Raghu (Sushant Singh Rajput) is a young man from a small Indian town who falls in love with Gayatri (Parineeti Chopra), a young confident woman.
Shuddh Desi Romance contains some tonal shifts that set it apart from the established tropes of contemporary Bollywood romantic comedies. Before descending into the genre’s typically overstated melodrama, Maneesh Sharma’s pretty, personable film tackles some real modern issues facing Gen-Y Indians.
come the third act, commercial concerns take over and things turn rote
Jaideep Sahni’s script takes a slightly edgier perspective on 20-something love and commitment than most Bollywood (and many Hollywood) comedies. For most of its running time, the story of marriage-shy, wedding-day bolter Raghu (Sushant Singh Rajput, likable if a bit one-note) and his ongoing romantic triangle between the bride he spurned (the stunning Vaani Kapoor) and the bride who spurned him (Parineeti Chopra, channelling Julia Louis-Dreyfuss in an adorable, strong-willed performance) is sweet, smart and engaging. But come the third act, commercial concerns take over and things turn rote.
Sharma (Band Baaja Baaraat) enlivens the rom-com formula by having his three leads break the fourth wall to discuss their lives and romantic thoughts directly to the audience. It’s always a tough concept to pull off, as it exposes the characters as the unreal constructs they are and upsets the narrative flow, but the director and his cast nail it on the back of some terrific writing from Sahni, a well-established lyricist who occasionally turns to scripting. (This is his first screenplay since 2009’s Rocket Singh: Salesmen of the Year.)
Rajput’s Raghu is that staple of the modern romantic comedy, the man-child who loves the romance and accompanying sex (as suggested by much mutual chain-smoking) but flees in horror when it comes to fulfilling his responsibility in a relationship. His about-face on all matters matrimonial after becoming infatuated with the equally commitment-phobic Chopra’s Gaytari never convinces, but the scenes of them building domestic bliss and sharing insecurities are sweet and honestly handled.
Post-interval, the film settles back into that coincidence-heavy, all-too-naff paradigm that the lazier rom-coms rely upon. Raghu’s exes collide at a wedding of all places; all three principals have dewey-eyed and/or awkwardly comic screen time together. Gone are all the insightful smarts of the first act. The feisty Gaytari is done the greatest disservice, transforming from a strong, independent woman to a simpering, damaged damsel-in-distress; the film misses her presence immeasurably.
The aged voice of wisdom so crucial to the film’s didactic streak is supplied by the inestimable Rishi Kapoor as Raghu’s self-appointed romantic advisor, Goyel. The veteran character actor’s presence proves invaluable to the production, drawing well-timed laughs and nice sentiment at crucial moments.