Cast: Kartik Aaryan, Bhumi Pednekar, Ananya Pandey, Aparshakti Khurrana, Shubham Kumar

Director: Mudassar Aziz

Any film that’s titled Pati Patni Aur Woh is pretty much laying all its cards on the table. How much nuance can you expect from a comedy about a married man who’s carrying on an affair behind his wife’s back?

Kartik Aaryan is Chintu Tyagi, a PWD officer in Kanpur, who falls for a beautiful young girl and lies about his wife to get close to her. In the original film of the same name, directed by BR Chopra in 1978, Sanjeev Kumar played a man who begins an affair with his secretary after winning her sympathy when he concocts a story about his wife having terminal cancer. That film took the position that men will be men; that monogamy just isn’t in their DNA. So even after the hero is confronted by both women, and promises never to stray again, that film ended with a new secretary showing up and the hero feeling a fresh tingle in his groin.

But the makers of the new film seem to recognise that they can’t get away with taking the same position today. So monotony and boredom are cited as the reasons for the man to stray. He’s also not a player; for what it’s worth he’s awkward at the wooing game, and appears genuinely shamefaced when he’s busted. But the most significant update in the remake is giving the female characters more agency, never portraying them as ‘lachaar’ or ‘bechari’. Transporting the story from big metros to the Lucknow-Kanpur belt in Uttar Pradesh gives writer-director Mudassar Aziz an opportunity to bring texture and local flavour to the dialogues and the humour, while also hinting at the sexual revolution taking place in small-town India.

The film’s best realised character is the ‘patni’, Vedika, a part than benefits considerably from Bhumi Pednekar’s spirited performance. At her very first meeting with him, before they’re married, Vedika speaks candidly to Chintu about her ex-boyfriend, about sex, and the fact that she’s ‘settling’ in agreeing to marry him. When she moves from Lucknow to Kanpur after marriage, she’s a partner to her husband in the true sense of the word. She takes a teaching job, and goads him to aim higher so they can move to a big city. Bhumi invests Vedika with a woman-of-the-world realness and intelligence. Refreshingly, there’s no shrieking melodrama when she learns of her husband’s unfaithfulness, or even when she confronts him.

Ananya Pandey does justice to the role of Tapasya, the big-city girl who catches the hero’s fancy. She’s naïve and innocent without being ditzy, and the filmmakers give her character the respect of having a profession and ambition.

In the hero’s part, Kartik Aaryan sporting a thick moustache and Everyman attire, blends into the small-town surroundings. Bullied by his controlling father who made every important life decision for him, Chintu has grown into your classic Average Joe. Kartik plays the part sincerely and resists any temptation to showboat. Chintu is so vanilla, you have to wonder what it is that attracts these women to him.

One of the film’s winning performances comes from Aparshakti Khurrana in the role of Chintu’s best friend Faheem Rizvi. The actor is in terrific form, and the cheeky dialogues roll off his tongue as if he came up with them in the moment. A word also for Shubham Kumar who is crackling in the role of Vedika’s student and admirer Rakesh Yadav.

Pati Patni aur Woh is too slight and too simplistic to make any deep observations about marriage or companionship. In fact it reveals very old-fashioned notions of what actually constitutes infidelity. But it’s also true that the film sparkles with humour and cleverly timed dialogue. Most of the punch lines are hilarious, and unlike other films of this genre the jokes aren’t just your standard visual gags of the cheating husband repeatedly coming close to being caught. Those gags are there too, but the sharp lines and spunky performances frequently elevate even ordinary scenes.

I’m going with three out of five for Pati Patni aur Woh. In a very roundabout, over-simplistic way, the film is actually progressive. Thank you for small mercies. Plenty laughs are guaranteed.

Rating: 3 / 5