Anand Tiwari’s Love Per Square Foot seeks comedy in the tragedy of Mumbai’s housing shortage. The direct-to-Netflix movie, written by Tiwari and Sumeet Vyas, unites two souls on a quest to buy an apartment in a city with some of the most expensive real estate on the planet. Mumbai measures housing dreams in square feet, and only its residents can understand the efforts of Sanjay (Vicky Kaushal) and Karina (Angira Dhar) to find a tiny apartment in the distant suburbs.
Sanjay works as a software engineer at a bank, and is involved with his married boss, Rashi (Alankrita Sahai). His railway announcer father (Raghubir Yadav) is on the verge of retirement, and his mother (Supriya Pathak Kapoor) is recommending marriage, unaware that her son is desperate to buy his own place so that he can try to persuade Rashi to leave her husband (Arunoday Singh).
Karina, who works in the same bank in the loan department, is stuck with the saintly Samuel (Kunaal Roy Kapur). Her cottage, where she lives with her widowed mother (Ratna Pathak Shah), is falling apart, and she wants to escape both her home and Samuel.
The stage is set for a marriage of convenience and a plot driven by contrivance. Neither Sanjay nor Karina can afford to buy an apartment on their own. Neither has heard of Mumbai’s numerous rental options. They decide to tie the knot in order to qualify for an affordable housing scheme that is open only to married couples.
The arrangement is less instrumentalist than the schemes of visa-seekers who enter into a sham marriage in the Hollywood movie Green Card, since early scenes have established that Sanjay and Karina have feelings for each other. But rather than allowing the couple to gradually heat it up, Tiwari sends them tumbling towards each other very quickly, only to periodically yank them back to drag out the story. The momentum and potential that are built up in the early scenes gradually fade away. The housing angle takes a back seat as Love Per Square Foot sallies forth into romcom territory.
The 133-minute film begins with promise, confidence, and a balance between dreams and the absurdity of their pursuit. Tiwari deftly sets up the various characters and creates many heartwarming scenes involving Sanjay’s parents and Karina’s mother. It helps that the casting is spot-on, and the leads are convincing young dreamers. Vicky Kaushal is impressive as Sanjay, and he conveys his character’s predicament with conviction. Angira Dhar comes into her own in the moments when Karina, disgusted with Sanjay’s dithering, decides to strike out on her own.
The latest exploration of Mumbai’s housing problem doesn’t lack ambition, but it doesn’t have bite or insight either. The obstacles that Vicky and Karina eventually face have more to do with their complicated relationship that the cruelties of the housing market. The real estate of the heart was better explored in such films from the 1970s and ’80s as Piya Ka Ghar, Gharonda and Kirayadar. The sequence in which Sanjay and Karina walk through their empty apartment and fantasise about how they will arrange the furniture is a direct tribute to Gharonda, while another set in a clinic is an echo of a moment in Mani Ratnam’s Mumbai-set O Kadhal Kanmani (2015).
Love Per Square Foot is far sunnier in its lookout than these older movies about Mumbai’s housing prospects. The light humour and fairy tale quality of the story keep the film from rattling off the rails. The endeavour has obvious limitations, but chemistry between the leads and the strong performances by the supporting cast help us ignore that.