This movie has a lot of really delightful twists, so try not to spoil yourself if you can. I wrote another review with no spoilers that you can read to hear all the reasons you should see this movie and not spoil yourself!
Whole plot in two paragraphs:
Ayushmann Khurrana and Jitendra Kumar are in a relationship and living together in Delhi. Jitendra’s parents in Allahabad want him to come home for the wedding of his cousin Maanvi Gagroo, Ayushmann and Jitendra want to get out of Delhi for a while after helping a friend elope with her boyfriend, so they both hop a train to Allahabad. Everything is great, the family loves and welcomes Ayushmann, and then Jitendra’s father Gajraj Rao catches them kissing. Gajraj refuses to accept their relationship, Ayushmann confronts him at Maanvi’s wedding and he and Jitendra kiss in front of everyone, ending the wedding. Maanvi rides off in despair, Ayushmann is taken to the train station and told to leave town, but then ends up meeting Maanvi and deciding that both of them are going back home and confronting this family, because Ayushmann loves all their wacky craziness and wants to be a part of it. INTERVAL
Neena Gupta, Jitendra’s mother, has arranged an engagement for him with the girl next door Pankhuri Aswathy. She travels with the family from the wedding back home and along the way takes a chance to talk to Jitendra alone. She explains that she is thrilled he is gay, she has a boyfriend her parents don’t approve of, they can get married, she can move to Delhi, and once away from home she can be with her boyfriend and he can be with Ayushmann. Jitendra rejects this idea, but then when he returns home Ayushmann surprises him by showing up. Gajraj beats Ayushmann, Jitendra can’t watch and runs and hides in his room, and finally comes out promising to marry Pankhuri if they won’t hurt Ayushmann again. Ayushmann stays for the wedding and keeps trying to persuade Jitendra to confront his parents. At the last minute, Pankhuri runs off with the wedding jewelry. Ayushmann discovers her missing and takes the wedding sari and dresses in it, almost succeeding in getting through the ceremony before Gajraj unmasks him. And then, finally, Jitendra stands up to his parents and Ayushmann and he begin their own wedding ceremony singing “Yeh Dosti”. When they are interrupted by the police, brought by Pankhuri. Jitendra’s failed lawyer uncle defends them, arguing that if the supreme court overthrows 377 then the police will have no cause to arrest them and coincidentally the decision is coming down tomorrow. Everyone stays, and the next day 377 is overthrown and the whole family welcomes Ayushmann. Gajraj takes them back to the train station and Ayushmann hugs him. HAPPY ENDING
Okay, here’s the thing that drives me INSANE!!!! 377 was NOT against being “gay”!!! It was against sodomy, the specific sexual act that is often (but not exclusively) shared between men. Every time I hear it being termed as being a law against being gay, it bothers me. Because first, it’s inaccurate. Men were arrested or threatened with arrest by 377 in sexual situations. It was dangerous to cruise in parks, or kiss in cars, or any of that. In the most infamous cases, it was about men being secretly videotaped in their own homes. It’s a particular combination of sexual desire and fear. And that same sex-fear combo was also a sex-rape combo, since the police officers who wanted to could cruise those same parks and insist on sexual favors under threat of arrest. But second, that terminology erases women from the queer narrative which is more than just an inaccuracy. 377 was not against being “gay”, it was against being a gay man who has sex with men. There are gay people in the world who are not men.
On the one hand, that same inaccuracy is something that is spread by media and all kinds of people, so how can I fault this movie for doing the same thing? On the other hand, this movie is presenting itself as telling this story and has the time to be better, and instead chooses to just make it worse and worse.
The story proposed by this film is that the police are super eager to believe anyone who accuses people under 377, without thinking it through at all. That the men threatened by 377 are people in the light of day in their homes, not sneaking around at night being sexual. That the police arresting them are just doing their jobs and don’t care, not sadists who seek out men to torment, or threaten for bribes. And that once the supreme court decision comes done, everything is happy happy perfect perfect forever and ever. But, what about those cops who used to extort sex? They still are around, and they are still cops, they just lost one tool in their tool belt. 377 wasn’t the source of all evil, it was a tool used by evil people. Those people are still there in the world and, on the other hand, other not-evil people never used 377. This isn’t a matter of the wise Indian courts getting rid of a bad law, and the obedient Indian people going “oh, okay, I guess it isn’t a problem now, but boy was it ever a problem yesterday!” Also, HELLO! It went away before and then came back! Were all these people asleep when that happened? Are we supposed to believe that they could have this whole conversation in this film and no one brings up the fact that we need change beyond the laws because the laws change all the time and people don’t?
The first half of this film is so good. I love that Ayushmann and Jitender are firmly together. I love that Jitender’s big crazy family is treated as a big crazy family, not as wise perfect people. I love Bhumi Pednakar’s quick cameo as a friend that Ayushmann and Jitender help to elope. Most of all, I love that Ayushmann and Jitender’s being together is never in doubt. Sort of. They are in town for a wedding, they are going to come back to Delhi and go back to normal life together. Jitender just rolls his eyes at the idea of an engagement, even at the end he is only considering marriage with the understanding that it is fake and he will still be with Ayushmann. But at the same time, Ayushmann leaves to get on the train the first time and says he wants to say good-bye, with an awareness that he might not see him again. The plan is to always be together, but Ayushmann is a little more experienced and knows that the plan might not work out, that their love could disappear into nothing no matter what they say.
The only thing that felt like it was missing was a little more sense of their romance. I wanted a flashback to see how they met, or even just a montage song of their love story. I wanted to see them happy together in Delhi more than the little bit we got, I wanted a sense of what this love was that they were trying to save. But in the first half, that was fine, I just figured we would get a flashback at some point. It was in the second half when the film fully veered from telling the story of these two young men into telling the story of everyone around them.
When Ayushmann shows up at Jitender’s house in the second half, Jitender’s family have become totally ridiculous, going through a whole “death” and “rebirth” ceremony to “cure” him. Ayushmann appears, declares his love, and Gajraj threatens to beat him. Jitender asks him to go, and Ayushmann tells him that he is going to stay and take the beating although he knows Jitender won’t be strong enough to watch. And then we see the beating, and the camera moves the focus from Jitender in the background to Gajraj in the foregound. Jitender runs off in the middle and disappears, and then Ayushmann is exhausted and fakes unconsciousness. What this means is our two “leads” are actually not in the film at all after this very emotional moment. In a larger sense it means that we, the viewers, are experience violence against gay men through the eyes of the perpetrators of the violence, not the survivors. That doesn’t seem right, does it?
That was the tipping point for me. The first 2/3rds of the film had this lovely balance where we could see all sides. Ayushmann and Jitender were a couple, and had real serious talks about their situation. Gajraj and Neena Gupta were also a couple and had real funny talks about how to “fix” their son. But during that beating scene, the whole weight of the film fell onto the side of the funny family trying to deal with all of this.
I miss seeing Ayushmann and Jitender together, but the other problem is that the more time we spend with Gajraj and Neena, the less I find myself able to go “ha-ha, what a funny delightful couple”. This family is not made up of great people. Gajraj constantly demeans and orders his younger brother, he shot his niece in the eye causing her to wear a fake one which is why no one wants to marry her, and he beats his son’s boyfriend for “making” him gay. Neena insults her sister-in-law and also dismisses her niece. Both Gajraj and Neena were in love with someone else before marriage and are still in love with that person, it is a marriage of disappointment and no love. I’m just not feeling any love between anyone in this family. When we just saw them in bits and pieces, we could laugh and think that we were just seeing them at their worst. But when we see more of them…no. This is just who they are, and it isn’t great.
These Ayushmann movies need a balance of sweet and funny, and I think this film went too far towards the funny. They were going for a message of everyone having secrets, compromises, flaws. But while Ayushmann and Jitender’s happy ending came because everyone accepted them for who they are, I didn’t get that from the other stories. I think the film wanted me to think I was seeing it, Maanvi announcing she never wants to be married and marrying “herself”, Neena and Gajraj having a serious conversation about how neither of them is happy in their marriage, Gajraj’s brother getting his chance to be a lawyer, and Pankhuri running to her boyfriend. But all of those endings aren’t really endings. Maanvi wanted to be married because she wanted her first kiss, she wanted a man to want her despite her eye. Now she is just going to be celibate and alone forever because that is her fate? Pankhuri’s parents will be forever estranged from her, while Jitender gets all the love and forgiveness. Gajraj’s brother has had years of misery and insults and blame for everything, kind of too late for him to try to start fresh now. And Neena and Gajraj are just…accepting that they will never love each other and want their son to be happier than they are?
I don’t like it. I don’t like this normalizing of a world where everyone is mildly unhappy all the time. Especially when the only exception is two young men. There is just the slightest hint of chauvinism in how Jitender and Ayushmann’s issues are treated (and Gajraj’s, come to think of it) versus the women in the film. Jitender and Ayushmann get their happy ending, everyone else remains in misery. Huh.
(for a review by someone else who felt similarly dissatisfied, and has an original idea of why, check out Popka Superstar here: https://thickthighsandbadguys.wordpress.com/2020/05/18/shubh-mangal-zyada-saavdhan-india-2020/ )