Kanpur joins the growing league of north Indian towns that have lately been used to locate and pin down charming small-town romances about men and women with large families and loud voices who eat, belch, fart and insult one another without the fear of being judged. Before you holler about cultural and regional stereotyping, let’s quickly move on to meet Satyendra, alias Sattu, and Aarti. They are the aspirational 20-something small-towners with stars in their eyes. He thinks she looks like actress Juhi Chawla. She thinks he is her superstar Shah Rukh Khan.
The thing about Rajkummar Rao and Kriti Kharbanda is that that they can play their aspirational characters with endearing assuredness. For Rajkummar, this is child’s play. But Kriti comes into her own imbuing her small-town character with a sense of mounting exuberance and plummeting disappointments.
Debutant director Ratnaa Sinha often loses the plot in the flurry to catch the sweaty revelry of the Indian middle class as it cruises from its tradition-bound attitude towards social issues such as arranged marriage and dowry, into a new virtual world of smart phones and not-so-smart life’s decisions.
“Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana” is a very ambitious film. It wants to keep its protagonists Sattu and Aarti in the “cute” area. But it also dares to take them into the grey zone. Aarti runs away from the ‘mandap’ like Amrita Singh in “Aaina” and Vani Kapoor in “Shudh Desi Romance” because she wants to compete in the civil services.
Not caring about making her prospective bridegroom and his family look like stood-up idiots, she does her own selfish thing (prodded, I might add, by an intellectually challenged sister who should really have minded her own business). Then it’s Sattu/Rajkummar Rao’s turn to be mean and vengeful. The moral makeover and the dramatic leaps of mood are achieved abruptly and with little concern for narrative smoothness.
Many dramatic portions are done in the spirit of ‘desi’ soap opera, and the “happy” finale seems more a hasty send-off than a real solution to a relationship which rapidly swerves into a messy tangle of irreversible wrong-doings.
Many of the small-town rom-com stereotypes are way too obviously flashed into the frames to be convincing. Aarti’s sister awkwardly holding a cigarette in her hand in the night time and giggling about Aarti’s prospective sex life is that token “frumpy-mofussil-woman-talking-sex” scene that we have seen in all the recent small-town rom-coms.
All the habitually competent actors including Manoj Pahwa and K.K. Raina do their bit efficiently. But the narrative doesn’t allow them to soar higher than the glass ceiling that the film’s strenuous pro-feminism tone imposes on the characters.
All said and done, though, the film is worth a try for its unquestionable sincerity of purpose and its winking familiarity with small-town mores and quirks. If only these were not used with such placard-flashing righteousness.