Shuddh Desi Romance: Lovers on Steroid – 1, Rationality – 0

Before talking about the Shudh Desi Romance, let’s, for a brief while, talk about something else: The 3 Idiots syndrome. It’s a horrible ailment that afflicts some, if not most, promising movies. A screenplay that’s fixated on making the individual scenes work, but doesn’t exude the same enthusiasm when it comes to the entire movie.  So, you would find yourself enjoying the cleverly written scenes and chuckling at the smart lines, but here’s the catch: these cleverly written scenes can also be enjoyed without a context. It is when you probe a little and try lining up the scenes, one after the other, the entire structure begins tottering and ultimately dismantles. Making a pandering, fundamentally dishonest film is still forgivable, but what’s unforgivable is the pretense of saying something, and arriving at that point—or, ‘message’–by eschewing all complexities and the nuances of that world, instead adopting an easy, linear, and an audience pleasing route. Yes, the characters have to keep mouthing clever lines all the bloody time. Because, you know, you were never interested in creating people, only characters.

Shudh Desi Romance

Writing an Indian urban love story, which is both believable and interesting is unequivocally one of the most difficult things to pull off. Because it’s a world we live in, it’s a world we know. We have experienced the agony, the rejection, the joyous liberation, and its many variants. We have all written, rewritten, sometimes been proud, and sometimes been ashamed of our own stories. We know it’s not easy. But, in the last two decades we have been inundated with so many formulaic, but commercially successful, love stories that one often wonders, how can people enjoy something on screen that’s so divorced from their actual lives. That is why, for all the infuriating, frustrating flaws in Imtiaz Ali’s movies, there’s always one thing to admire in his films: the gradual emotional progression of his characters. His characters don’t fall in or out of love in an instant, rather it’s always a process, a journey, an attempt to understand one’s own self before connecting with the other. In Shudh Desi Romance, forget one’s own self, there’s no attempt to connect with the other, because the characters are too busy playing cool.

Consider this, the films open to Raghu, who is less than 24 hours away from getting married. He has suddenly developed cold feet. Till now, all’s fine. He meets a girl, Gayatri, who is going to attend his marriage. He falls for her. What kind of an attraction is this, and why, we have no idea. In that short a period, there’s no precedence, no building on towards something. Of course, not every love story has to be structured or logical, and it can be ascribed to one whimsical character and one moment, but as we will see through the course of this movie, this is not an aberration but a rule. Moments later, we see them sitting on the bus. Raghu kisser her.  Gayatri is a little puzzled, and so are we, but she kisses Raghu back. And then, they keep kissing each other, a little perturbed by the fact that there are people around, but their lips and tongues have a mind of their own. It’s a funny scene, which works in the moment, but if you see what prompted such a scene to happen, you are clueless. Of course, we would be instructed later, via a monologue and a dialogue that they both felt instantly attracted to the other. That’s the first bit of lazy writing in the film, and sadly, not the last.

The next afternoon, Raghu runs away from his wedding. The scene plays out a little oddly merely because of the conflict between what’s happening—a situation that’s a little grim—and what’s really shown: a scene amplified and embellished to extract chuckles. These flaws can be still glossed over. But, what cannot, is the clumsy and lazy fashion in which Raghu later falls for Gayatri and confesses his feelings to her. We have been shown that they have just interacted once, and Raghu is waxing eloquent on how much he loves her. She agrees. Two days later, Raghu wants to get married to her. It’s not uncommon for people inebriated in love to propose marriage, but when this comes from a guy who ran from his own marriage, you feel a little difficult to invest your trust in this character. Few days later, the two of them get drunk and plan to get married. Again, nothing in the scenes before plays out like their relationship is naturally progressing towards marriage, but that scene stays just because it looks cool and funny that two drunken lovers are making plans for marriage. And, what’s more, they both really end up planning to get married. Obviously in the world of the movie, there’s no such thing as the next morning, there’s no such thing as a hangover, and there’s no such thing as revising, or even talking about one’s decisions. And of course, forget about rationality. On the night of the marriage, Gayatri runs away from the wedding. And, this is not it, this sort of inanity keeps happening throughout the film, even after the third character is introduced. You blink your eye, and they have fallen in love. You blink your eye, and they are out of love. You blink your eye, and they are planning for marriage. You blink your eye…you soon begin to understand that blinking could well maybe a bad omen for this film. It’s not the film, it’s you.

I mean, what do you make of these buffoons? A bunch of people who are so devoid of a center of belief that they live in isolated moments of indecisions, much like the film. As I have said before, these are not people, these are characters, which exist only in the mind of the screenwriter, amplified, bloated, showcased to make us chuckle. Never mind the scenes’ interconnected rationality, or the lack of it. It would have still been fine, had it been one character, but it’s bizarre how all the three characters behave when cornered with a problem, which requires some contemplation.

This film is so comprehensively inane that you find it difficult to believe that the writer of a caliber like Jaideep Sahni would even be a part, forget being the fountainhead, of this tripe. It’s not about the urban relationships, neither is it about its complexities. So, what is it about? It’s about a bunch of characters, actually, let’s call them, lovers on steroids, who are abnormally eager to fall in love, fornicate, fall out of love, fall in love, run away from their own weddings, witness people running away from their weddings, fall in love, fall out of love, fornicate, run away from their own weddings again. I am already panting. You wonder who’s more tired? The perennially on-the-run characters, or you? The audience. But, hey, that doesn’t matter, for I am laughing. Because they are constantly delivering funny and clever lines. So what if the movie is not making sense?

As the movie is nearing completion, you understand Sahni was trying to say something. Nothing inventive to begin with, but that’s hardly a flaw. If we start judging films by how inventive the crux of the story is, we won’t have stories to judge. Also, not that movies should necessarily be about something to be enjoyable. And to Sahni’s credit, we needed a story that challenged the already rigid societal fabric, and all the more better if it’s done via being flippant rather than being self-righteous. But, not via a bunch of clueless, soulless jokers who could benefit a lot from some contemplative rootedness rather than just running away.

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4 thoughts on “Shuddh Desi Romance: Lovers on Steroid – 1, Rationality – 0

  1. I haven’t seen the film yet and not intend to watch in multiplex, will borrow it from my pirate friend. But I liked the article yash raj bencho sudharega nahi. Film ka title itself is corny.

  2. Watched the movie today myself. You couldn’t have put it in better words! Sigh. What on earth was I thinking when I decided to go watch it just because it had a good review on Mumbai Mirror! Never again!

  3. Your first paragraph left quite an impression of me. That’s a very insightful and interesting observation. Never quite thought of that as 3 Idiots’ main flaw, but this is very intriguing. I feel “eschewing all nuances and pushing answers in a nice linear audience pleasing way” and “making individual scenes work at the expense of the overall story” are two different things. But perhaps they are more related than it seems. But if a film has both problems, it must be quite royally screwed.

    And 3 Idiots did indeed have the first issue : eschewing all nuance and selling something simple, naive dimensionless for the price of a few laughs.

    Powerfully written review with a lot of conviction. Was looking forward to watch Parineeti in action, but after reading this, I’ll probably pass and watch Ishaqzaade instead.

    -Vivek

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