Woo-hoo, Deepti! And also a bunch of horrible children. But hey, it wouldn’t be an exploration of Indian class and society if we didn’t have some horrible children up in here. To balance, most every episode after this has Horrible Parents.
Pyaar Main Twist had the exact same plot but put in a little effort. Underneath the objections of her children was grief for their father and confusion over how she could love again. And the reversal came thanks to a true understanding of how much both sides of the couple had already given up for their children, and that they deserved happiness. In this case, the kids don’t even care about their Dad, they are fine with her loving again and all that, it’s just “what will people say”. Okay, fine, if they are so terrible that they care enough about what people will say to dismiss their mother with “why can’t she just secretly have sex with him?”, then how are we supposed to believe it all gets turned around by Arjun telling the daughter “my mother is dead, I wish she was alive and getting remarried”. I would have found the story better if they never came around, if the ending was a bittersweet wedding with her choosing her own happiness over her children and the lesson that sometimes kids just suck.
Oh, and this was also an inter-ethnicity wedding! Done beautifully, we see Deepti be surprised by her fiance’s family giving her a traditional Bengali Hindu welcome to the family ceremony, and then Sobhita and Arjun coordinate a lovely party with a Qawalli (I think, some traditional Muslim singing anyway) performance followed by cake and signing the register. I guess the cross-ethnicity marriage is part of showing how very intellectual and upperclass and Nehruvian this couple is (she runs a successful group of schools), that no one in their family objects in that way. And yet, the age thing is still a problem because kids suck.
Anyway, it’s the personal storylines that matter most in this episode! Arjun has the first really interesting conflict for me. We’ve had two episodes of swanning around all “being a gay man, leading a secret life, it’s horrible HORRIBLE”. Which yes, it is, but I don’t feel like the show is really connecting with anything specific to this character yet, it’s all generalities. This episode is the first one that brings in specifics.
First, we learn an important bit of backstory. We already know he had a jazz nightclub that he loved and lost, and had to borrow money from scary people to try to start up the wedding planning business. But the other part of his story in this episode, that felt authentic to me, because it was based on him having the freedom and luxury of being open and out to his friends (if not his family). That’s what I would like to see more of, an exploration of the challenges of the life of the semi-out gay person, the one who has people who know and people who don’t, the one who isn’t being picked up by the police in parks every night, but still lives with a little bit of a fear all the time. Arjun is hired by a sweet old friend from college to coordinate her wedding, and recognizes her fiance as a man he had a relationship with off and on. This is the kind of complicated specific challenging situation that the show has handled so well in other areas, while Arjun’s life so far has been pretty black and white (his landlord suspects him and his parents want him to get married, he has a string of shallow one night stands because he can’t have true love, blah blah blah).
See, in India, young people HAVE to get married. Arjun is lucky that he has been able to escape so far, most young men can’t. Marriage is the most important thing, your whole life is building up to it, it cannot be avoided. And if almost every man in India is married, that means almost every gay man in India is married. It’s a necessary evil. And in the same way, every young woman HAS to be married. Arjun’s friend is sweet, but she isn’t that pretty or sophisticated, and she is soooo happy to finally be getting married. It’s not about love, it’s about having a presentable fiance that her parents like and getting to have the big wedding she wants. Because to not be married is like living death (unless you are strong enough to buck all of society and build your own life, which this young woman clearly isn’t). Add on that sodomy is still illegal (and the implication that Arjun was arrested before), and Arjun is stuck in a situation with no easy answers. If he tells the truth, it spoils this marriage and his friend may never have another chance, and the fiance will just find some other sweet young woman and try again. Plus, Arjun will be revealing himself, even if his friend knows what he is (which she seems to), she would have to give an explanation for ending the engagement, bringing all of this into the open.
And then there’s the question of loyalty. Arjun has to choose if he is more loyal to the hidden community of gay men with the code of silence that protects them all, or to his old friend who he cares about. Does he pick his shadow life or his real life? Which matters more? In the end, he picks his friend. And the show sets us up to want that, she really is so sweet, and she is going to have a lifetime of hurt for no reason. Plus, the fiance tracks Arjun down later and makes clear that he wants to continue a relationship with Arjun, and other men, even after marriage. There is no question here of an honest marriage in which her fiance will remain faithful to her even if it hurts him. So Arjun tells her, and she drops them as her wedding planners but still goes through with the wedding. It’s a complicated answer that is honest to the situation, maybe it would have been braver for her to end the engagement and trust that another husband will come along, but in a world where marriage is everything, that would take more bravery than is necessarily to be expected.
This is a story that Zoya and Reema have told before, similarly well, in Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Limited. In that film, one couple chooses honesty, he tells her what he is, and she accepts it, and they both go into this marriage knowing it will be a partnership and a friendship and nothing more. She has her own bad situation to escape, they can help each other. And one husband chooses secrecy and trying to do the right thing. He will hide his feelings for the rest of his life and be faithful and kind to his wife as best he can. There’s no one answer for the situation of a gay man trapped into marriage, it’s just the reality that India has to live with, there will be unhappy gay husbands and unsatisfied wives, and that’s what it is.
And then there’s Sobhita’s story. We get more depth to Sobhita, and to Jim Sarbh and Kalki’s affair, in this episode. There is a small moment early on when Deepti refers to wanting the “5 Noble Grapes” at her wedding and Sobhita quickly googles what that is. She is smooth about it, but it reveals that she is still struggling, especially with this class of people, the old intellectuals, the “Brahmins” (not really, but in that position within society, caring less for wealth than intelligence and education). And then she pays it forward, gently taking Shivani in hand and mentoring her at work, helping her build up the awareness of taste and refinement that can help her move past her origins. We get to see more of those origins in this episode too, along with a different take on why she cares so much about weddings. Sobhita flashes back to when her sister wanted to get married, to a nice boy from the neighborhood, and her mother objected because she could do “better” and refused to support the marriage. Sobhita did do better, and now she has a good wealthy life, but spoils her niece and makes a point of going to her birthday with many many presents. And her mother, who pushed her to “do better” because she was the pretty one, is now closer to the daughter that stayed close to home. We start to see more of how Sobhita got to be who she is now, her efforts to learn all she could and appear sophisticated and “right”, and how she was taught by her mother that her face was her fortune and she should want “more”.
Filmilibrarian mentioned in a comment that she feels like Jim and Kalki are in their own show with their story, and it really feels that way in this episode. Kalki has a therapist monologue to give backstory on her life, and later she and Jim have sweet passionate talk on a weekend getaway. Plus a conversation between Kalki and Sobhita that focuses more on Kalki’s reactions than hers. We learn that Kalki escaped an abusive marriage, is home with her parents now and seemingly everything is “fine”, only she can’t get over that her father wanted her to return to her marriage, didn’t care about the abuse. And we see her and Jim together, see how they really do make each other happy and care for each other. But Kalki is torn because she also cares for Sobhita, especially after she learns that they are trying to have a baby. It’s still kind of the standard “best friend having an affair with the husband” thing, but at least the performances (especially Sobhita’s) really sell the conflict.