Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari movie review: Funny and political, though not as sharp and mature as it wants to be
Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari is funny – very funny – up to a point. It is also intermittently political, but the commentary is occasionally conflicted, contradictory and/or too fleeting to have an impact.
castDiljit Dosanjh, Manoj Bajpayee, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Manuj Sharma, Supriya Pilgaonkar, Seema Pahwa, Manoj Pahwa, Neha Pendse, Annu Kapoor, Vijay Raaz, Neeraj Sood, Cameos: Karishma Tanna And Abhishek Banerjee
Language: Hindi with some Marathi
Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari (SPMB) is set in “Bombay 1995”. The year and the city name appearing in text on screen right at the start of the film are significant, since 1995 is when this metropolis officially reverted to its old Marathi name, Mumbai, from Bombay, the title given to it by European colonisers. The reversion has unfortunately been tainted forever because it was primarily driven by the far right Shiv Sena, a political party with a history of attacking non-Maharashtrians in the city and espousing an aggressive Marathi nationalism. The name change itself is perennially associated in the public mindscape with threats and violence – by Shiv Sena and its offshoot, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena – aimed at ordinary citizens and artists who have used “Bombay” in formal and informal discussions or in their works.
“Bombay 1995”, therefore, is not the kick it might otherwise have been on the bottoms of former European Empires. Instead, it announces SPMB’s intent to bat for migrants who made Bombay/Mumbai/Bambai/Mambai their home and to take a stand against xenophobia. It is a declaration that this film plans to be political.
Abhishek Sharma’s SPMB opens in “Bombay 1995” with a Sikh dairy business owner shooting a video to attract prospective brides. Suraj Singh Dhillon (Diljit Dosanjh) wears a turban and speaks Hindi with a heavy Punjabi accent, thus doubly announcing his “outsider” status.
In another part of the city, Madhu Mangal Rane (Manoj Bajpayee) runs a detective agency for families who want prospective grooms vetted.
Their lives collide when Madhu’s snooping ends up nixing a marriage proposal that Suraj was keen on. Suraj vows revenge. Hence the title, a play on the adverse effect of Mars/Mangal on astrological charts and literally, a play on the protagonists’ names.
SPMB is well begun. It is funny. It is not loud. Javed-Mohsin’s 'Basanti' is a catchy, danceable song. The writers (story credited to Shokhi Banerjee, screenplay and dialogues: Rohan Shankar) ensure that the film’s humour is not crude as too many Bollywood comedies have been in recent decades. And Dosanjh is charming as ever.
Somewhere in the journey between concept and execution though, the obvious early goal of being politically astute gets diluted. Not only do the snatches of political commentary dotting the narrative become sparse as the film rolls along, they are also occasionally conflicted, contradictory and/or too fleeting to have an impact.
For instance, from the opening shot, hints are dropped here and there to drive home the point that “Bombay 1995” was specified with a purpose and the anti-outsider movement is referenced more than once, even coming up in the final conversation between Suraj and Madhu, but it is not explored with any depth. Besides, there is no indication that the Dhillons – a family originally from Moga in Punjab – have suffered any intolerance in Maharashtra. Certainly Madhu’s antagonism towards Suraj has nothing to do with the latter being a Punjabi Sikh.
We are pointedly told that Madhu subscribes to Saamna, a Marathi newspaper widely identified as a mouthpiece of the Shiv Sena. Yet he gives little evidence of being parochial or a xenophobe until the very last line he speaks in the film. The issue is treated too superficially to mean anything much.
In the video he shoots at the start, Suraj says he is looking for a wife “jo Mummy ko kitchen mein ghusne na de aur pati ko bedroom mein se nikalne na de” (who will not let my mother enter the kitchen or let her husband leave the bedroom). Read: a housemaid for the family and lots of sex for himself. He adds: “Mujhe talaash hai ek aisi pativrata ladki ki jo Karva Chauth ko pyaasi rahegi aur Vrat Purnima ko bhooki rehke meri lambi umar ki duaa karein” (I am searching for a wife who will observe Karva Chauth and Vrat Purnima to pray for my long life). Later, we see the woman he falls in love with telling a potential groom and his parents that she will not give up her profession and that they will have to hire help to wash dishes and clothes in their house. Though she doesn’t specifically discuss these matters with Suraj, to all appearances he seems to accept her as she is and support her career dreams, but since there is no depiction of a progression and evolution in his values, the point is lost. Patriarchal men don’t magically change just because they have met a hot woman, so what was that about?
For a film that seems to be positioning itself as progressive, it is also odd to hear sexist, ageist comments directed more than once – albeit in passing – at Madhu’s mother and the clients at her beauty parlour. Worse, while these may have been conscious choices, it seems not to have occurred to the writers that a character repeatedly described as “strange” probably suffers from OCD – there has been too much awareness-building by mental-health experts and the news media in recent years for any filmmaker to argue ignorance as an excuse for such casual treatment.
In an intentionally crass film, these elements would not have been as disappointing as they are in a film that seems determined to deliver intelligent humour. Nor does this alter the fact that large parts of Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari are genuinely entertaining.
The cast is filled with artistes who have a solid track record, but Dosanjh gets SPMB’s best lines and delivers the best comedic performance, overshadowing even a veteran like Bajpayee who gets equal space in the script. Supriya Pilgaonkar playing Madhu’s mother and Manuj Sharma as Suraj’s friend are as adorable as Dosanjh in the film, and I do wish they had been given more to do.
Director Abhishek Sharma’s calling card so far is 2010’s sleeper hit Tere Bin Laden, a kookie political satire starring Ali Zafar and Pradhuman Singh as an Osama lookalike. That he has an innate knack for comedy is evident from SPMB’s climax in which he pays tribute to Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’s iconic, silly, melodramatic train-chasing finale but also turns it on its head.
So yes, SPMB is funny – very funny – up to a point. It is also intermittently political, inconsistent and not half as sharp as it set out to be.
Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari will release in theatres this Sunday on 15 November.
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