What a lovely movie. Literally lovely, it is full of love. Love of every kind, except the kind we normally see, between a man and a woman.
Bhumi is being stalked by a man she met on a dating app and goes to Rajkummar Rao, a police officer, for help. Rajkummar interrogates the man and learns he met Bhumi by pretending to be a woman and is blackmailing her because he knows she is gay. Rajkummar suggest to Bhumi that they get married because he is also gay. On their honeymoon, Bhumi meets Rajkummar’s long time boyfriend, a graduate student Deepak Arora. They return to Bombay and set up separate lives, sharing a two bedroom apartment. Bhumi meets a woman who works at a medical lab, Chum Darang, and they fall in love. At the same time, Rajkummar is moved into police housing, one small apartment close to his boss. Chum moves in with Bhumi and Rajkummar pretending to be their “cousin”. Bhumi and Rajkummar start to become friends when they talk after his own relationship with Deepak ends. But then they have to return to Rajkummar’s home a year after the wedding for Diwali.
Rajkummar’s family pressures them about why they have not had a baby yet, culminating in Rajkummar’s sweet passive mother Sheeba Chaddha being bullied into going back to the city with them to make sure they sleep together. Chum Darang has to move out of the apartment and Rajkummar and Bhumi have to lie that they are having infertility issues. Which leads to the idea of adoption, Bhumi’s secret desire, which she could never do as a single woman. Rajkummar and Bhumi begin the adoption process and Sheeba plans to leave. Rajkummar also starts a new relationship with an out and proud lawyer Gulshan Devaiah. And then Sheeba walks in on Bhumi and Chum having sex. Bhumi goes home and is rejected by her family, but finds freedom in getting her own place with Chum. Rajkummar goes home to listen to his family disparage Bhumi before finally speaking up and revealing that he is gay also. They plan a peaceful divorce, and to live their own lives, but then they get a call from the adoption counselor. And so they go back into a lie, this time telling their families they will pretend to be married in order to adopt and it is up to the family if they accept this or not. In the end, at their daughter’s birth ceremony, Bhumi and Chum both participate as mothers and Rajkummar as the father. Some of their family is there, Sheeba and Bhumi’s father most notably, and also Rajkummar’s boss, but not everyone.
Starting at the end, it’s the “not everyone” that I find most significant. The simple expected ending is that they give a big speech to their family teaching them about tolerance, and everyone hugs, and it’s all forgotten, and it’s all perfect. But that’s not life. It’s also not life that a queer person has to die tragically of a broken heart. It’s somewhere in between. And it’s not necessarily unexpected.
In Bhumi’s small family of father, mother, younger brother it was already established that her mother was a difficult angry woman, one who wanted her family to be perfect instead of just what they were. She didn’t let Bhumi pursue her dreams of sports career, but took her money to help her younger brother succeed. And then continued to berate Bhumi for not having a more profitable job. This is a woman more interested in social success and outside opinions than in loving her children. So yes, in the end, she would not be there to support this unconventional birth ceremony. But Bhumi’s father was always loving and kind to her, and her brother got along with her in his dopey way, so they would be there. In Rajkummar’s family, everyone was very nosey, very traditional, very focused on making group decisions, and very ruled by the oldest generation. So from his side, his sweet loving mother who accepted him is there. And his cousin/sister and her doctor husband who are a little less old-fashioned are there. But not the greater family. There is a loss for living a life honestly. A price you have to pay. A price you were expecting to pay.
There is also a price to living a lie. It would be easy to make this a movie about a man and a woman who love each other platonically, or who become best friends, or something. After all, that’s how arranged marriage is supposed to work, just spending time together forms a bond. But that’s not what happens. Straight through, Bhumi and Rajkummar play their scenes as the near-strangers that they are. They have moments together, moments of similarity and friendship, but ultimately the only thing they have in common is their orientation and their need to be married to satisfy their family. They barely spend time together even on their honeymoon, Rajkummar’s response to Chum moving in is to insist she pay rent and expenses, not any emotional reaction to his friend having found love. They don’t hate each other, they help each other in their lies, they get along, but it’s not a great love story, romantic or platonic or anything.
In contrast, the way Bhumi and Chum open up to each other and blossom together and just sort of fit together, that’s a love story. That’s how we get to know the character of Bhumi, through what she reveals when she feels loved and safe. The idea of the three of them living together isn’t some farce, it’s natural, Bhumi and Chum are very very much in love and want to share their lives. And in the end, when Rajkummar finds his new relationship, that’s a love story. Sweet jokes and flirting and being happy and confident and light in himself.
The final love story is Rajkummar and Bhumi and a baby. And that feels real. They still don’t love each other, but they know each other pretty well. And they know that they both want this baby. And they know that they can trust each other to do this together and make it work, somehow. It’s not a “normal” family, but what does that matter?
You could say that this whole film is building to the idea of found family. Bhumi struggles to deal with her abusive mother, and openly asks her father why he stays with her. Rajkummar’s sweet mother is constantly bullied and bossed by her in-laws and misses her dead soldier husband. And these are the “good” families. So why not have a child raised by two mothers and a father? Why not have a mother and father in a fake marriage that their families tolerate for the sake of the child? Why not have this whole confusing world of lies and truths so long as it is built on love?
There’s so much else that is good about this movie, but really it gets back to each character just leading with love and the scriptwriters trusting where that takes them. When Rajkummar comes out to his family, he leaves the room and Sheeba follows him and wordlessly embraces him. That is EXACTLY what her character would do. She’s not good at confrontation or making a fuss or dealing with big problems, but we have seen that she loves her son. So she would just hold him. Rajkummar’s boyfriend is invited to come sit next to him at the birth ceremony, but reassured he isn’t going to be a father, just sit next to him. And that feels right. This isn’t a character that was part of the whole baby quest and decision, but he is still important in Rajkummar’s life and loves him.
Maybe the best and most unexpected moment is when Rajkummar silently comes out to his colleagues at work. They are guarding a Pride parade, in their role as police officers, and Rajkummar sees his boyfriend and Bhumi and Chum dancing together. The expected thing would be for Rajkummar to walk away from his police group and join the dance, join the parade, this huge triumphal coming out. But instead, he borrows a rainbow mask from a dancer and puts it on, still in uniform and still standing on guard. Because he is still a police officer, he is on duty, he literally has a job to do. This isn’t the time to dance and parade. But he can still find a way to be part of it. He is himself, in all aspects of himself, finally united.