Shiddat, one of whose meanings is undying dedication, is the latest ode to young and “true” love, the kind that involves extreme measures and the near-erasure of the self. One of its songs is even called Barbadiyaan: annihilation.

The best thing about Mahesh Bhatt alumnus Kunal Deshmukh’s overblown movie is the complete embodiment of this emotional state by its leading man. Sunny Kaushal enters Shiddat as a bratty wedding crasher and exits it on a note of grace, emerging as the film’s throbbing heart.

The screenplay, by Shridhar Raghavan and Dheeraj Kedarnath Rattan, sticks closely to the conventions of this kind of movie – one soul aches more than the other, it usually belongs to the male, and is therefore not only accepted but celebrated.

Hockey player Jaggi (Kaushal) falls for swimmer Kritika (Radhika Madan) at first sight – rather, he picks her as the object of his obsession and expects her to play along. Kritika’s dubious consent to Jaggi’s stalkerish behaviour is treated as a source of sexual frisson. Since Jaggi, when he isn’t mansplaining Kritika, oozes charm, good humour and has smooth dance moves, Kritika tolerates him but holds back on a full-on commitment.

Her reluctance is blamed on her impending wedding in London. If you can snatch me away from the altar, I will be yours, she callously tells Jaggi. He takes it seriously enough to make a perilous journey from India to England via France. In Paris, he meets Indian embassy staffer Gautam (Mohit Raina) who is determined to deport him back where he belongs.

Barbaadiyan, Shiddat (2021).

Screen romances are full of strange terms and conditions. Even stranger things come Jaggi’s way in the form of a never-sending series of obstacles as he marches towards his goal of snatching Kritika from her altar. Kritika’s ambivalent response to Jaggi’s uneven progress only fuels his flame. Whoever said no means no?

A throwback to the swooning romances of the 1990s, the Disney+ Hotstar release tries to water down some of the excesses of that decade. Despite her arms-length attitude towards Jaggi, Kritika gets away lightly. Nobody punishes her or lectures her for being a cruel and churlish so-and-so. The movie is so disinterested in Kritika that we spent nearly all our time in Sunny’s corner, with Gautam in the role of the coach who yells out feedback and encouragement.

The increasingly preposterous turn of events might have been even more laughable if Sunny Kaushal hadn’t played his scenes as though this were his very last movie. As a man in love with the very idea of love, Kaushal’s Jaggi gestures grandly and suffers admirably. The movie’s highs and lows are conveyed almost entirely by Kaushal’s whole-and-soul commitment to his character.

You have no idea how I am suffering, Kritika tells Jaggi. We have to take Kritika’s word for it. Miscast as an object of unbearable ardour, Radhika Madan struggles to make sense of an underwritten and opaque character in what turns out to be a Sunny Lone show – one heart, doing the work of two.

Kaushal is solidly backed by Mohit Raina. The encounters between Jaggi and Gautam are far more touching than the long-distance relationship between Jaggi and Kritika. The young couple’s turmoil runs parallel to Gautam’s own troubled marriage with Ira (Diana Penty).

Gautam and Ira have been too busy looking into each other’s eyes to acknowledge that he is a duty-bound government employee while she is an activist who bleeds for undocumented migrants. I love you but I don’t like you any more, Ira tells Gautam, filching a line from the Hollywood film One Day and putting the seal on Shiddat’s other odd coupling.

Shiddat (2021).