Men will be men, so lump it, ladies – that was the message of the adultery-themed comedy Pati Patni Aur Woh, a remake of the 1978 movie of the same name that follows the misadventures of a file-pusher who ignores his beautiful wife and falls for his secretary. In the original film, this is achieved by spreading a lie that the wife has terminal cancer. Once the truth is out, the wife and the “woh” gang up against the husband. The man manages to save his marriage, but another, even more attractive secretary walks in. The estimable cast – Sanjeev Kumar, Vidya Sinha, Ranjeeta and Asrani – and Kamleshwar’s witty dialogue help the sexism approach something resembling palatable.

The remake, written and directed by Mudassar Aziz, has updated the original’s severely dated sexual politics and questionable morality in ways that, while not quite wholly daring or satisfactory, at least display some mental effort. The new infidelity saga is set in Kanpur. The husband is a crotchety and bored Public Works Department employee. Chintu (Kartik Aaryan) has a spouse, Vedika, who resembles a movie star (and is played by one, Bhumi Pednekar), but the physical distance on the marital bed and the emotional distance keeps increasing.

When the chic Tapasya (Ananya Panday) slinks into Chintu’s office, Chintu’s jaw drops and his eyeballs pop. She wants to buy a plot of land, while he wants a whole new narrative that will enliven his dull life. He soon invents one: Vedika is cheating on him, he tells Ananya. The sob story clicked in 1978, and it somehow works in 2019 too – one of those mysteries that must remain unsolved in the interests of justifying the premise.

Pati Patni Aur Woh (2019).

The stage-setting takes far too long, and the 128-minute movie gets going only after Chintu’s balancing act becomes precarious. Mudassar Aziz appears to have spat out the one good film he had in his system, the delightful screwball comedy Happy Bhaag Jayegi (2016), and there are no signs yet of another one taking its place. Despite some clever lines and inspired scenes of scrambling, especially after Vedika walks out on Chintu, the comedy is stretched to its limits. The movie is refreshingly unsentimental and bereft of breast-beating, but fails to capitalise on its independent-spirited women or answer the big question: just what do they see in Chintu?

Chintu’s charms always escape close scrutiny, despite Kartik Aaryan’s spirited performance. Vedika makes it clear before marrying Chintu that he is a compromise candidate – I choose restriction over rebellion, she tells him. She is no dowdy housewife waiting at the dinner table with a plate of warmed food for her husband to return. Vedika has her share of admirers at the college where she works as a lecturer. When Vedika learns of Chintu’s infidelity, she raises an eyebrow, lets her mouth droop, and quietly leaves. She might as well have been going out shopping.

About the only thing working in Chintu’s favour with regard to Tapasya is that he is available whenever she wants to be driven around Kanpur. Tapasya too has no shortage of admirers, and appears far too intelligent to be trapped by Chintu’s rather obvious web of lies. Ananya Panday deftly portrays a character who stops developing just when she becomes interesting, and she works better than Bhumi Pednekar’s one-note Vedika.

The women have evolved somewhat since 1978, but the men (which includes Aparshakti Khurrana as Chintu’s loyal fixer and a hilarious Shubham Kumar as Vedika’s admirer Rakesh) are clearly still a few decades behind. What if Vedika had chosen rebellion over restriction? We might have had a Patni Pati Aur Woh instead, and what a film that would have been.