Ladies and gentlemen, the love triangle and rom-com a la Bollywood has been redefined: Shuddh Desi Romance is a classic and one of the best dissections of a relationship that has ever come out of the Hindi film industry. Audiences failed writer Jaideep Sahni in 2009 when they didn't flock to theatres to watch his utterly brilliant Rocket Singh, but he's brushed away that film's failure and come back even stronger.
Shuddh Desi Romance appeals not only to college kids or married couples or the ‘arty’ crowd, but to anyone and everyone. It’s competent, challenging, bright, delectably-relatable and heartfelt and hopefully, it signals the beginning of a major shift in the industry and the audiences’ taste in mainstream feel-good Hindi cinema.
Director Maneesh Sharma and writer Sahni have crafted an entertainer that defies every beat of a traditional desi rom-com, and they’ve done it with such expertise and sincerity. By ignoring the Bollywood rulebook and not bothering about any particular audience demographic, the duo have created a light-footed and sassy film that remains true to its characters. And what sharply drawn characters these are – he’s indecisive, she’s needy, then he becomes needy, she becomes indecisive; they hurt each other, but they love each other, yet they gradually get on each other’s nerves. And as they go through all this, we get to watch. This is a delight. We have all been in this sort of a relationship, and that makes the protagonists as recognisable and weirdly warped as a look in the mirror every morning.
Sharma and Sahni’s sophisticated and incisive style of storytelling establishes the conflict between the three characters by not relying on dramatic screaming matches, but on stinging black comedy. This is not an easy feat to pull off in the deranged circus that is Bollywood. Sushant Singh Rajput, Parineeti Chopra and newcomer Vaani Kapoor understand this and are absolutely terrific in their complicated roles. Their awesome chemistry is complimented by the way they completely swallow the oblique dynamics between their characters. It's gratifying to see new Bollywood actors and actresses take on an edgy, bold story with panache and deliver a new age edgy-relations comedy drama usually associated with filmmakers like Jonathan Levine, Lynn Shelton and Marc Webb.
Rajput may be the most likable shuddh desi newcomer since Siddharth. He's got depth beyond goofy for sure, and his portrayal of Raghu in Shuddh Desi Romance is so natural without it seeming like a forced departure from his role in Kai Po Che.
The lovely Chopra’s eyes can effortlessly seduce you with their ability to show conflicting emotions. It’s great to see that she isn’t just a one trick pony, stuck in the cheerful feisty Punjabi kudi mould. She has genuine depth and nuance to boot.
Kapoor is quite the surprise package and the fact that she can hold her own in the company of the other two is a testament to her screen presence. Aside from the main three, there's Rishi Kapoor in the most charming role of his career as a wedding planner worried about youngsters not respecting the sanctity of marriage and the impact of this attitude on his business in the future.
Sahni’s meticulous research is on full display here. This is not Jaipur exotica and the amount of detailing is just extraordinary, from the costumes to the sounds to the lights to the smells – everything feels so real and living and breathing. Even the songs are perfectly placed, and I doubt that you’ll find a more beautifully shot desi film this year.
The most enjoyable thing about Shuddh Desi Romance is that Sharma and Sahni happily resist the temptation to drift into the conventional problems of shuddh desi cultural traditions. Sloganeering and sermonising about the ‘new age youth’ is often heavy handed, but this film has enough well-placed laughs to bridge the cultural and generation gaps without alienating either.
There is a scene late in the film where the two girls have a confrontation, and to say it annihilates formula and brings the house down would be an understatement. Rather than beating you on the head with its message, the scene charms you into seeing the characters’ point of view as your own.
It becomes clear about halfway through the film which girl Sushant’s character will wind up with, but Sahni constantly plays with the character by making him choose unwisely, much to our amusement. We have all been in his situation, newly out of adolescence, eager to be adults and utterly bungling when it comes to love and it’s damn good to see ourselves portrayed so vividly on the big screen. Kudos, Messrs Sahni and Sharma. More please.