Comedy, Romance, Drama
SPOILERS, Please do not read if you’re avoiding spoilers. I go through the entire movie for English-speaking audiences so if you want any kind of surprise while watching, don’t read it. SPOILER.
For my first international film, I decided to take on a new Bollywood film that will undoubtedly be seen as historic and important. This is because the title, which comes from a classic song where a man sings about his girlfriend, is used here from a girl’s POV. Funnily enough, the film that featured that song starred Anil Kapoor and now his daughter stars as the leading star in this. It’s also one of the first mainstream LGBT bollywood films and stars several notable Bollywood stars including aforementioned father-daughter duo Sonam and Anil Kapoor and Juhi Chawla in a supporting role.
The story starts with Sweety (Sonam Kapoor) and Sahil’s (Rajkummar Rao) meet cute in a dark and dingy theatre in Delhi. Sahil is a struggling writer who is trying to put on a play at a small local theatre and Sweety happens to hide out there. An unknown man starts chasing her and Sahil helps her get away. This little scene ends with the unknown man and Sahil on the train, watching Sweety on the platform. As meet cutes go, it wasn’t bad. It was tense and comedic and light. Definitely a good start to the movie.
There’s quite a long while before the real point of the movie starts so I’ll summarise it. Sahil follows Sweety to her hometown somewhere in rural India where her family is attempting to get her married off. She’s obviously super gay but only her brother, the unknown man from before, knows and he disapproves. Her brother’s disappointment in her was one of the only serious and dramatic moments in the first half of the film. It’s probably representative of what people in India think of LGBT people, especially in rural areas so in that way, this film is very realistic in that it doesn’t shy away from what a typical audience member might feel (if they’re somehow watching this film without knowing what it’s about).
Eventually Sweety spills to Sahil that she’s gay, that she’s known she was a kid, that she was bullied in school for it. She also tells him that she has a girlfriend who is studying in Delhi. This whole scene was pivotal and very raw. This is one of the few scenes that Sonam Kapoor really acts her heart out. It’s similar to that one scene in Love, Simon. She tells him, she’s crying and it’s cathartic for her, and the audience, to have it spelled out so clearly. This was one of the areas where they handled it better than many English-speaking films do. I was pleasantly surprised at how accepting she already is of herself.
Sahil and Sweety then come up with a plan to do a meta play in their town, where the character is gay as a way to introduce the idea to her dad (Anil Kapoor). Typically, most Bollywood drama films can be split into the first half which is light, and funny like a comedy, and then the second part that is much more of a drama and is sad. This film could be seen like that but because of the play and the shenanigans they get up, it does still feel like a comedy despite the undercurrent of tension.
They also introduce Sweety’s girlfriend Kuhu (Regina Cassandra) at this point and this is one of my biggest issues with this film – that it barely shows their relationship. We get maybe one conversation between the two and it’s small talk. I was disappointed. I understand that this film is subverting the conventions and codes of indian culture and film just by having a LGBT person, and that perhaps it is the best way to warm up an audience but it feels like it’s really behind the times and that it was done in the most shallow way possible.
So they’re rehearsing for the play which is now in its final stages. Sweety and Sahil don’t discuss what their ultimate plan is, about what point they’re planning to share this with her dad but eventually her brother cracks and tells him. Her dad who has, up until this point, been the epitome of a supportive dad, shames her for it and tries to cancel the play. I could see it coming, just because it’s an Indian film but I was still surprised that that was his reaction. Like I said before, I get that the filmmakers are warming the audience up but it’s still so disappointing when I see that they had the chance to make, perhaps a fictional, but a better reality.
Sweety then takes a stand and says that the show is for all of the little kids who don’t see themselves on tv, those that don’t accept themselves, and those that aren’t accepted by others. On opening day, many of the audience members come to the realisation very slowly that it’s a gay love story. “Harold…”. Apparently this was supposed to reflect on how a typical audience would react and I thought it was pretty effective especially the quieter, more subtle moments when they were questioning it.
While Sweety’s character is delivering a soliloquy on stage, her father watches as she talks about her struggles and then comes the most melodramatic moment of the film – as another actor begins to beat Sweety and her girlfriend up, her father jumps onto stage and beats the actor up. And then comes a speech which was both expected and not. Her father comes around to the idea that his daughter is gay, and accepts both her and her girlfriend. There’s even several scenes where Sweety introduces Kuhu to other members of her family (an indication that they’ll be getting married). Awesome.
It sounds so far as if I enjoyed it, and I did. I do, however, have one big problem with it and that is that too much time is spent on Sahil and his POV. Pretty much everything is framed through his mind. How can you make a movie about someone and then feature a secondary character as the lead? It doesn’t make any sense. The film’s main storyline is Sweety’s relationship with her father but Sahil is undoubtedly a lead above them. Bottom line? I don’t care about him. At all.
And that is similar to another thing I had been misled about: this is obviously not a romantic film. It’s about Sweety and her father and yet all marketing pointed to it being a LGBT romantic film, including the title. It’s a little annoying that 1) it’s not what was advertised and 2) that particular thread doesn’t pick up until easily the halfway point.
In summary. It’s an important film to Indian Cinema but I want to get to the point where we can have a lesbian love story outside of any male POVs quicker. We’re not there yet.
Watch it: without any judgemental family members lol.