Synopsis – Set in the backdrop of India’s civil services, Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana explores the challenges that Satyendra and Aarti face as a middle-class couple in India.
My Take – Wedding scenarios are the latest trend in Bollywood these days. Here, this Ratna Sinhaa directed film gives company to a slew of recent Bollywood films like Tanu Weds Manu (2011) and its 2015 sequel, Daawat-e-Ishq (2014) & Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015), set in the Hindi heartland, shuttling between Kanpur and New Delhi. While it was evident from the trailers itself that the film has all the elements one’d expect in a typical ‘masala’ entertainer- song, dance, drama, romance, and revenge, what it is clearly missing is complete & any form of originality. There’s a bit of this year’s Badrinath Ki Dulhania, a bit of Bareily Ki Barfi, and lots of drama and cheese from any tedious and screechy 80s or 90s flick. For most parts, the film largely remains undecided where it stands; bringing various angles, like where it takes a strong stand against dowry, and sub plots one after another, it’s almost too confusing to keep up. While Ratnaa Sinha’s directorial debut sets up the plot with confidence and does manage to leave you chuckling at times and rooting for the couple, plus it’s hard to ignore how it gets many nuances of Indian society right to perfection, so much so that it even includes the Hindi film industry’s irreverent melodrama as a part of that society, all before going off the rails in spectacular and painful fashion thanks to its complete, disjointed extension to the otherwise well-written, revenge drama the film starts out as. I am not sure why an actor like Rajkummar Rao would pick such a project up (following the commercial disaster Behen Hogi Teri), probably starring in films like Trapped, Newton and Aligarh doesn’t help in paying bills. Don’t get me wrong, I do love the guy and his performances (including here), but nothing else can explain why he agreed to do this film. Set against the backdrop of Kanpur, the story follows Satyendra Mishra aka Sattu (Rajkummar Rao) and Aarti Shukla (Kriti Kharbanda). Set up in an arranged marriage proposal, Satyendra is about to start a job as a clerk, an enviable position in small town India where a government jobs holds the promise of security, respect and the potential to earn beyond your means through graft.
While for Aarti, a college topper who is being forced into marriage, Satyendar is an escape from her restrictive, domineering father (Govind Namdeo), mainly as he loves her, and is ready to provide an equal footing in their partnership. While, the two are too distracted falling in love, Aarthi’s father is pushing himself into debt to pay her Rs 25-lakh dowry, a huge amount considering he is going to retire in a few years. Meanwhile Satyendra readily agrees to Arti’s request that she be allowed to work after the wedding, he conveniently forgets that his mother despises working women. But the dowry demand is actually never a problem for the two, as on the day of their marriage Aarthi finds out that she has passed the PSC exam (Public Service Commission) in the first attempt, which will hereby help her realize her dream of becoming an ICS (Indian Civil Services) officer. Knowing that Satyendra’s mother will never allow that, Abha (Nayani Dixit), Aarti’s sister, pushes her to run away from the wedding, leaving Satyendra heartbroken & bitter. Five years later, Satyendar has transformed from a lowly clerk to a top government official who takes it upon himself to investigate graft allegations against his former fiancé, all while Aarti, reeling under the double shock of seeing the man she was to marry and the danger of losing her coveted government job, crumbles into a weeping mess. Narrated in a linear manner, the film is quite straightforward and it is undoubtedly in the second half, with the unusual twist at half time, that the plot gets intriguing. The first half showcases how the two meet to please their parents, but owing to their similar thinking, hit it off well and fall in love along with mushy exchanges like “Tum pink mein Juhi Chawla lagti ho” and “Aap toh har rang mein Shah Rukh lagte hai”. The writing, like the plot, is simple and uncomplicated and it is the performances by the entire case that keep you riveted to the screen. While the first half makes you smile at the small town love story, the second half derails, trying to incorporate too many things like dowry, higher studies, and work after marriage, which begins to feel a bit aged for a 2017 release. While the makers perhaps aimed at igniting ongoing debates on the above-mentioned issues, by the end, they end up normalizing the very subject of dowry. The thoughts which should’ve been spoken out loud are kept under wraps and the ones which could’ve done without words, come right at you. Sure, director Sinha manages to weave in the social messages without becoming preachy, besides reiterating the fact that Aarti passed her PSC exam in the first attempt, however with the lighting and camera work in particular, the scenes often look washed out, and the drama is in parts directed like a TV serial. In this stratum of society, securing a government job is like winning the lottery, and even though it’s interesting to see how its Satyendra’s mother who is determined to uphold and exploit traditions of dowry, the trouble with the film is, at no point are we convinced that the makers know where the film is heading. It’s as though they decide to go with the flow, leaving far too many loopholes and areas unexplored. When the whole topic of the dreaded dowry comes into play, there’s a segment on how the girl’s father struggles to gather Rs. 25 lakhs but agrees to it because she’d be a part of a well-to-do family & when she runs away, the family uses dowry as an excuse, as though she was sickened by the whole idea. At no point does Satyendar, who admits to truly love her, re-examines himself and his family’s wrongdoings & seems absolutely unfazed that his family even asked for dowry in the first place and chooses to go sulk and go against Aarti, who has pretty much faced opposition and bias all her life because she’s a girl. There are many such moments where one is left seething and fuming. While the film wanted to show how independent and determined Aarti is, someone who wants to beat the system and rise above the sexism and unfair treatment she faces, it ends up siding with the boy and his warped sense of revenge and professionalism. Rao’s Satyendra shows two shades; first he starts off as the youthful, warm-hearted young man unaware of the biases towards him as a boy child waiting to come of age.
In the latter half he’s the cold-hearted and bitter officer determined to bring down the Mishras who so badly humiliated his family. Unable to grasp the fact that she “betrayed” him for a career, he becomes a powerful government officer all because of her. And even then, he chooses to make their interactions personal in a professional environment. He taunts and belittles her, all because of eventually being rejected. It’s enough to be sick of that person, let alone wanting to reunite with him. Aarti is supposed to play a strong-willed independent woman and her only ambition is to be able to work after marriage. Fine, Allahabad-Kanpur – we can accommodate that. But after a point her whole focus shifts on getting Satyendra to fall in love with her and we have to give it to him – she did not try to get in touch with him till the odds were stacked against her. Sure you may not connect with someone on the phone but who doesn’t use email/ SMS/ snail mail? The schizophrenia of Satyendra’s character and Aarti crumbling into a whimpering mess in a starched cotton sari are overplayed and the film becomes rather soap opera-like, with the entire extended family dragged back in. But, the typical Bollywood heroine that she is, the one who believes that there’s good in every bad and that underneath his hardened shell, there’s her old fiancé. Aarti chooses love now, marred with so many complications and toxicity, something straight out of a pseudo-progressive daily soap. A breakdown in communication in the modern age of saturated connectivity is hard to swallow. Either way, the film gets you involved & this could so easily have become a social message film and you want to applaud it for not taking that route. But just when you begin to clap, your hands are held back by a ridiculous climax. The last 20-30 minutes of the film nosedives into an abyss and goes deeper and deeper right till the end. It seems the film (if not the industry) has two types of writers and their skills are not interchangeable. You can either write the regular Hindi film drama or a layered account of characters and society. Just like not everyone can do the latter, looks like one who has accomplished the latter cannot write the ‘masala’ easily either. Despite the niggling problems at the script level, the film holds on due to its solid performances, who bring in the much-needed nuance into proceedings and contribute in large measure in making this film come alive. Both Rajkummar Rao and Kriti Kharbanda are able performers and their performance in this film is testament to that, because despite the shoddy script, it’s the acting that provides for any kind of investment. Here, Rajkummar and Kriti make a fine pair and on some levels, they complement each other- for instance, there are scenes wherein Rajkummar’s blushing smile balances out Kriti’s wide-eyed expression or when Rajkummar tries to kiss her and she responds with a cheeky line. Sadly, this film is a constant reminder of how a good actor like Rajkummar gets wasted in films like this one. He slips into the character, complete with his rustic accent, shy demeanor and unambitious nature & the contrast, post interval, is thus even more praiseworthy when he transforms into a supposedly ruthless, revengeful human being, devoid of feelings. The lad is gaining excellent screen presence with every passing film. Kriti Kharbanda as the effervescent and ambitious Aarti packs a punch in her performance and meets Rajkummar shoulder-to-shoulder in every scene. Be it her euphoria of being in love or the devastation upon being accused, she is convincing and you empathize with her. In supporting roles, Nayani Dixit, Navni Parihar, Govind Namdev, Manoj Pahwa, Vipin Sharma and KK Raina are all excellent. On the whole, ‘Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana’ is a tiresome cliché filled romantic drama that even Rajkummar Rao’s outstanding performance cannot save.
Directed – Ratnaa Sinha
Rated – PG
Run Time – 137 minutes