Shuddh Desi Romance

[Cast: Shushant Singh Rajput, Parineeti Chopra, Vaani Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor; Music: Sachin-Jigar; Writer: Jaideep Sahni; Direction: Maneesh Sharma]


Our films have  generally portrayed people and places that are unreal. We see houses which could be seen only in prime localities in Mumbai, people who could be mistaken as sons or daughters of Tata or Ambani and cars that even Bill Gates would find ostentatious. And they speak a standard Hindi that doesn’t give away any accent or reveal any community. This unreality was taken to such a silly proportion that we had a prodigal son returning to his mother’s arms landing in a helicopter. Of course the family house has a private helipad.

And then there are some films that claim to portray reality. They show India in all its ugly and dirty glory. They show noisy bazaars swarming with people. Their characters painstakingly speak in the local accent. You see gaudy designs on their shirts or churidars. And they live in terraced tenements with water problems. Yet their ‘characterisation’ feels so unreal that they could be living in New York.

After watching Shudh Desi Romance one of my relatives, a 30-year old bachelor, asked me where he can find the girls portrayed in the film. The two leading girls in the film live completely in contrast to the title of the film. They are promiscuous, rebellious and are allergic to getting married. One kisses a guy who was about to get married the following day, of course to another girl. Another asks a guy who ran away from marrying her if he’ll sleep with her. ‘Can I marry you?’ he asks. ‘Can I slap you?’ she replies. You can’t blame her. His is not that sort of a proposal that would make a girl’s heart go flutter. It was intended to be a comic situation. And that’s the confusion. Many scenes in the film are propped up with comic-timed one-liners that you don’t know if you should laugh at or analyse the situation sociologically.

Artistically, Shuddh Desi Romance gets everything right. The film is set in Jaipur, not in upmarket Mumbai among the insanely rich. The characters wear simple, often gaudy, outfits suitable to the milieu. They belong to middle/lower-middle class and live in simple tenements. And of course, they speak Hindi laced with Marwari and in a typical accent found in Jaipur streets. I am no expert in linguistics, but I gathered from one of my Hindi friends.

It is clear enough that Maneesh Sharma wants to boldly go where no director has gone before. He makes the woman smoke freely among the people, live-in with her boyfriend openly and does a lot of other things that cannot be divulged without revealing the plot. Even fifteen years before such a movie would have kicked up a storm. Now this film finds acceptance, or at least doesn’t face protests is not the sign of the maturing of society, but the indication of how much we have come to accept stories that are fantastical. There’s a phrase used widely across mainland India: When we come across preposterous situations in life, we say ‘it’s like cinema!’ When we see a guy beating ten guys to pulp, we don’t cry foul. We accept it as a cinematic licence. Today we see a woman smoking and being in a living-in relationship, we accord the same cinematic licence.

Therefore, Shuddh Desi Romance is not a revolutionary film on male-female relationships. In other words, it is not going to transform society and enable emancipation of women! We men don’t have to be really concerned about this film. We can continue to oppress our women, use virginity as the weapon and restrict their growth sexually, economically, and intellectually. Perhaps our men know this and that’s why the moral police have remained mute.

Leaving this ‘intellectual liberation’ point aside, Shuddh Desi Romance is a romantic comedy, and nothing more. As long as Maneesh Sharma was clear about that goal, it works well. When, in the last 30 minutes, he decides he hasn’t stressed his ‘sexual liberation’ point strongly enough is when the problem begins. The characters loiter around confused about each other and mess up each other’s lives. That’s when we lose patience and wonder how quickly we can go to the ‘bathroom’!