Comedy Couple movie review: Initially fun and fresh, but ultimately surface and flat take on unmarriagehood in Gurgaon
Comedy Couple starts out strong but then proceeds to show us long passages of Zoya and Deep doing things that Indian filmmakers seem to assume all cool couples do.
castShweta Basu Prasad, Saqib Saleem, Pooja Bedi, Rajesh Tailang, Pranay Manchanda, Aadar Malik, Jasmeet Singh Bhatia, Madhu Sachdeva, Subha Rajput
Comedy Couple is literally what the title suggests: the story of a young woman and man who perform stand-up comedy as a team in Gurgaon. The concept (a comedy team + Gurgaon) is uncommon for Bollywood. Comedy artistes have drawn the attention of Hindi filmmakers in recent years but unlike, say, Aditya Chopra’s Befikre where the hero’s stage routines were a sidelight and set in Paris, here the lead pair’s performances and the urban Indian location are at the front and centre of the script.
The important intersecting theme not revealed by the name is this: the protagonists, Zoya Batra and Deep Sharma, are living together in Gurgaon without being married. The pivotal conflict in the film arises not from their professional association but from societal intrusion in their personal relationship.
Director Nachiket Samant’s Comedy Couple starts out strong but then proceeds to show us long passages of Zoya and Deep doing things that Indian filmmakers seem to assume all cool couples do: savouring the breeze while sticking their heads out of a roofless moving vehicle, jumping on beds…you know the routine.
Be that as it may, the film gets many things right. It is funny (until the last half hour) but it does not trivialise the serious concerns at hand. Multiple issues arise in the narrative in a convincing fashion, almost all of them as they probably would in real life and not because there was a checklist of topics to tick off (an exception is a hint of a lesbian relationship towards the end that feels weird and contrived). The Hindi-English mix in the dialogues flows as it would in reality in this setting, unlike too many Bollywood films that struggle with English lines. And from little touches here and there – sample: the believable, fleeting allusion to anti-Muslim bias, for instance – you can see that Comedy Couple is not pretending to be progressive; it actually is.
The film opens with Zoya and Deep’s joint stage debut. They are an immediate hit, but their exultant mood is soon ruined when they are thrown out of their posh Gurgaon housing complex because they are not married. Life becomes an unending house-hunting spree because within the city’s giant, glitzy buildings reside small minds.
If you are wondering whether this account of Gurgaon’s conservatism is exaggerated, rest assured that it is not. Several co-ops and condos in this suburb of Delhi impose restrictions on bachelors and spinsters. I kid you not, the secretary of a cooperative group housing society once told me: “Dogs and single people are not allowed in this complex...” And in 2017, Hindustan Times reported that the residents’ welfare association (RWA) of a sprawling condominium decided not to rent out apartments to single tenants, especially men, while decreeing that single women would be allowed as tenants only with the consent of their parents.
In fact, in this matter, Comedy Couple is remarkably observant and accurate.
This detailing in the writing – credited to Bikas Ranjan Mishra (story), Kashyap Kapoor and Raghav Raj Kakker (screenplay & dialogues), Gaurav Sharma (additional screenplay & dialogues) – an easy storytelling style and the largely true-to-life storyline are among the many factors that keep Comedy Couple engaging.
Preventing it from making the leap to the “very good” category is its unwillingness to dig deep, intermittent dips in the narrative and the manner in which it gradually peters out post-interval after a sturdy first half.
Firstly, the whole thread about Zoya considering Deep an average guy struck me as odd. And towards the end, when the quality of his comedy suffers because of his emotional state, the writers seem not to have noticed that their script for Zoya’s stage shows too becomes sub-par and flat.
Zoya and Deep face numerous hardships because of their marital status, yet we never learn precisely what their opinion is on marriage, unless you count a passing comment he makes that they should marry only if there is a reason to do so.
The vibe given off by the film is that they are not particularly opposed to marriage and are likely to get around to it at some point. Fair enough, but considering that social policing of unmarried couples is the film’s central theme, you have to wonder why the audience must guess their opinion. Could it be that the writers themselves did not have clarity of thought on the matter? Or that they decided they would antagonise too many people if their characters were to clearly articulate an aversion to marriage? If indeed they were playing it safe, then the choice of topic seems pointless.
Another play-it-safe choice rears its head in the form of Zoya’s mother and friend, both of whom fit the stereotypical notion of feminism as being an anti-men ideology. Again, considering that the film defies other stereotypes, this too is disappointing.
At the heart of Comedy Couple’s defiance is Zoya’s free-spiritedness that does not conform to Bollywood’s current stereotype according to which a liberal woman is one who can out-drink most men, is a heavy smoker, possibly sexually promiscuous, foul-mouthed, brusque, even rude. I am not passing moral judgement on any of the above but simply pointing out that contrary to what Bollywood and anti-feminist propaganda suggest, Zoya – who does not fit this stereotype – is the norm, not an exception.
Playing her is an actor Bollywood will hopefully cast more often in future. Shweta Basu Prasad is a natural and with two films in the span of a month (Serious Men and this one) has proved to be a chameleon with her physical appearance for a role.
Saqib Saleem gives his Deep an easy charm and vulnerability. Of the rest of the cast, Pooja Bedi sticks out with her awkward acting as Zoya’s mother. In contrast, Rajesh Tailang fits in nicely as Deep’s Dad. The stand-out supporting actors are Pranay Manchanda as the couple’s agent and Jasmeet Singh Bhatia as their real-estate broker.
Comedy Couple bravely picks several relevant subjects to cover: social conservatism, freedom of expression, religious bigotry, violent fundamentalism, media sensationalism and more. A pity then that its initially fun and fresh tone gives way to an ultimately superficial take on its primary area of focus: unmarriagehood in Gurgaon.
Comedy Couple is streaming on ZEE5.
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