Saturday Features

Pre-wedding blues

  • While the existence of films like Shashanka Ghosh’s new Veere Di Wedding is a good sign of the opening up of mainstream Bollywood to more female-focused stories, it’s nowhere near as subversive or entertaining as you may have hoped

Jun 9, 2018-

Walking out of Shashanka Ghosh’s new Veere Di Wedding, you might have the feeling of having just sat through one over-long, over-stretched commercial. I’m not even talking about the product placements that pop up with such ridiculous regularity throughout the film—some so blatant as to make you laugh out loud (watch out for those bhujiya plugs!). No, I’m referring to the film as product in the broader sense: While posturing as a story about the joys of sisterhood, and an examination of the changing prospects and problems of the urban Indian woman, what Veere is more interested in peddling, upon closer inspection, is retail therapy. Even as it tries to criticise the excesses of the big, fat Punjabi wedding, it pushes its own vapid materialism on audiences. So while the film’s existence is a good sign of the gradual opening up of mainstream Bollywood to more female-focused stories, it’s nowhere near as subversive, or even as entertaining, as the promos may have led you to hope.

Kalindi (Kareena Kapoor), Avni (Sonam Kapoor), Sakshi (Swara Bhaskar) and Meera (Shikha Talsania) had been a tight group in school, and though having gone down relatively different paths since, are today—in their twenties—still as close as ever. And a reunion is on the cards now that the Australia-dwelling (not to mention, commitment-phobic) Kalindi has just made the shocking announcement that she and boyfriend Rishabh (Sumeet Vyas) have decided to get married, an invitation for all to converge in Delhi.

Of course, they’re no longer the carefree schoolgirls of yore and each of their lives has gotten infinitely more complicated: Sakshi, not long off the altar herself, is headed for an ugly divorce; big-shot lawyer Avni is practically crumpling under pressure from her mother to find a man and settle down; Meera, meanwhile, has been unceremoniously disowned by her Sikh father for marrying a white man; and Kalindi has returned to India to find her own family in tatters, even as she struggles to make a good impression on her over-eager new in-laws. As the countdown begins, and lehengas and tiaras and silver crescent seating arrangements are picked out, Kalindi will need all the support her friends can offer her—if they’re not too distracted by their own dramas, that is—to plod successfully down the aisle.

Veere Di Wedding’s most obvious inspiration would be Sex and the City—from which it has practically drawn its template—although it does incorporate elements from other quarters of the Hollywood rom-com world as well. And that’s not a criticism per se: A desified version of Sex and the City could still have made for an exciting entry in commercial Hindi cinema as, if nothing else, a vehicle for frank discussions about sex and female desire, especially in an era plagued by prudish, scissor-happy censors.

To an extent, Ghosh’s film does give you some of what you came for. These girls are deliciously foul-mouthed and unfettered in talking about their sex lives, and props to Bhaskar in particular for tackling that self-love sequence with such admirable abandon. But most of these interjections and dialogues appear to be in the service of shock value rather than story—it’s outrageousness for outrageousness’ sake, and very cosmetic. It’s a problem that bugs Veere in its entirety, that superficial approach to insubordination, essentially equating empowerment to possession of a hip flask and having a cigarette dangling off your lips 24/7—all well and fine, but a very limited view, really, and more appropriate for the teenagers the foursome had once been. Bhaskar’s character suffers the most in this regard, rather a collection of clichéd ideas of rebelliousness than an actual flesh-and-blood person.

The same extends to the friendship between the women as it is shown here. Although the actors all try valiantly to invest their interactions with warmth—most successfully Bhaskar and Talsania who have great chemistry together—the camaraderie often feels very manufactured. For all its shortcomings, Sex and the City was able to at the very least communicate a strong foundation of loyalty between its main characters, rendering their actions more believable.

But though it tries to mimic that cheery chumminess, Veere is clearly more interested in the frills; despite endless glamorous scenes featuring pillow fights and pool fights and food fights (okay, I made that last one up, but it might as well have been in the film) to show just how much they enjoy each other’s company, you never truly get a sense of what actually holds these people together—apart from spontaneous getaways to Phuket, that is. A few sequences in which they’re just hanging out and talking are great, but these are few and far between, and outnumbered by over-zealous, over-produced BFF montages set to loud songs.

And for all its outward appearances of wanting to, if not smash, at least challenge the patriarchal status quo somewhat, you also notice that all the women in the film talk about very little besides the men in their lives—whether that be boyfriends, husbands, sons or fathers—their thoughts and concerns very much centred on these male characters. This feels more than a little counterproductive. One early scene in particular captures, in a nutshell, the shallow, exclusive brand of feminism that Veere totes: As Sonam Kapoor’s Avni escapes to her kitchen to take a breather from yet another of those potential-husband meet-and-greets that her mum has set up, she runs into her weeping housekeeper, her face blotchy and bruised. Avni berates the older woman for putting up with her husband’s abuse and righteously threatens to take him to court and help get the maid a divorce. All of which, however, is promptly dropped two seconds later when Avni gets a text from Kalindi about her engagement, setting off a happy scream session—even the maid appears to have forgotten her troubles at the good news.

Veere Di Wedding does have a few good turns—it’s occasionally funny, especially in the first half, it looks great, and it boasts a reliable cast. And of course, it’s not fair to blame the film for falling short on its feminist messaging just because we would like it to be more meaningfully socially conscious—it never made any promises of that sort on its part. But when a film where a slew of such talented actresses have snagged top billing comes around after such a long stretch, I’d been hoping for a much better show. I still am.

Veere Di Wedding

Director: Shashanka Ghosh

Actors: Kareena Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor,

Swara Bhaskar, Shikha Talsania

Genre: Romantic comedy

Published: 09-06-2018 08:21

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