I’m still working through what bothered me about SMZD, even though in general I can acknowledge it was a good movie. And you know what helps with these things? Fanfic! Playing with alternate versions.
There’s a standard format to love stories in Hindi film, the first half is the couple falling in love with all the ups and downs and magic of it, and the second half is them dealing with the greater world and trying to make it accept their love.
Indian society sees romantic love (any love) as a sin, so merely falling in love is something wrong and you need to deal with the greater world to make it last. But also, this is just a good structure for a two part love story. Western films are in one part, so they can do the meeting, the obstacles, and then the happy ending. But Hindi films are in two parts, so the first half is meeting, obstacles, happy ending and in love. And the second part is about taking that love and using it to fight the world.
This is also why Hindi films are constantly criticized for a “weak” second half or a “weak” first half, because they are so different and rarely can a filmmaker handle both of them well. The first half is all internal, making us feel the magic of the romance just like the lovers. The second half is all external, getting us caught up in the excitement of the fight against society. A filmmaker may rush the first half, make it a lazy love at first sight kind of thing, in order to get to the second half that really interests them. Or may build this beautiful first half, making us feel all the beauty of love, and then we miss it when we get to the second half and the lovers are separated. A good filmmaker makes both halves feel connected to each other, puts in plenty of love scenes in the second half and foreshadows the issues society will have with the love in the first half.
Anyway, a same-sex love story first this structure better than ANYTHING! Let’s look at the three recent same-sex love stories, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga, Made in Heaven, and Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan. In ELKDTAL, they wanted to keep the same-sex story as a surprise reveal at the interval. So they flipped the structure a bit. We start with the lovers already fighting society. And then post interval we get a long flashback that gives us their love story. It’s not as strong as if we had been part of their love story all along, but the filmmakers wanted to draw us in before they got there. In Made in Heaven, the love story was scattered in little flashbacks through out the film, but if you had stitched them together it would have followed the same pattern. The two boys fall in love, hold hands, exchange notes, and only then are found by Arjun’s mother and separated, and their love cannot survive fighting society. Until finally Arjun stands up for his love, and they are reunited in the end. But Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan bothers me because we only get the second half, the fighting society for their love, we never get the dreamy love story that should be the first half.
So, I’m gonna fix that! Here, let me write a first half for SMZS:
Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan Missing Romance
We meet Jitender and Ayushmann as a settled couple, working together as hype men for a toothpaste company, living together, and helping Ayushmann’s friend Bhumi elope with her boyfriend. They are in love, they kiss, but we don’t see them falling in love. We just see them together for about 5 minutes, and then they are meeting Jitender’s family, and then caught kissing by Jitender’s father, and we move on to dealing with all that external conflict without ever getting a reason to care about their love story.
Here’s how I would have structured it. Keep the introduction of the two of them and Bhumi, keep all the humor of them hoping the wedding train, and then as they kiss on the train, flashback to their love story. Once the viewer is fully caught up in their love, we return to the present to see Gajraj seeing their kiss and judging them. The audience will be emotional because we don’t like Gajraj seeing it as just a sexual relationship when we know it is so much more. And we will be fully invested in this couple staying together and angry and scared at everyone trying to break them apart. Bonus, we will actually know something about them and their life beyond the little we get in this film. Like, I’m not even clear on what their jobs are! Because hype men for a toothpaste doesn’t really match with Jitender in particular.
Flashback, Jitender is at a work party being welcomed as the newest member of the chemistry team at the toothpaste company. He is sitting with the boring scientist types and hears a noise, loud music, and then finally a big reveal as a group of dancer splits open, of Ayushmann. One of the men sitting with him explains that group is the PR department, and some random actors they hire to help with promotions. Ayushmann is leading a big dance number and Jitender can’t look away. Bhumi is there too, dancing with him.
Later, Jitender ends up sitting at the same table as Bhumi in the company canteen. She introduces herself as from the PR department, none of the scientist types will ever sit with her, but Jitender seems nice. He asks about Ayushmann, shyly and awkwardly, and Bhumi cheerfully tells all about him. He is an actor who works for them part time, he is always happy and makes people smile to see him, she uses him as much as she can but he won’t take a salary job, says he likes his freedom. He is so free, no family, no fear of anything. Hard to pin down. But Bhumi is determined, he is the man she likes and she is going to find a way to win him over. Jitender is mildly wistful hearing all of this. And then Bhumi offers that if Jitender wants, he can come out with them that night, Ayushmann is going to sneak them into the opening of a new club.
That night, Jitender meets up with Ayushmann and Bhumi. And Ayushmann kind of doesn’t see him, is in a hurry to go and irritated that Bhumi invited someone else since it was already going to be hard for just the two of them to sneak into the club. They get to the club, and are turned away. Jitender, desperate to impress Ayushmann, makes a great leap and pulls them away and suggests how they can use the motorcycle to climb up and sneak in from the back. Ayushmann is intrigued by his intelligence, even more so when they are almost caught and Jitender quickly talks their way out of it. Once they are in the club, they all start to dance, and Ayushmann finds himself starring at Jitender as he moves, everything goes into slow motion, and a “slowly slowly love” kind of song starts up. We get a montage, the three of them are now fast friends and do everything together, bouncing all over the city. And Ayushmann and Jitender keep having “almost” moments, hands touching as they pass cups of chai, holding each other as they ride motorcycles, dancing together, and so on. Bhumi is blind to all of it.
And then we come back to find Jitender arriving to meet Bhumi and Ayushmann in a part, Bhumi says “what are you doing here?”, Ayushmann says “I invited him”, Bhumi says “well, that won’t stop me today! You can’t keep bringing Jitender along just to avoid being alone with me and hearing what I have to say. I love you, and I think you love me, and I don’t care that you have no family and no education and no money! My job will take care of both of us, you don’t have to be ashamed or afraid to admit your feelings, I am ready!” Ayushmann is horrified and says “Bhumi, we can never be together”. Bhumi keeps arguing why all those reasons don’t matter, even if he doesn’t love her, he can learn to love her, Jitender is increasingly uncomfortable and trying to look anywhere but at the two of them, and finally Ayushmann says “I don’t love you, I love Jitender!” All three of them freeze, horrified at what he just said. Ayushmann turns and starts “Jitender…”, but Jitender is overwhelmed and runs away.
Sad song, Bhumi packs up her office and prepares for a temporary transfer to a different city, avoids looking at Jitender as she walks out of the building. And then Jitender leaves the office to see Ayushmann waiting on his bike outside, looking at him. Ayushmann keeps following him through the city, waiting outside his office every night, standing outside the window of his hostel, sadly there with big longing eyes, but Jitender doesn’t let himself look.
Until one night Jitender sees Ayushmann waiting outside his hostel like usual, closes the shades so he can’t see, but then hears a noise. He opens the shades to look out and sees Ayushmann is being mugged, beaten up by a couple guys trying to steal his motorcycle. He is horrified, runs outside without thinking, yelling to scare them away. Ayushmann is bleeding and disoriented, Jitender lovingly helps him up and takes him inside, scolding him for taking risks, this is Delhi, you can’t be out alone at night at all hours. He gently cleans Ayushmann’s face, Ayushmann is still shaking a bit, he grabs Jitender’s hand and begs him “please, hold me. I can’t breath, I feel if you hold me everything will be all right”. Jitender gives in, holds him, and as the two of them hold each other and their breaths begin to slow and match, the music goes dreamy in the background, and we see their faces soften with love. Ayushmann says “when you hold me, I feel like I have found where I belong” and Jitender doesn’t respond, but you can see in his face that he feels the same way. He forces himself to pull back, tells Ayushmann “it’s late, you can stay here tonight”, and walks away.
The next morning Jitender wakes up on the couch to see Ayushmann smiling and handing him chai. He made breakfast as a thank you. They try to be normal around each other, talking and joking like usual, eating breakfast, but then their hands brush against each other and Ayushmann grabs Jitender’s hand. Jitender tries to pull away, then looks at Ayushmann and says “why do you do this? Why can’t we just be friends?” And Ayushmann looks at him and gives a love speech. They can’t be friends, because ever since the first time their hands met, Ayushmann can’t stop thinking about him. He wakes up in the morning thinking of Jitender and goes to sleep the same way at night. It makes no sense, he knows that, why should Ayushmann obsess over a shy scientist who has never been kissed when Ayushmann has so many other options in front of him? But that is how his heart feels, he can’t seem to root Jitender out of it no matter how hard he tries. And he knows Jitender feels the same way, he can see it in his eyes, and feel it when their hands touch. And for Jitender to be ready to admit his feelings and come to him Ayushmann will give him….the rest of his life. He will be here waiting. And then he leans forward and softly kisses Jitender on the lips, and stands up and walks out.
Jitender is caught up in a love song, he goes through the motions of his life but sees Ayushmann everywhere. Until finally he looks out one night and sees Ayushmann waiting outside again, and dreamily flies down the stairs to him and they embrace. Song changes to a full love song, they hold hands, they kiss, Ayushmann moves his things in to Jitender’s apartment, Jitender volunteers to join in Ayushmann’s PR stunts so they can be together on weekends, it is all perfect and loving and romantic. And then we come back to the present to see them kissing again, and the rest of the film moves on.
You see how this is different from what was in the film? We got them kissing, and we got a snatch of a love song, but we never really saw why they loved each other, how they fell in love, we didn’t feel the challenges they had already overcome to be together and why they were so sure nothing could break them apart.