For years Hindi movies have drilled the same conservative, and often regressive notions of love and marriage into our heads. Shuddh Desi Romance takes that conventional wisdom propagated to us in the movies and turns it on its head. What’s worth noting is that this movie comes from the stable of Yash Raj Films, the very studio largely responsible for breeding those notions through hits like Chandni, Dil To Pagal Hai and Bachna Ae Haseeno among others.
Directed by Band Baaja Baraat’s Maneesh Sharma and written by Chak De India’s Jaideep Sahni, Shuddh Desi Romance is set amidst the bustle of middle-class Jaipur, where unemployed youngsters will happily pose as friends and cousins in a traveling baraat for a few thousand rupees and a gold chain. When he isn’t conning white tourists into buying handicrafts from local merchants for a commission, Raghu (Sushant Singh Rajput) is busy falling in love. But he goes from sincere to conflicted to selfish in as long as it takes most people to change out of a wedding suit. So he’ll woo a girl, win her heart, then develop cold feet at the mandap. This happens thrice in Shuddh Desi Romance, which would be tiring and largely predictable if it weren’t for Sahni’s crackling dialogue and the charming characters he puts on screen. Gayatri (Parineeti Chopra) is a gregarious rebel Raghu meets on the way to his own wedding. She smokes, she’s had boyfriends, and she lets Raghu move in with her when he ditches his shaadi. Tara (newcomer Vaani Kapoor) is the damsel who springs a surprise on both Raghu and the audience.
Like most normal couples – hence, unlike the relationships we see in Hindi movies – sexual attraction is key to our protagonists’ equation, and the film doesn’t make a big deal about it. In fact, to give credit where it’s due, Sahni’s script never screams from the rooftops about the brave ideas it pushes so matter-of-factly. Skillfully avoiding melodrama or sloganeering, the film portrays a generation where single women can live in with their boyfriends without being banished by the housing society. This is a refreshingly real middle-class India where marriage needn’t be life’s sole ambition for young girls, and where women can hold their heads high and carry on with life despite having been ditched at the altar.
There’s so much to like about Shuddh Desi Romance, including Sharma’s nicely textured portrait of the Pink City. The film captures the sights and sounds of a busy metro in ways that most films don’t even try. Oblivious that he’s ruined someone’s appetite, a cook at a jalebi stall scratches his backside with a chhanni. It’s little details like these that sparkle with originality.
Pity then that the movie runs out of steam in its unconvincing final act, particularly during a confrontation between the two leading ladies that comes off as contrived. In other complaints, the talking-into-camera device is now overused, and seldom works unless what’s being said is profound, which isn’t always the case here. This in fact, adds to the film’s already verbose and occasionally repetitive feel.
What cannot be faulted, however, are the terrific performances from the central players. Vaani Kapoor makes an auspicious debut, carrying off Sahni’s firecracker lines with the comfort of a pro. Sushant Singh Rajput as Raghu, has an easy charm about him and unmistakable depth behind that scruffy exterior. But it’s Parineeti Chopra, reminiscent of a younger Rani Mukherjee, who this film belongs to. She has expressive eyes and an endearing manner about her, and turns Gayatri into the most real woman you’ve encountered on screen recently. The film also benefits enormously from the casting of an excellent Rishi Kapoor in the part of a feisty wedding caterer and Raghu’s father figure.
To a large extent, Shuddh Desi Romance reinvents the wheel as far as Bollywood rom-coms go. It’s aggressively non-formulaic, and gives us characters who refuse to conform. The minor hiccups notwithstanding, this is a charming little film. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five. You’ll enjoy it.