Shubh Mangal Saavdhan: Celluloid Apology For Erectile Dysfunction
SHOMA A. CHATTERJI
I honestly did not know that this phrase existed in any vocabulary for a long time though I did know that under certain circumstances, some men, and in many circumstances, some other men could not “get it up.” “Get what up?” I can hear you ask. You will never get to know even if you watch the entire film Shubh Mangal Saavdhan.
Not once has the phrase “erectile dysfunction” been uttered throughout the film. I do not know how it would translate in Hindi but I do know that huge billboards put up in strategic corners of every city in India loudly claim that some clinical dispensaries and doctors can easily cure a man suffering from ‘erectile dysfunction.’ Today, even a child knows what it means because precocious children – which child is NOT precocious now - , juveniles and youngsters would have tapped into the NET at once on their mobiles and I-phones and pads to find out what the term meant.
R.S. Prasanna who has directed the film on the basis of the success of his original southern film, decided to make in Hindi. The film is about Mudit Sharma a young man who is into marketing and sales (Ayushmann Khurana). He is happily engaged to be married to Sughandha, a pretty young woman (Bhoomi Pednekar). He discovers to his shock that at the penultimate minute, while romancing with his fiancée, he cannot “get it up.” By then however, his fiancée, a very aggressive and bold only child of her parents with a mind of her own, has fallen head-over-heels in love with this very shy boy.
They had met several times earlier and had begun to like each other too. But boy was too shy to profess his love and decided to propose ‘online’ to her parents. The marriage is fixed but it will take place in Haridwar and the love story is often punctured by the ‘performance anxiety’ the young Mudit Sharma suffers from. The two families – the girl’s extended family and the boy’s parents seem to have been caught in a virtual earthquake right in the middle of the wedding preparations – sangeet, mehndi and the works, turning the entire film into a very post-modern and over-the-top version of Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, albeit, with a lot of salt and tamarind and hot chilli pickle replacing the sugar syrup and orange juice in the Rajashri Films ‘toothpaste-ad wedding album’ HAHK.
Shubh Mangal Saavdhan too, is a delightfully entertaining wedding album in motion setting fire to the dialogue which does not explain what “hua?” “Hua!” “Nahin Hua!” mean. The phrase that is repeated ad infinitum like a stupid metaphor is “gents’ problem.” What is this “gents’ problem” pray? Gents can have so many problems with their prostrate, their libidos, their bodies, their speech, their voice, their beards and moustaches none of which can be given the very general label of “gents’ problem.”
But the director and his team were probably panic stricken by the very thought that the film would be censored by a board headed by the double-standard chairperson Pehlaj Nihalani Sahab who did not quite care for the term ‘sexual intercourse’ to be used in another film. Nihalani was shunted out almost around the day the film was released. But how would they know this would happen? So, “gents’ problem” seemed to be a safer bet though it might have gone over the heads of some in the audience.
The film is set within the Punjabi ambience by conscious design because sex is not as taboo between and among family members, friends and relatives as it is in several other parts of India, modernization and globalization notwithstanding. But the word ‘sex’ is also never uttered though the insinuations are suggestive enough to sound more shocking and sometimes even cruder than the “s” word would have sounded. It is perhaps only in the northern states of India that mothers and daughters and friends talk about “these things” openly but with juvenile allegories like “Will Ali Baba reach the mouth of the cave?” and such like.
Even Sugandha tells her mother, “you can say so many things but you cannot even come down to using the word ‘sex’ can you?” All this is very funny and entertaining and fine if you can really follow the double entendres and the far-fetched, crude allegories but after a point, they begin to go right over the top.
That said, the film also makes an argument for the woman’s point of view. Sugandha keeps insisting that she will marry only Mudit and never mind whether he has that “gents’ problem” or not. She also asks Mudit after they come out of their “hua” episode right in the middle of the wedding preparations, how he can assume that she has also got “it” or not? The film that perhaps aspired to be a sex comedy targeted to an adult audience turns out to become a watered down version of what initially claimed to be a milestone film on the taboo subject of erectile dysfunction.
There are just too many concocted ‘twists’ towards the end such as Mudit’s former girlfriend suddenly appearing in the wedding scenario and jumping on him with references to their suggestive ‘past’ and Sugandha catching them together to make two and two to add to five. She walks out of the wedding mansion while Mudit offers to marry a tree in her place so that the ‘evil eye’ that dogs their marriage can be done away with!
A film that professes to be aimed at talking about a taboo subject actually shows Mudit walking around the holy fire to marry a tree! He then walks out, follows his sweetheart who is atop a trolley car on a ropeway and jumps right onto it hanging on its edge as it totters dangerously. Everything ends happily ever after but the audience would have been happier had it ended much before it really did. The songs are one too many sort of reasoned out by the wedding merriment and festive air. The jet-like editing spanning the roads towards Haridwar to reach out to the wedding festivities adds colour and variety to the narrative that otherwise gets stuck in a groove.
What save the film are the sparkling performances of every single member of the cast. On the director’s say-so, they tended to become a bit overloaded on double entendres in dialogue and in suggestive nuances that dared not go beyond being just that – suggestive nuances. Mudit in the end, also raises his voice to firmly insist that manliness is not confined to the loins but lies much beyond that. “Being a man is not to hurt anyone. It also means not to hurt the one you love and to protect the one you love from getting hurt.” Hear, hear boys who are suffering from “Performance Anxiety” momentary, temporary or otherwise. Shubh Mangal Saavdhan is at best a celluloid apology for entertainment with ‘erectile dysfunction’ as the red herring to pull in a full house which it is really doing!