Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety hits Rs 100 cr: Luv Ranjan's film proves morality is not a yardstick of success
When you watch a Salman Khan film, you sign up for willing suspension of disbelief. Similarly, you can't go about demanding a Luv Ranjan film be the crusader of feminism.
Almost a month after its release, Luv Ranjan's 'bromantic comedy' Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety has managed to navigate its way into the coveted Rs 100 crore club. Its commercial output does not quite fall in line with the critical response as it received mixed reviews at best.
Truly UNSTOPPABLE... 💯 cr and counting... #SonuKeTituKiSweety marches into ₹ 100 cr Club... SECOND FILM to cross ₹ 100 cr mark in 2018, after #Padmaavat... [Week 4] Fri 1.27 cr, Sat 2.11 cr, Sun 2.32 cr, Mon 76 lakhs. Total: ₹ 100.10 cr. India biz... #SKTKS
— taran adarsh (@taran_adarsh) March 20, 2018
If the reason behind this gap, between critics' and audience's response, is deconstructed, one of the major reasons could be the lens through which both communities view the film. There has been a significant difference in the case of mainstream and parallel cinema too, in terms of how they have been received by the audience and the critics. While the audience reacts to cinema in an emotional capacity, critics go beyond and inspect the atmospherics, camera angles and other technical constituents of filmmaking.
But as the lines between parallel and mainstream cinema continue to blur with each passing day, the yardsticks by which these seemingly contrasting styles of cinema were judged are no longer different. The appeal of a hardcore commercial Salman Khan entertainer is being measured with the same instruments as say, an Aparna Sen slice-of-life film.
Hence, 'morality', which was never considered the barometer of commercial cinema, has now assumed greater significance, though only in the critics' circles. For the audience, cinema remains an escape to a world where morality plays second fiddle to emotional engagement.
Case in point: Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety.
Ranjan's latest was trashed by multiple critics for its misogynist indulgence. The past work of the filmmaker ceased to be a mere point of reference as fingers were pointed at the Pyaar Ka Punchnama franchise to suggest how Ranjan is injecting testosterone-charged toxicity in Hindi cinema. He was even targeted for thwarting the efforts of parallel forces of Hollywood's Time's Up movement and diluting women empowerment in Bollywood.
Several critics upheld Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety as a product of personal bias against women and as a female-bashing vehicle. They argued that the narrative was inherently skewed in favour of Kartik Aaryan's character which was an unfair advantage to that of Nushrat Bharucha in the story touted as Bromance vs Romance.
However, from Bromance vs Romance, the narrative was hammered into chauvinism vs feminism. The micro instance that the film featured was blown out of proportion and projected as a sample of a macro thought process. Critics questioned why the film was just not titled Pyaar Ka Punchnama 3.
In defense of the makers, while the characters of Pyaar Ka Punchnama were indeed promoted as victims of emotional manipulation by women, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety steered clear of being a vehicle of male propaganda. It was merely an engaging, and often hilarious, story of a heightened bromance and how a girl can shake things up as the third wheel. It was not intended to ostracise women from society but to merely show how the equation between two best buddies change when one of them falls in love.
The travesty is that the 'bromance' depicted in the film was labelled incestuous or bordering on homosexuality. While looking at the film through the lens of gender, Bharucha's character was called the victim (though she did admit in the film that her intentions are murky) and a friendship was painted in rainbow colours because, "Hey! Insecurity can only be a sign of romance, right?"
The box office collection of Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety proves that the audience does not echo the concerns of the critics. The fact that its earnings are spread across four weeks shows that the word of mouth had a crucial role to play in its trajectory. It is not the same case as a star-driven film which takes a giant leap on the opening day purely fueled by brand value and aggressive promotion.
Clearly, gender is the least of the audience's concern when they watch a film. Not that it should be; it is high time society is sensitive towards gender but to make it the whole and sole criterion of critique is a disservice to the art of filmmaking. Though a lot of critics claim that they are "the last person to view the film through the lens of gender", they end up eating their words by the time they reach the verdict.
Even if the film is laced with misogyny, it is the duty of a film critic to look beyond and assess the craft and entertainment quotient rather than just rating it on the morality meter. When you watch a Salman Khan film, you sign up for willing suspension of disbelief; you don't go about demanding logic. Similarly, you can't expect a Luv Ranjan film to be the crusader of feminism.
An interesting parallel can be drawn to Ryan Coogler's superhero flick Black Panther in the West. It has been upheld as a watershed film in terms of representation of the black community but is that the touchstone of its cinematic brilliance? Should it not be evaluated on merit? Isn't it a blanket statement to call a person who did not like Black Panther racist or a white sympathiser?
Another societal aspect that has permeated film criticism, particularly Bollywood, is class. With the nepotism debate catching fire last year, star kids have been reprimanded for dancing around the trees with a silver spoon in their mouths, and production houses have been trolled for launching actors having even remote connections with the industry.
For example, the mere announcement of Shashank Khaitan's upcoming romantic drama Dhadak was called a 'cringefest' because it will mark the debut of Ishaan Khatter (Shahid Kapoor's younger brother) and Janhvi Kapoor (Sridevi and Boney Kapoor's elder daughter) in the remake of Marathi hit Sairat. Allegations of modern day apartheid were leveled against Karan Johar's Dharma Productions for casting well-off star kids in the role of star-crossed lovers from backward classes.
Another raging societal evil that some film critics have vowed to expose is economic divide. Throughout their careers, Zoya Akhtar and Karan Johar have encountered the criticism of only making films for rich people. Zoya went on to clarify how her latest film, Dil Dhadakne Do, was indeed about rich people but not for them. Problems like familial discord are universal in nature and cut across classes.
Similarly, the feeling of male bonding, or 'bromance' as it is fashionably called today, is universal. Just like feminism is a feeling of equality, bromance is a feeling of camaraderie. To allege that women do not hold a place in the universe of Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety is like saying white people are barred from the world of Black Panther. The film may focus on one community but it celebrates ideals of equality and brotherhood (no, I refuse to call it sisterhood, just get the drill).
This writer does not intend to undermine a critics' intent to view cinema in a socio-economic context. The intention is to convey is the need to abstain from over-analysing. There is a good chance that cinema in bad taste will influence the viewer negatively. But criticism in bad taste runs a similar risk, since it puts unnecessary ideas into the viewer's head, that he may have missed out on while enjoying the film.
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