Jaideep Sahni doesn’t write films. He writes conversations. They are not Aaron Sorkin’s witty repartee but more in the mould of Woody Allen’s capturing of the screechy-ness between the nuts and bolts of a not so well oiled machine, be it an underdog story (Chak De India) or a middle class drama (Khosla Ka Ghosla) or the ethos of business(Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year). In Shuddh Desi Romance, this machine is the modern day relationship. The anxieties of a generation with their bare bones exposed in the most in your face way imaginable. The beauty is how he makes the conversation non-cliched and metaphorical as if these are extremely intelligent people talking when sometimes you clearly know they aren’t. This may suggest discrepancy or irony but what it probably suggests is a great writer-director collaboration (Allen of course has no such problem).
Sahni can write characters who may not talk like us but sure speak stuff that we keep nodding along to. The great thing about Shuddh Desi Romance is that he’s got actors who can get this across seamlessly. The spontaneity with which Raghu (Sushant Singh Rajput) says “I don’t mind” is knocked over by the way Gayatri (Parineeti Chopra) says, “mind to hanger ke saath taang diya tha”. The characters are exquisitely written, especially the women (the other being Vaani Kapoor as Tara) not to mention their casting. The film begins with Raghu’s fourth wall breaking monologue and his cold feet episode but from thereon, the women call the shots and do all the talking and breaking. Sushant Singh is wonderful in giving reaction shots as both the women shine in embarrassing him, exposing both his failings and abject helplessness. Maneesh Sharma even makes the surroundings give out a vibe – Jaipur in all its flavor, the weddings, the one room terrace home of Gayatri’s, the toilets with typical writings on the wall, both literal and metaphorical. All of this contributes to the mood and he further infuses some scenes with old film songs, at one instant hum dono do premi plays along in the radio, with the scene conveying the unheard lines that must follow – jeevan ki hum saari rasmein tod chale. Another standout scene in a car with a third occupant standing in for a bemused audience is infused with koi pyaar ka lootera, loote na meri jaan.
This is probably the first film since Pulp Fiction where toilets by themselves are a character. The Tarantino gem has a running theme of things happening when people are inside a toilet. This film again has a running theme of people eloping into toilets while all the brouhaha breaks open around them. There is a Toilet even in the scene where Raghu is waiting for Tara at the airport as if he is half expecting her to come out of there and not from the terminal and the interesting thing is he is probably right. There is a nice bit of visual gag where the toilets keep appearing and disappearing with the only difference being their spelling from variations of the English “Toilet” to Hindi टायलेट and बाथरूम as if to suggest the people involved might keep changing but the doubts and apprehensions remain the same. In the end, it all winds up in a chalti firti toilet!
The two halves are two sides of the same coin and at times it is frustratingly repetitive which I suspect was intentional. It might be a bold move but it can become painful to watch as we observe the characters going through the same motions again and again, only at different places and with different people. This is not a film where you’ll fall for a character, root for his or her happy ending. Most of the time these characters end up doing the opposite of anything that suggests good sense. This is nothing but the film holding a mirror and the downside of this is, after a point it is not an easy film to take in.
This sort of maturity in depicting modern day relationships was brought into Bollywood mainstream by Imtiaz Ali. In that oeuvre of his examining love and relationships, Love Aaj Kal is a seminal film. In the center of that film there was one actor being the voice of sanity – Rishi Kapoor. Over the last decade or so there is no other comeback of a yesteryear actor that has had it this good when it comes to roles and characters. From Delhi 6 to Luck By Chance to Love Aaj Kal to Do Dooni Char. Here again he plays the father figure that echoes a different era, that had a more uncomplicated understanding and outlook towards relationship and marriage. It is only imperative that he be the wedding planner to the three leads comprising the fake baarati. He plays this with so much earnestness that you’d want to listen to him when he says, “kabhi to hum buzuron ka suna karo”. But the film ricochets off a different generation that will only reply, “bas aashirwad do….aur chup raho”.