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Entertainment

Updated on: Saturday, December 11, 2021, 06:11 PM IST

Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui review: Vaani Kapoor impresses in this unique love story

Based on a story idea by a mother of trans daughters, Simran Sahni, Abhishek Kapoor’s film is an important one in the Bollywood landscape, given that it’s probably the first that mainstreams a transwoman
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In a recent interaction with me, a leading actor said, in an entirely different context, ‘We no longer have cinema or stories, we have concepts.’ Watching Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, I was reminded of it. This is a ‘concept’ film headlined by that mascot of this increasingly popular sub-variety of contemporary Hindi films that use a judicious mix of entertainment and quirky social messaging to address our blind spots as a society, Ayushmann Khurrana. Though not driving the ‘concept’ here – that responsibility rests with the film’s truly class act, Vaani Kapoor – there’s no doubt that it’s his name on the marquee that gives the film its ‘it’ factor.

Manu Munjal (Ayushmann Khurrana) epitomises raw masculinity as a fitness-obsessed freak who owns a gym, appropriately titled Jatts Flex It, with twin brothers Riz and Jomo (Gourav Sharma and Gautam Sharma). His life is defined by protein shakes, bodybuilding and weightlifting routines, keto diets, and he is in the running for Chandigarh’s annual ‘Gabru of All Time Contest’ involving other testosterone-driven men of his ilk. So fixated is he with this world to the exclusion of all else that his sisters even wonder whether all is well with his libido. He has turned 30, you see, and to the dismay of his family, he is still unmarried. Enter Maanvi Brar (Vaani Kapoor), looking like she is in a fashion photoshoot, as a Zumba instructor, and Manu’s life turns all topsy-turvy, quite literally so.

It does not take too long for the fire to get going between the two as they have a lot of sex with a gusto that’s rather refreshing for coy Bollywood. But no sooner does he tell her, ‘Tum kuchh alag hi ho yaar – sabse juda’, than she confesses how different she really is. She is a transwoman, and someone like Manu cannot fathom what it implies to have fallen in love with, made love to, one. The rest of the film navigates the churning waters of this relationship as Manu questions his ‘normal’ notions of masculinity and gender and comes to an understanding of different realities. (He is even instructed on Shakespeare’s ‘A rose by any other name’ by a eunuch.)

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Based on a story idea by a mother of trans daughters, Simran Sahni, Abhishek Kapoor’s film is an important one in the Bollywood landscape, given that it’s probably the first that mainstreams a transwoman. And the effort is well served by Vaani’s nuanced and aching portrayal of a person the world refuses to accept as she is. The film’s best moments are those that deal with this anguish in Maanvi and the conflict in Manu, faced with her vulnerability and attempting to come to grips with her truth. Watch the exchange between the two, which ends with Vaani saying, ‘Tu gunda bann sakta hai to main bhi gundi bann sakti hoon’ and your heart reaches out to the character.

But, and it’s a big but, the film rarely gets out of generic tropes in making its point, and to compound matters, there are too many points it seems to be making. There’s a lesbian friend of Maanvi’s and a Hindu-Muslim romance involving Manu’s father, all of which are sought to be dealt with in typical Bollywood Punjabi’ hail-fellow-well-met’ hearty style.

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Post interval, the film gets into a lull. The screenplay becomes increasingly banal with plot contrivances aplenty (including one of Manu’s sisters eavesdropping on a doctor’s conversation to find out the truth about Maanvi). The film’s palette is all too colourful and loud, and we have little psychological understanding of the traumas that Maanvi may have undergone in her metamorphosis.

Also, that Maanvi does not lack for financial resources is a convenient scripting copout for the character. There’s no exploration of how someone less privileged would have dealt with a similar condition, not to mention the viciousness and cruelty that such marginalised people endure in the normal course, so brilliantly explored by Kaushik Ganguly in Nagarkirtan (2017). As it stands, the resolutions here are a tad too pat, simplistic and convenient. Nevertheless, Abhishek and his leads Ayushmann (getting his ‘kittos’ and ‘joombas’ spot-on) and Vaani need to be applauded for the effort. One only wishes it was a little less ‘concept’ and more radical.

TITLE: Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui

Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Vaani Kapoor, Kanwaljit Singh, Gourav Sharma, Gautam Sharma

Director: Abhishek Kapoor

Where: At a theatre near you

Rating: 3 stars

(Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is an award-winning publisher, editor and a film buff)

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Published on: Saturday, December 11, 2021, 06:11 PM IST
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