India (2021) Dir. Padmasri
I’ve probably said this before but arranged marriages is a cultural aspects of Asia I’ll never be able to get my head around. Whilst some countries have eased up on this, others like India still unfortunately embrace it. But if this film is any indication, they can at least laugh about it.
Bachelor Madhav Sunnipenta (RK Sagar) arrives back home in India from Australia to find a bride. His aunt (Hema) has booked him with a matchmaking agency to meet three girls from different backgrounds but the owner Jayamma (Rajshri Nair) injures her foot, so she sends her daughter Satya (Drishya Raghunath) to escort Madhav instead.
For Madhav it is love at first sight but Satya, who has no interest in marriage, ignores his compliments. Along the long drive across the city to meet the three prospective brides, Madhav and Satya argue and bicker, yet also have some fun, especially after learning they share the same birthday – which is that day. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual, but Satya struggles with jealousy seeing Madhav with other women.
A contemporary take on an old theme, it is a shame debuting writer-director Padmasri didn’t try to concoct some new ideas for Shaadi Mubarak (trans. “Congratulations on the Marriage”) instead of sticking with the clichés of the rom-com genre. And being a Bollywood film, it is beholden to the worst excesses of their product – being way too long!
One of the reasons why rom-coms are so successful is because they don’t overstay their welcome and are quite modest in what achieve. Bollywood didn’t get the memo, with this effort containing about 80 minutes of passable material eked out to a bloated 134 minutes. Throw in three typically extravagant musical/dance numbers to spell out the obvious narrative, this is one pudding that has been seriously overegged.
Credit where it is due, the script does lay a few interesting seeds which bear fruit in the end – not all are successful but the effort was there. For example, the film opens with Madhav’s aunt consulting a horoscope reader who predicts Madhav will marry someone older than him. Thinking she knows better, auntie pays Jayama a visit and picks three younger women she feels suit Madhav, though an errant fourth also seems perfect.
You can guess who the fourth one is; Satya put the photo there to see if anyone would bite despite not being interested in marriage, and anyway, she is tentatively betrothed to the son of a famous actress. Satya is all dolled up and ready to go shopping with her friends for her birthday when she is called into to deputise for her mother, making the attraction for Madhav that bit easier and immediate.
Predictably, a number of misunderstandings and silly tiffs ensue during the car journey, in a segment which is more than guilty of peaking way too early. So much of this could have been trimmed down to the essentials, that being a friend of Madhav’s jumping in the car and dropping him in it, and that old chestnut where Satya puts on a ring she finds in Madhav’s bag which won’t come off!
The hilarity subsides as the first meeting is comprised of Madhav watching Satya instead of his date, Indu. The second meeting is a little more eventful as it transpires Gomathi is the sister of gangster Srinivas Rao (Shatru). Due to Satya’s hunger, they stay for lunch and for some inexplicable reason, Satya clearing her plate is taken as Madhav’s acceptance of marriage.
No, I don’t get it either and neither does Satya, but this doesn’t come to light until later on, and there is still one more girl to see, Bhagya (Aditi Myakal). Her dad Ajay Kumah (Ajay Ghosh) is not a gangster but is a former police chief who once gave teenage Madhav a beating. But that is water under the bridge now Madhav might be his future son-in-law, but this comes with the bizarre caveat of Bhagya already having a lover!
Meanwhile, Satya goes from carefree singleton to lovestruck almost too suddenly, which I would normally dismiss as a victim of narrative expedience but not in a 2 1/4 hour film, even an overstuffed one like this. Satya’s intermittent interest in Madhav helps keep the integrity of her character intact, but once she gets jealous over the inadvertent marriage acceptances, her childish rebound behaviour somehow goes over Madhav’s head.
Unfortunately this crisis point to set up the feel good ending we all know is coming arrives with 30 minutes left, and bereft of humour and logic, the ponderous last act sees us at the past caring stage. The cute facet of Satya and Madhav sharing the same birthday is brought full circle in an interesting way, tying in with the earlier horoscope prediction, but don’t try to make sense of the explanation given for this.
With this being his first film, once gets the impression Padmasri decided to play it safe and stick to the established blueprint for maximum mainstream acceptance, when in fact some elements of the story lends themselves to trying out new ideas. Therefore his direction doesn’t feel particularly inspired, not that we should expect this to be the work of an auteur straight out of the gate with this script, but I digress.
Deserving of some criticism is the editing, with a surfeit of needless quick cuts and slow motion, whilst the use of video transitions found in online promo edits is egregiously out of place here. The music is also intrusive and often inappropriate. Thankfully, Drishya Raghunath as Satya is not only cute but also a great comic performer with charisma to spare, making the bland RK Sagar watchable.
Shaadi Mubarak, like many Bollywood rom-coms, could have been quite good had it been shortened by 45 minutes and the story flowed more naturally to match its inherent frothiness and amiability. It tries too hard for the most part, but at least it does try.