In this mostly faithful official remake of the Kannada comedy Ondu Motteya Kathe (2017), a receding hairline is put on par with a serious disability. A 30-year-old college lecturer discovers that his prospects of finding a bride are fading along with his scalp hair. Chaman (Sunny Singh) is the source of worry for his parents (Atul Kumar and Grusha Kapoor) and the object of ridicule at his workplace. The insensitive college students appear never to have met a prematurely balding man before, and treat Chaman as though he has an extra nose or a third eye. When an astrologer issues a dire warning of life-long celibacy if a wedding doesn’t take place before Chaman turns 31, our hero panics.
It’s confidence that Chaman lacks, Abhishek Pathak’s movie suggests, but it soon becomes clear that Chaman is also short on sensitivity. His quest finally leads him to Apsara (Maanvi Gagroo), whose ample girth is meant to balance out Chaman’s baldness. These two romantic outliers are sort of forced into a relationship, one that Apsara embraces with more enthusiasm than Chaman for reasons that remain unknown at the end of 120 minutes.
The question of why Apsara behaves like the similarly plump heroine in Dum Laga Ke Haisha and condones Chaman’s increasingly obnoxious behaviour is never quite satisfactorily answered. A movie that sets itself up as an anti-romcom, one in which outward appearances don’t matter, makes little effort to explore the inner lives of its characters, particularly its self-centred hero.
In the original Kannada movie, the main character was played by writer and director Raj B Shetty. The leading man’s ordinary looks and ability to suggest genuine bewilderment at the ways of women and the intricacies of courtship produced many moments of gentle observational comedy and pathos. Shetty wasn’t afraid to allow his character’s pettiness to surface, and it was clear that the hero’s plight was partly of his own making.
Part of Udja Chaman’s problem is leading man Sunny Singh’s severely limited ability to convey the magma simmering beneath the surface. Singh’s facial expression rarely shifts, whether he is failing or falling in love. The director wisely surrounds Singh with stronger actors, but when Singh is in solo scenes or when his catatonic face is encased in close-ups – which is very often – the weaknesses are as visible as a bald patch.
The movie is set in Delhi, where, we are frequently told by the movies, people speak at eardrum-shattering volumes and are obsessed with marriage and family. Although Chaman’s overbearing parents are caricatures, they manage to convey their concern for his foretold loneliness. Maanvi Gagroo has the thankless job of falling for Singh’s gormless Chaman, and in a movie more sensitive to her emotional arc, she might have had a better platform to convey Apsara’s feelings. Everybody deserves love, Udja Chaman recommends, but does Chaman deserve Apsara? The answer is as apparent as Chaman’s exposed pate.