The fault, dear viewers, is not in our stars but in our caste names that determine the way our lives are likely to play out. Wikipedia has 200 pages devoted to a listing of castes in India, all at cross purposes with each other. No wonder Sanjay Lal Singh [Vikrant Massey] and Aditi Karwasra [Kriti Kharbanda] have their work cut out. He is a Rajput from Bihar; she a Jat from Rajasthan. Their family patriarchs are the kind who talk of killing at the minutest transgression that affects the family honour. (A garlanded portrait of Sanjay’s sister, who has run away with a man from another caste, hangs on the wall, hinting at her fate when the family catches up with her.)
If that seems like one of the dime-a-dozen stories of star-crossed lovers fighting caste and class in Hindi films, perish the thought. With the script germinating at the now-defunct AIB’s workshop, First Draft, political incorrectness is the byword here, which might gall viewers, given the issues at stake: belligerent patriarchy, upper-caste entitlement, even honour killing, horrifying realities of contemporary India, all of which are played for laughs. It’s, however, the absurdist note that makes the film work.
Cornered by their families’ intransigence, Sanjay and Aditi come up with a plan that would have done a Deven Varma character in a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film proud: get a couple of stage actors to play their parents. Enter Amay [Jameel Khan] and ‘Delhi ki Meryl Streep’ Zubina [Gauahar Khan], posing alternately as Sanjay’s and Aditi’s parents. And much like those plans panned out, this one too leads to much mirth and good-natured mayhem, including the need to conduct the marriage rituals twice over — the 14 pheres of the title.
The entire ensemble is in fine form. Vikrant and Kriti make a fetching couple — nice touch that, the girl as a senior in college and at the office they both work in, understated but telling. In a supporting cast that sparkles uniformly, Gauahar is a particular delight, stealing the show every time she is on screen. As does Priyanshu as Chotu, the Singhs’ family retainer, who raises a laugh consistently (his first sequence with Vikrant is a treat).
The hero of the film, however, is the writing. I rather enjoyed the short-hand the script uses to define its characters, even the minor ones. Note, for example, Aditi describing her uncle as ‘dimaag se thode paidal hain’ or mentioning her father’s aversion to love affairs even in films with a reference to his liking Titanic only when Jack Dawson starts to drown! Or for that matter the manner in which Amay is introduced as someone who looks neither a Rajput nor a Jat, while the camera pans over photographs of Sanjeev Kumar, Balraj Sahni, Dilip Kumar and Guru Dutt on a shelf. The script is peppered with observations that had me chuckling and the filmmakers keep the narrative grounded in irreverence right to the end — the climactic sequences at the second marriage (the ‘repeat telecast’ as a character observes) where chaos unfolds.
Just consider the way the director plays the reaction of the nakli baraat to the celebratory gunshots the bride’s family fires in the air — a hilarious take on a much-in-vogue yet deplorable ritual at marriages in north India. Or Aditi’s outraged and harried brother Vivek (played to perfection by Sumit Suri), who has for long smelt a rat, screaming, ‘Chhore ke maa-baap pe petrol daal,’ and the equally beleaguered goon responding, ‘Asli ya naqli?’ The film has the imagination to lace its take on patriarchy and dyed-in-the-wool traditions with satire.
Stay on till the end. The film’s funniest line — one that reminded me of ‘Nobody’s perfect’, the cult closing line in Some Like It Hot — comes right as the credits start rolling. For me, it was the icing on the cake. Don’t miss it.
Title: 14 Phere
Cast: Vikrant Massey, Kriti Kharbanda, Gauahar Khan, Jameel Khan, Priyanshu Singh, Sumit Suri
Director: Devanshu Singh
Screenplay: Manoj Kalwani
(Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is an award-winning publisher, editor and a film buff)
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