“Old-fashioned love stories need an update,” sings a character in Husband Material (Manmarziyaan), and this thought kick-starts director Anurag Kashyap’s rollicking if predictable rom-com, where all the expected notes are hit up to the guaranteed happy ending. Unlike the director’s gangster epic Gangs of Wasseypur or even his recent boxer drama, The Brawler, it lacks the critical attitude and sustained invention to hold the attention over a long-winded two-and-a-half hours. A social critique regarding women’s position in society flows underground, and ultimately the pic seems aimed at local under-30-year-olds who have a stake in updating traditional Indian attitudes to love, sex and marriage.
The most enjoyable thing about the film is its three-cornered cast: rising star Vicky Kaushal, Bollywood star Abhishek Bachchan and the irrepressible Taapsee Pannu, who provides the onscreen chemistry that links characters who are polar opposites. Of course, the guys have a few things in common: They’re both extremely good-looking, well-built and charming. The only piddling difference is that Vicky (Kaushal) is a flamboyant DJ and Robbie (Bachchan) is an introspective banker.
Good-humored mainstream sans surprise.
To say Rummi’s (Pannu) choice finally boils down to sex vs. security would be to skip all the nuances and steps that take her (and the audience) from A to Z. Just the thought that a young Indian woman could be free to choose between two such hunks seems like a radical, liberating idea in the traditional Punjabi society to which she belongs and probably an actuality only in romantic fiction.
An orphan, Rummi was brought up in the closely knit Sikh community of Amritsar by her aunt and her dignified grandfather. They own and run a musty but busy sports equipment store, and Rummi is known as “the hockey girl,” despite the fact she stopped playing ages ago. That same rambunctious physicality is strong in Vicky, too, as he leaps over the rooftops of the old town with his red Jim Morrison t-shirt and shaved hair to tryst in her room.
They make love loudly and without great precautions (significantly, Rummi mentions in passing an abortion), heedless of what anyone thinks. That’s how they get caught by Rummi’s aunt.
They give the girl two options: Either Vicky marries her, or she marries someone they pick. The cocky Rummi, overconfident of Vicky’s love, readily agrees because she doesn’t know that, for all his attention and real feeling for her, he can’t commit. When she asks him point blank to marry her, he first blanches, then agrees, then doesn’t show up to talk to her family. Vicky may jump over terraces to make wild love to her twice a day, but the boy has no sense of responsibility.
Option two. Robbie returns from London, where he has been working in a bank, to find a girl to marry and settle down with. As he emerges from the airport, he solemnly ties a turban around his head. His parents consult the fast-talking local marriage broker Kaka (Saurabh Sachdeva) who proposes either Rummi, a spicy girl from a hockey family, or a pretty, demure dentist from a dentist family. It is rare to have sympathy for a sharpie like Kaka, but he soon finds himself in such a tight spot that you feel sorry for him.
In the film’s second part, Robbie moves to center stage. He prefers the problematic Rummi, and for that we instantly like him. He’s the reassuring type, a man of wise eyes and few words, mature enough to give her all the time she needs to put Vicky out of her mind. He tries to win her over with gentle persuasion and respectful advances, but she regularly douses the flames of eternal love. Worse, they start engaging in the kind of silly, sincere psychology (“We have to move on. Don’t hate me”) that stops the fun in its tracks. When he catches her with Vicky and misinterprets the situation, it’s the final straw; you expect him to dump her with a cruel, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Kashyap doesn’t get the mood back on track until the final reckoning between Robbie and Rumi, a cliffhanger filmed like two gunslingers squaring off at the OK Corral. So things end well, but one wishes the whole story could have been told much more concisely, avoiding the tedious back-and-forth and changes of mind that characterize real life.
As one expects from a director who pays attention to detail, there is a concentration of imagination in the tech credits. Classy photography and production design vie with snappy Bollywood-style editing and glorious wardrobe and music choices that are never boring.
Production companies: Colour Yellow Productions
Cast: Tapsee Pannu, Vicky Kaushal, Abhishek Bachchan, Abdul Quadir Amin, Gaurav Amlani, Ashnoor Kaur, Saurabh Sachdeva, Sukhmani Sadana
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Screenwriter: Kanika Dhillon
Producer: Aanand L. Rai
Executive producers: Kanupriya Singh, Ajay G. Rai
Director of photography: Sylvester Fonseca
Production designer: Meghna Gandhi
Costume designer: Prashant Sawant
Editor: Aarti Bajaj
Music: Amit Trivedi
Casting director: Mukesh Chhabra
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Gala Presentation)
World sales: Eros International USA