Is the condom movie now a thing? Are condom manufacturers secretly bankrolling films as a form of surrogate advertising?

Chhatriwali is the third Hindi production in as many years to emphasise the importance of using condoms. Like its predecessors Helmet (2021) and Janhit Mein Jaari (2022), the ZEE5 release uses humour to articulate the unmentionable.

The only job available to Karnal resident Sanya (Rakul Preet Singh) is as a quality controller in a condom factory. Owned by Ratan (Satish Kaushik), who believes that he isn’t running a business but is carrying out an important social service, Cando Condoms needs Sanya as much as she needs it.

Her relationship with her future husband Rishi (Sumeet Vyas) begins with a tiff. A full-scale war ensues when Rishi realises that Sanya doesn’t work at a company that makes umbrellas but instead rolls out protection from wayward showers. (Janhit Mein Jaari too used the brolly euphemism). Once the cat is out of the bag, Sanya must deal with Rishi’s anguish and the rage of his conservative brother Rajan (Rajesh Tailang).

Chhatriwali title track.

Tejas Prabha Vijay Deoskar directs a script by Sanchit Gupta and Priyadarshee Srivastava that begins well but then loses its way in a thicket of sermonising. The makers squander the promise of the early portions, which nicely lay out Sanya’s dreams, Ratan’s belief in his product, and the romance between Sanya and Rishi.

Like its peers, the film builds its argument by dragging in other social concerns. The lack of control of women over their bodies is represented by Nisha (Prachee Shah Paandya), whose husband treats condoms as a radioactive substance that threatens traditional values. Ignorance about condom usage is linked to poor sex education. Then there is the question of unwanted pregnancies.

We go from observational humour to classroom-level preaching. Although every character is defined by his or her attitude towards the condom, there is little scope to explore the value system that produces this kind of prissiness in the first place. A biology teacher who hates his sex-ed classes is surely a chauvinist, rather than merely embarrassed.

The advocacy of a condom revolution ignores the other revolution that transformed sexual behaviour – the invention of the contraceptive pill. There’s no reason one message has to be delivered at the cost of another. But by this point, Chhatriwali is fully seized by missionary zeal, ready to make condoms the stuff of breakfast conversation.

Perhaps the most neglected character is Ratan, beautifully played by Satish Kaushik. With his Beatles wig and floral shirts, Ratan is the film’s most effective charmer.

Had he been allowed to, this wise codger might have something to say about how he has been running his business for so many years. Chhatriwala, rather than Chhatriwali – the saga of a middle-aged gentleman who has been peddling the one thing in Karnal that nobody, not even the local chemist (Rakesh Bedi), wants – could have been a more interesting film.

Chhatriwali (2023).

Also read:

‘Helmet’ review: A trio of thieves comes up with a genius marketing campaign for condoms

‘Janhit Mein Jaari’ review: Riotous fun – until the public service messaging kicks in