Harish Vyas’s Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain is billed as an offbeat love story, about the distance that inevitably develops in the phase that’s supposed to be “happily ever after”. Postal department employee Yashwant (Sanjay Mishra) and his wife Kiran (Ekavali Khanna) have a decidedly one-sided relationship. He doesn’t care for her feelings, so long as she packs his lunch, supplies him ice for his evening drink and jumps at his every bark. She suffers his noxious behaviour in silence, except for rolling her eyes every now and then. She breaks only when her spirited daughter Preeti (Shivani Raghuvanshi) points out that the marriage is as alive as one of the corpses that floats in the waters outside their ancestral Varanasi home (or at least, that’s the drift).

But Yashwant is inspired to crack through his crustiness thanks to a sub-plot involving Feroz (Pankaj Tripathi) and his ailing wife Suman. We fell in love before marriage and our love for each other only grew afterwards, Feroz tells Yashwant in the way that only Pankaj Tripathi can. Yashwant is a changed man. With some help from Preeti and her recently acquired husband Jugnu (Anshuman Jha), he fishes out his pink shirt and tries to slide into the mood for love. At this point, the 108-minute screenplay, by Vyas and Aryan Saha, shifts gears into light comedy. But the damage has been done.

Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain (2018).

Is the marriage actually worth saving? Should Kiran, a knockout slumming it out as a Varanasi housewife, continue to bat her lashes at the older Yashwant, with his beer belly, brusque manner and lack of masculine charms? Sanjay Mishra is perfectly cast as the rude husband but miscast as the spouse trying to channel his inner Shah Rukh Khan, just as Ekavali Khanna never gets under the skin of her docile doormat character.

The cruelty in some of Yashwant’s declarations is breathtaking. When Kiran talks of leaving home, Yashwant reminds her that he hasn’t asked her to pay rent and that she can go to hell. His behaviour reeks of abuse rather than the emotional repression typical of a certain kind of Indian male. Yet, the filmmakers find redemptive excuses for his toxicity.

Some scenes and characters land on target. Pankaj Tripathi has a lovely cameo as the selfless husband. The talented Shivani Raghuvanshi, who made a sparkling debut in Titli (2014), is perfectly cast as Preeti. The always-dependable Brijendra Kala pops up as Jugnu’s father, a bon vivant who is everything Yashwant isn’t – generous, loving and a decent flirt.

Yashwant begins the movie with an observation that life is all about perspective. We tend to ignore what is right in front of our eyes, and we are unable to see something obvious if it is too far away. He could have been commenting on the screenplay. Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain has enough sense to confront the lovelessness that characterises far too many middle-class marriages, but not the courage to get to the heart of the problem. Yashwant’s problem isn’t his inability to tell his wife that he loves her, but his blindness to the depths of his sexism. He says a lot but his eyes remain shut throughout.

Anshuman Jha and Shivani Raghuvanshi in Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain. Image credit: National Film Development Corporation.