The title of Laxman Utekar’s new film is taken from the lyrics of the unofficial Mumbai anthem Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. There are times when Zara Hatke Zara Bachke resembles a type of movie that the megapolis regularly inspires: the housing crisis drama.
Vicky Kaushal, who co-stars with Sara Ali Khan in Zara Hatke Zara Bachke, already has one such production to his credit. In Love Per Square Foot, Kaushal’s character enters into a marriage of convenience so that he may have a roof over his head.
A different game is afoot in the new movie, this time in Indore. Blissfully married Kapil (Kaushal) and Somya (Khan) manage to snatch snuggles when the rest of their extended family isn’t looking – which is rare. Things haven’t changed much since 1972’s Piya Ka Ghar, in which a newly married couple struggle to consummate their union in a small house shared with other family members.
If a fake marriage drove Love Per Square Foot, it’s Divorce Time for Kapil and Somya. A trumped-up legal separation, they hope, will solve their real-estate challenges.
The surprises are few. The slapstick humour is as familiar as the milieu (North Indian, middle-class, upper-caste, conveniently conservative, aspirational, eccentric). The screenplay, by Maitrey Bajpai and Ramiz Ilham Khan, is filled with jokes that need to be accompanied by furious physical acts from them to register – the offenders include Kapil’s lawyer friend (Himanshu Kohli), who resembles a drug dealer rather than a legal eagle, and Kapil’s permanently hysterical aunt (Kanupriya Pandit).
There are other characters and moments we have met before – the small-town fixer (Inaamulhaq), the servile security guard with a sad-sack story (Sharib Hashmi). In a more sharply written and less charitable film, the willingness of Kapil and Somya to participate in a con, and Kapil’s parsimony, which inevitably affects people poorer than him, might have provided better scaffolding for a skeletal plot.
Among the actors most comfortable in the always loud and frequently grating set-up is Vicky Kaushal. This likeable performer turns on the lovey-dovey charm and has a moving scene-stealing moment all to himself, which gives Zara Hatke Zara Bachke a semblance of a purpose.
But it’s back to buffoonery soon after. Laxman Utekar’s previous credits include Luka Chuppi, about a live-in couple who pretends to be married after their respective families keel over in shock. That film handled wild tonal shifts much better than Zara Hatke Zara Bachke, which ducks and dives once too often.