Marathi director Sameer Vidwans’s Hindi-language Satyaprem Ki Katha is billed as a true love story, a romance for the ages in which a man loves unconditionally and accepts his partner despite her dilemmas.

Written by Karan Shrikant Sharma, the movie has the kind of old-fashioned romance that the recent sleeper hit Zara Hatke Zara Bachke has made fashionable again. There is also a surfeit of songs (including a reworking of the Pakistani hit Pasoori), a social issue tucked into the drama, successful patches of comedy, pacing problems that drag down the narrative and a male saviour complex.

The loving between Satyaprem (Kartik Aaryan) and Katha (Kiara Advani) is initially one-sided. Having fallen for Katha at first sight, Satyaprem – unemployed, a self-declared virgin, locked into endless arguments with his mother (Supriya Pathak) and his sister (Shikha Talsania), and pally only with his empathetic father (Gajraj Rao) – is willing to wait for Katha to change her mind.

When Katha’s parents (Siddharth Randeria and Anuradha Patel) propose a match with Satyaprem, his dental work is on full display, Katha’s obvious reluctance notwithstanding. Their marital struggles have a lot to do with Katha’s past as well as the movie’s agenda to make Satyaprem go from “zero to hero” – to become the knight who will scoop his distressed damsel from the monster’s jaws and ride off into the sunset.

Gujju Pataka, Satyaprem Ki Katha (2023).

The film is set up to give Kartik Aaryan the lion’s share of memorable moments. Other key characters don’t go anywhere after being introduced, especially the couple’s fathers.

Channelling his bad boy image – which includes the unfiltered expression of impolite thoughts – as well revealing a tender side, Aaryan puts visible effort into his role. But Kiara Advani is more hard-working than Aaryan – and more efficient.

Advani’s sensitive, soulful Katha delivers her dialogue a few notches lower than her co-star, is effective in the serious moments, and affecting when she finally reveals her secret. Reuniting with Aaryan after Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, Advani displays further evidence of her growing confidence as well as her ability to quietly keep some of the thunder for herself.

There’s a noble cause behind the troubled marriage which, while sensitively handled, still demands that the hero take the initiative of releasing his heroine from her travails. Director Vidwans had explored a similar situation in his biopic Anandi Gopal, about one of the first women to study medicine in India. If Anandi’s husband practically bullies her into training to be a doctor, Satyaprem – more gently, it must be said – is the one nudging his beloved wife towards the light.

The movie isn’t called Katha Ki Satyaprem, after all. There are times when Kiara Advani makes you wish it was.

Satyaprem Ki Katha (2023).