Vikas Bahl’s hopefully titled new movie is about as tidy as a jigsaw put together by an attention-deficit child: some bits fit together while others don’t, and the whole thing has patches of colour and brightness but an overall messy appearance.
Some of the unruliness is presumably deliberate and a result of the have-cake-will-also-eat approach that marked Queen, the filmmaker’s big hit from 2014. Queen was a formulaic coming-of-age story that coated its populist elements – song and dance sequences, slapstick comedy, identifiable middle-class characters – with the honesty and emotional heft that is usually found in indie productions.
The wedding-themed Shaandaar also tries to tie a knot between indie sensibilities and Bollywood compulsions. Bahl and co-writer Chaitally Parmar present a grand wedding cake and then proceed to lather it all over the faces of their guests. Shaandaar is supposed to be a wicked, sly, irreverent and subversive stoner comedy that celebrates as well as sends up wedding movies, but like the characters who get intoxicated on a combination of actual brownies and actual mushrooms, it suffers from a literal-minded and often infantile treatment.
The dialogue has the welcome quality of casual banter, and Bahl creates an improvisational feel in several sequences, But he also makes ill-judged stabs at magic realism. The opening sequence, a clunky animation sequence fit for a children’s cartoon network show, sends out an early warning sign that this fairy tale doesn’t ever want to grow up.
The plot revolves around the nuptials between a Punjabi bride and a Sindhi groom, which is being held in one of those English castles that probably hosted nobility in the past and now has to suffer the ignominy of serving as yet another location for a Bollywood destination wedding. The Arora clan’s matriarch (Sushma Seth) has decreed that her plump granddaughter Isha (Sanah Kapoor) will marry the permanently bare-chested Robin (Vikas Verma), the scion of a stereotypical bling-addicted Sindhi family. Not that the Aroras can be mistaken for classy. The wedding is actually a business deal, and Isha’s put-upon father Bipin (Pankaj Kapoor) has no choice but to go along with the arrangement.
Bipin has another daughter Alia (Alia Bhatt), a foundling he adopted many years ago, but who never found favour with her grandmother or foster mother. Shed no tears for Alia, since she has been modelled on air-headed and plastic characters played by Zooey Deschanel and Kirsten Dunst in Hollywood and is therefore carefree, Bohemian, and incapable of expressing real emotions.
Alia’s reaction to the truth about her parentage is telling. “This is so cool! I’m illegitimate. It’s better than being adopted!” she exults. Quite.
The real contest is between Bipin and wedding organiser Jagjinder (Shahid Kapoor), who has fallen for Alia, and the frequent verbal jousts between the real-life father and son add sparkle to otherwise shopworn material. U-rated flickers of desire also fly between Jagjinder and Alia, but although he catches her skinny-dipping and they bond over their common problem of insomnia, their romance is about as controversial as a blank sheet of paper.
The 146-minute movie proceeds in a jerky and slapdash fashion, and only a few sequences hit the mark. Most of the comedy seems to be in the form of one big private joke that does not travel beyond the borders of the set. In a meta sequence featuring one of Shaandaar’s producers, Karan Johar appears as a guest at a pre-wedding ceremony who conducts a mock conversation between Isha and Robin. The “Mehndi with Karan” sequence is supposed to send up Johar’s popular television chat show Koffee with Karan as well as his own grandiloquent movies. A clever idea but clumsily handled, like so much else in Shaandaar.