” together. If it had been treated with an ounce of depth, I would have been sobbing. But even with the light touch, loved the “Yeh Dosti”. END SPOILERS

      On Sat, Feb 22, 2020 at 2:23 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. Yeah, I don’t think I’m gonna go out of my way to try and watch this. I’m not enough of an activist to want to see a male-male couple just to show my support. And I know it’ll be a lot harder for me to really feel their emotions. With a male-female couple I have at least half a chance.

    By the way, I think that same difference in immediately attraction may contribute to why the straight girls on here couldn’t feel the spark in ELKDTAL. Personally, if there’s even half a chance for two girls to rent any kind of hotel room in Delhi, I don’t think Sonam could have resisted Regina’s charm for a year.

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    • Thank you, that’s how I felt. I’m not a man, so if it’s a male-male couple I can’t automatically relate. But if it’s a well-made movie, I will. Have you seen Made in Heaven? The Arjun-Vikrant Massay romance in that is my EVERYTHING. Who cares that they are both men and I’m not, they are human people who feel things and it kills me. But in this movie, they just didn’t put in the work to make the audience automatically feel the romance and love. I could believe it as a plot point, but I didn’t FEEL it.

      On Sat, Feb 22, 2020 at 5:12 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I relate so much to the Made in Heaven comment. As a straight girl, I don’t seek out same-sex content because more than not relating, I fear I won’t feel for them. I’ve questioned myself whether this is because I may have some latent discomfort towards homosexual relationships. But then I watched MIH and felt so deeply for Arjun and Vikrant, I was rooting for them to reunite! I realized that as long as the writing and performances sell it, I can feel the same way for a hetero- and homosexual couple.

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        • What I have found is that I feel more for same sex content in fiction, general. But it’s because the creators now it might be harder for the audience to relate and so they work harder to sell the love story to us. It’s the same reason I might relate more to a cross-race love story, or a generation gap love story. Anything unusual or taboo means the writers work harder.

          Which is certainly the case in Made in Heaven, they made sure the male-male love story was the most romantic, pure, and passionate of any in the series. The audience can’t help but relate to it.

          On Sat, Feb 22, 2020 at 11:23 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. I always feel solitary in my dislike of the Ayushman genre. I can never quite put my finger on what it is that bothers me because it isn’t anything glaringly obvious but the thread is maintained through all his movies. I think it’s this wholesome and sweet small town veneer that is put on everything. It’s like the films he does take edgy and perhaps interesting subjects and then makes them extremely bland and middle-class. Erectile Dysfunction? Wholesome and cute! Gay romance? Sweet small-towners. Baldness? Well gee golly gosh. Nothing is allowed to have a real flavor because then there is the fear that it will be off-putting to some part of the audience. Compare him to a similar star who mostly does low-budget movies – Rajkumar Rao – and the difference is glaringly obvious. He makes some very bad movies but then there are the really good ones that have an atmosphere and are made boldly and actually have something to say that doesn’t feel like a boring mild lecture.

    Nearly all of Ayushman’s movies are pleasantly insipid. They don’t shake the viewer or make them truly feel anything. I might have been the only one but I was rolling my eyes throughout Badhaai Ho. They took this subject and mined the most unimportant things out of it like neighbors gossiping. Comedy can also be sharp but rest assured it never will be in the Ayushman genre. Speaking of just his own character, no matter what issue-of-the-movie he’s playing out, he’s basically the same corny guy in every single movie. Ayushman is bald, Ayushman has erectile dysfunction, Ayushman is married to an overweight woman, Ayushman’s parents have sex, Ayushman may or may not be blind. Normally it takes actors decades to get stuck in this paralysis. He’s already there long before it.

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    • To be fair to Ayushmann, he also made Andhudhan and Article 15. But otherwise, agreed! I skipped Bala and Dream Girl in theaters because I was just so bored of the Ayushmann thing.

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    • It’s very middle class and mainstream, isn’t it? I don’t really know enough about India to gauge the audience, but it comes across like that to me. That has its place in moving along social progress, so I’m not mad but it’s so bland I can’t think it’s great, either.

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      • Thank you, that really clarifies things for me. It has it’s place, but it’s not everything.

        I think my issue is with the hyperbole? This is a movie that is acknowledging the social shift that has already happened, and very gently bringing it to the mainstream in a non-confrontational or uncomfortable way. And that’s important, that’s a role that needs to be played. But it isn’t the end of the movement and, equally important, it isn’t the START. Fire, Dostana, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha, Made in Heaven, all the innumerable films that have included a queer moment or character along the edges back when it wasn’t legal, they took the risks and laid the groundwork. This film is just coming in at the end of a struggle right when society is ready to acclaim it instead of demonize. It’s the Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner of Indian queer films.

        On Mon, Feb 24, 2020 at 9:32 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. I’m going to see this film in Mumbai in a week (😁) but a few thoughts: it’s doing well in India, not just overseas, so whatever mojo Ayushmann has, it extends to the home crowd as well.

    Re: your problems with the film, do you remember Philadelphia with Tom Hanks? That film was preachy and didactic and aimed at getting middle America to understand that gay people with AIDS were human beings too. It’s not a good film but it was a hit and did have a social impact. It sounds like SMZS is similar.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yaaay, excited for you to see a movie in India!

      I’ll be curious about your reaction to the film. Philadelphia was all preachy and stuff, but at least it cared. this one, not sure if it 100% sells me on caring about things so much as riding the latest hip middle class urban Indian issue.

      On Sun, Feb 23, 2020 at 9:39 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  6. Margaret, I also didn’t LOVE the movie, but I didn’t hate it either. It presented the couple as an established relationship, so we didn’t get any swoony falling in love moments. I also just didn’t FEEL things in the movie. I laughed. It was family comedy ramped up to eleven, but the movie never took a breath and made a moment for angst or any other emotion really. But I recognize that Ayushmann is the perfect person to do a milestone movie like this. He is a BRAND, and families trust that he’ll deliver a movie that’s just a little bit edgy, but not too much and they can laugh.

    I had the most amazing comment on my review today. One of my regular viewers told me he is gay and that he cried in the theater realizing he was watching an actual gay couple on screen that kissed twice in the beginning of the film. He was just overcome with emotion that he was watching this movie alongside all the straight men in the audience.

    I think Alisa put her finger on it mentioning Philadelphia. We went through these kind of preachy films years ago. So many of Ayushmann’s speeches came off preachy — and not organically emotional of the moment, if you will.

    It was not a perfect film, but it’s a beginning. I saw Arjun Mathur at the Chicago South Asian Film Festival and first he was rather stunned that the audiences were hooting and hollering for him. But he said that his playing the gay character in MIH had really become a cultural moment in India. His parents and his parents friends were actually discussing the issues around homosexuality in India around the dinner table, and that blew his mind.

    My review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJVgfuIyPCw
    It’s Anand’s comment pinned at the top that I mentioned

    Liked by 1 person

    • Two points from your comment: In Philadelphia there’s a lovely scene where Tom Hanks and Antonio Banderas slow dance while Denzel Washington watches them. Showing physical interactions between gay couples is so important so I’m not surprised your commenter felt so much emotion seeing the men kiss on screen. And second point, I read on Twitter that audiences were cheering when the men kissed and there were lots of children in the theater. Which is amazing!

      Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, exactly, the movie never tried to make you feel anything. It makes me nervous about how effective it is if it doesn’t give you an emotion. Like, if 377 is put back in place again next year (which could happen, because it happened before), will the audience for this film be upset or will they just accept it because this film was a good laugh and now they’ve moved on? Even Dostana had a couple serious discussion moments about queerness.

      That crying in the theaters feeling was universal among the Queer women I know for ELKDTAL, and also me. It really went hard on the emotions, of course not many people saw it, but the few that did definitely felt something.

      On Sun, Feb 23, 2020 at 10:56 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

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