June 1, 2018
Kareena Kapoor Khan, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, Swara Bhasker, Shikha Talsania, Sumeet Vyas, Vivek Mushran, Ayessha Raza, Manoj Pahwa, Anjum Rajabali, Ekavali Khanna, Sukesh Arora, Vishwas Kinni
I confess I set out to watch Veere Di Wedding with some trepidation. Honestly, I am exhausted from the parade of so-called ‘women-centric’ Bollywood films in recent years by directors who do not understand or care a fig about women but smelt an opportunity as the rights of our half of the population moved from the inner folds of newspapers to Page 1 and television prime time after the December 2012 Delhi gangrape. When feminism is a fad and a formula for you, not a conviction, obviously you will churn out empty vessels such as Akira or stereotypes like Tanu in the Tanu Weds Manu flicks.
Veere Di Wedding is none of that. Director Shashanka Ghosh’s new film is about real, relatable women. They fight everyday battles, laugh and cry by turns, trip and fall as human beings often do and pick themselves up each time, all the while defying not just social strictures but also Bollywood’s boring cliché of what constitutes a ‘strong woman’ that even good films like NH10 and Mardaani did not entirely shake off. In the world according to Hindi cinema’s aspiring or fake feminists, if a woman is tough, she must compulsorily smoke heavily, drink, swear incessantly and if possible, be sexually promiscuous – teetotalers in particular apparently do not count.
Thankfully, Shashanka Ghosh, his writers Nidhi Mehra and Mehul Suri are not faking anything. Their Kalindi, Avni, Sakshi and Meera are not trying to impress us with what other shallow minds have perceived as mardaani (masculine), hip habits worth striving for, nor are they founts of what is conventionally considered feminine virtue. They simply are who they are.
These are women with agency, flaws, humanity and, above all, a sense of humour they often turn on themselves. Their vocabulary and behaviour are not borrowed from American serials that are often tapped by unimaginative, mindless writers who see the US as the Mecca of coolth and liberalism. They speak and act like educated, city-bred, wealthy or middle-class Indian women might and do.
The bride and buddy (veer) in the wedding of the title is Kalindi (Kareena Kapoor Khan) who has returned home to Delhi from Australia with her boyfriend for what turns out to be a garish, extravagant shaadi that his parents insist on organising, ignoring the couple’s wishes. Kalindi’s prospective saas-sasur – wealthy, unsophisticated, conservative, smothering their son with affection and attention – are a sharp contrast to her suave father (Anjum Rajabali) with whom she has barely had a relationship since he married after her mother’s death.
Of course her wedding is incomplete without her childhood friends, each grappling with their own problems. Avni (Sonam Kapoor Ahuja) is a divorce lawyer who sees marriage and babies as the next step for herself though she does not appreciate her mother being on her case about it. Sakshi (Swara Bhasker) is a mess, a creature of unhealthy propensities who is dawdling about her millionaire parents’ home, refusing to tell them why she left London, dumping the man she had picked and married in a rush.
Meera (Shikha Talsania) loves her husband and baby, hates her over-sized physique, seems incapable of staying away from food and drink, but steers clear of the father who objected to her choice of life partner.
By the end of the film’s running time, life has changed significantly for each of the four.
Romantic comedies, not just in India, tend to underline the indispensability and inevitability of marriage, or at the very least a romantic relationship, in every individual’s journey. Veere Di Wedding is about having a choice at every turn. Its achievement is that it arrives at this point without any dialoguebaazi or overt effort at messaging.
There is a tendency in the liberal public discourse to dismiss the concerns of women like Kalindi, Avni, Sakshi and Meera because of their apparent privilege. Ghosh and his writers refuse to underplay their wealth, instead occasionally emphasising it, as with that scene where they exit a building housing some of Delhi’s most expensive clothing stores and one of them grumbles about the forbidding cost of designerwear. Sure, they visit designer outlets but that does not make their problems any less pressing or their stories any less worth telling.
Veere Di Wedding is impactful especially because the lead quartet are enjoying themselves even while their film remains an unapologetic commentary on the lives of women in this setting. They are funny, these four. Funnier still is the picture in my head of the notoriously narrow-minded Censor Board viewing Indian female characters openly speaking of masturbation and sexual droughts, and – Hey Bhagwan, hamari sanskriti ko koi bachaao! – de-romanticising motherhood, in addition to discussing careers, marriage and kids.
Yes, this happens. In a mainstream Hindi film.
Without appearing to strain a muscle, Ghosh and his writing team end up smashing more barriers with laughter than a million weepy, vacuous Akiras could. It’s enough to make you want to forgive them for repeatedly getting Sakshi to equate courage with having “balls”, and to forgive the producers for the surfeit of product placements in a single film, one for a car too in-your-face to be ignored.
Kareena delivers a neatly restrained performance as Kalindi. Sonam is sweet and equally convincing with her character’s confusions as with her ultimate decisiveness. Swara is born to comedy and takes to this glossy set-up – vastly different from the two wonderful, low-budget films she has headlined so far, Nil Battey Sannata and Anaarkali of Aarah – like a fish to water. Shikha is pleasant and as impactful here as she was in Wake Up Sid back in 2009. Remind me again why we do not see her more often in films?
The supporting cast includes a bunch of reliable actors. Their performances cannot be faulted though the writing of some of their characters leaves much to be desired. The rigmarole of anger, fights and misunderstandings between Kalindi, her father and uncle are not as well articulated as the rest of the story. Ekavali Khanna as Kalindi’s Dad’s second wife Paromita and Edward Sonnenblick as Meera’s husband are the worst hit – he is gora, she has a weird laugh, there is nothing more to either of them. C’mon.
This is not about screen time, but about depth and detail in brevity. Just that one scene in which Avni and her mother (Neena Gupta) have a heart to heart conversation tells us all that we need to know about the older lady and their relationship. Kalindi’s fiancé Rishab too is treated with empathy, and actor Sumeet Vyas fashions him into a congenial fellow.
I have heard some chatter describing Veere Di Wedding as “India’s answer to Sex and the City”. For god’s sake, do not undervalue this film. The women of Sex and the City may have been entertaining, but at the end of the day, let’s face it, these were their primary preoccupations: the next lay, the next boyfriend, a husband. Kalindi, Avni, Sakshi and Meera are far more forward thinking. What they do have in common with Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda is their hilarious frankness about subjects so far untouched by Bollywood and an endearing bond that is far more believable than the clingy relationships shared all these decades by numerous gentlemen yaars and dosts in Hindi cinema.
Shashanka Ghosh has already worked with Sonam in Khoobsurat, which introduced Fawad Khan to Bollywood. In Veere Di Wedding he proves yet again his ability to tell sensible, engaging stories about women without being painfully self-conscious about his sensitivity or their gender, without elevating female characters to devi status, but presenting them to the world as they/we are, as human beings, good and bad, with the ability to laugh our heads off even as we deal with the multiple challenges this damned male-dominated world and our own failings throw at us.
As lyricist Anvita Dutt puts it in Veere veere, which is part of the film’s soundtrack:
Hum to aise
Toote phoote se
Dham dhadaam se
Gir gaye muh ke bal yun
Humne socha hume to bhai sab pata hai
Mil rahi is galat faimi ki saza hai
(A rough précis: We are flawed. We have fallen flat on our faces as a result. We are suffering the consequences of having assumed that we know everything.)
Bless you Ghosh & Co for saying it like it is. Bless you ladies for signing up for this.
Rating (out of five stars): ***1/2
CBFC Rating (India):
A version of this review has also been published on Firstpost:
Poster courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/VDWTheFilm/