Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety and the male moviegoer: Why the film's a hit despite its 'anti-women' plot
Who were the people who propelled the low-key Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety to its high-profile box office position?
A little over a month since it came to Indian theatres, Luv Ranjan's Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety continues to do brisk box office business. Never mind that some critics found the film's portrayal of a 'bromance' and its representation of women paper-thin and unrealistic (Firstpost's critic Anna MM Vetticad called it 'a dreary woman-hate-fest cum unwitting gaymance') — audiences have chosen to watch it. The film has also ignited a lot of chatter online, blogs and social media posts reacting to its lens on relationships.
The monetary success of Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety (SKTKS; as of 20 March 2018, it had made over Rs 100 crore in collections) can be attributed to its low production cost — its cast had no A-list stars whose fees might inflate the budget, and the 'street credit' of director Luv Ranjan courtesy his Pyaar Ka Punchnama films.
So who were the people who propelled the low-key film to its high earnings? On speaking with filmgoing audiences, three insights emerged: First, not many women chose to watch it. Second, the Pyaar Ka Punchnama feel drew in men who chose to buy a ticket for SKTKS. Third, nearly everyone agrees that this is not a ‘review’ kind of film — meaning critics' opinions are not relevant to moviegoers' choice.
Here’s what some of the women we spoke with thought of the SKTKS phenomenon. “The film’s vibe is similar to the Pyaar Ka Punchnama films; much like lad lit reworked for the screen. It doesn’t speak to me now, but I can see why it engages so many young people that seem to be loving it,” said Teja Lele Desai, a journalist.
Desai succinctly summarises the prevalent female response to the film, online. As architect Dhwani Shah wrote on her blog: “The problem with the film is the re-affirmation it gives to men about the much-talked-about trope of ‘wily women’. It raises the larger question of the portrayal of a woman with agency.”
Unsurprisingly perhaps, men's take on the film differed.
Pune-based Vineet Srivastava, an assistant manager with a cellular network company, felt that Ranjan had accurately captured the trust issues some men have. "The lead character has major trust issues with women, which I think is wrong. For that particular character (Sweety), however, when he says she isn't genuine, I support him as the 'nice-ness' she shows become more and more fake over time," he says.
For Joby John, an assistant professor at DG Vaishnav College in Chennai, the bromance of SKTKS made the film easily relatable. He explained: “The film felt like a spin-off of the Pyaar Ka Punchnama movies. The bromance depicted is real, as I have experienced it myself. I have seen guys that are guided by friends or count on their opinions to break up with a girl. The film’s ending was humorous, if silly. I wouldn’t call it misogynistic, that’s too harsh a word to describe the film. I enjoyed SKTKS as it was funny."
The bromance was a major selling point for Mumbai-based investment banker Abhishek Balendran too. “I loved the movie. Honestly, the film might not work well with guys from Mumbai, Pune. It’s a typical North Indian story. The girl in the film has an upper hand, and how she manipulates the guy who is simpler — I could totally relate to it. We (my friends and I) have witnessed something similar. The manner in which the girl is depicted as villainous is exaggerated of course. She would probably never challenge the guy’s best friend in the real world. But the way she manipulates some events — that does happen. I found the film entertaining and relevant,” Balendran says.
Some men did find the film’s depiction of women as conniving, unpleasant. Arjun Veer Singh, a banking officer from Lucknow, told us: “Cerebral talk aside, the film fails to give a solid explanation as to why Kartik Aaryan's character hated Nushrat Bharucha's. A simple, logical reason is just missing from the film and the entire premise is based on this animosity. I think Luv Ranjan is done with his permutations and combinations between friends." Guwahati-based architect Pratip Bharadwaj also disliked the "extreme, one-sided portrayal" of women in SKTKS. “Like the Pyaar Ka Punchnama films, the fairer sex is portrayed through the eyes of a man who has screwed up multiple times in life!” he pointed out.
While thoughts about the portrayal of women in SKTKS may differ, what there seems to be a consensus over is that the Pyaar Ka Punchnama legacy gave this film a massive leg-up. Navneet Mundhra, movie buff, digital editor and fond of the Punchnama films, said, “The director is repeating the same template. One can interpret it as unabashed misogyny or simply exploiting the template that has brought him immense success. As for Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, it is pointedly one-sided and panders to men's base emotions. I wish there were some incisive jokes cracked at the expense of men too because men can be just as manipulative as — if not more than — women.”
Perhaps the best conclusion to be drawn from the SKTKS phenomenon is that audiences respond to a franchise-like film on autopilot. They watch it anyway. Most men, while having enjoyed the film, do concur that the film’s interpretation of women and relationships tends towards the superficial and unrealistic. This may indicate that in real life, there still exists a balanced attitude and empathy in relationships. Expectations remain real, even as the battle of sexes makes for decent reel entertainment.
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