What happens when brash Chandigarh munda Manu Munjal (Khurrana), weightlifter, body-builder, protein-ingester, keto (pronounced, quite properly by such a one, ‘kitto’) dieter falls in lust with the very ‘soni Ambala kudi’ Maanvi Brar (Vaani Kapoor)? Well, for starters, lots of sex.
Yes, that very thing that too many Bollywood rom coms still act stupidly coy about. Full marks to Khurrana and Kapoor for going at each other with a great deal of enthusiasm, presenting us with a tangle of bodies which makes their energetic couplings quite convincing.
She is all legs and slender arms and gentle-swell-of-bosom; he is all bulging biceps, shaved sides of head, and a high ‘pony’. She is a Sector 4 type (Chandigarh denizens will get the in-joke; for the rest, ‘Sector 4’ is where the classy, cool, old-moneyed types live). She says Zumba, he says Joomba. He farts, she makes a delicate face. You get the drift.
While we are busy applauding this welcome exhibition of passion between two consenting adults, there’s a sudden spike in the works. Maanvi has a deep, dark secret, and once that comes tumbling out, harsh words are exchanged, and there is a rift in the lute.
Abhishek Kapoor’s film, which is about how love is love, hello gender fluidity, differences be damned, is on to something. Even in 2021, Bollywood prefers playing safe and keeping all tricky subjects at bay. On that score, getting in a trans person as romantic plot point is an act of courage. But Kapoor is also careful, one might say a little too careful, and wraps everything up in jokey stereotypy. But if you are so worried about potentially alienating your viewers, you are also likely to dilute the heft of your subject. So you go ahead and insert words like ‘chakka’ (ugh) so that you can get your hero to push back against it and feel very noble. But to use ‘paagalon ka doctor’ for psychiatrists? Really?
Manu is given two nosey sisters who are so heavy-handed about his welfare that you itch to tell them to shut up. He has a widowed father in love with a woman from, gasp, a minority religion: the film slips in a muttered line about Hindu-Musalmaan amity. He has not just one BFF, but two, twins who surround him with ‘faadu Punjabbi’ lines, all hearty and coarse. These are familiar elements into which you can insert the love with trans person angle, and wait with bated breath. Will we accept it? Or walk away from it?
Well, we have news. We grew up when Bollywood wasn’t looking. So while it’s brave that there can be a line like ‘aadmi wali shakal ki aurat’, for a woman who was a man before the sex-change operation, a mention of ‘bi’ people, a little speech on what constitutes ‘normal’, and the presence of a clearly butch person, the whole doesn’t really add up to a film with any surprises: you know exactly what will happen at each beat. The film does go down a path no mainstream Bollywood film has dared to, and yet comes off oddly generic.
Which is a pity. Kapoor himself knows how to mine a story: his ‘Kai Po Che’ is still a favourite. Khurrana, Chandigarh boy for real, is right at home in his bristly-brawny-softie Manu, Kapoor’s svelte certified physical trainer with a troubled past takes you back to the flash of promise she had shown in ‘Shuddh Desi Romance’: the film didn’t need so much overused stuffing because these two seem quite willing to go the mile. In the end, he is the macho man beating other muscle-bound men in a competition of full-blown testosterone; she is just another girl willing her man to bring the trophy home.
Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui movie cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Vaani Kapoor, Kanwaljeet
Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui movie director: Abhishek Kapoor
Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui movie rating: Two and a half stars