The title is the Hindi word for sperm, so it follows that the Zee5 movie Shukranu is all about the men. The main item on display here is Inder (Divyenndu), an employee in a factory who resorts to a time-tested method to compensate for his perceived lack of manhood – he has an extra-marital affair.

The twist to the eternal love triangle is provided by the Emergency, the period between 1975 and 1977 when democratic rights were suspended and men were brutally sterilised as an extreme population control measure. As Inder makes his way to his wedding, he is abducted and shorn of his ability to reproduce. Too ashamed to admit to what has happened, he goes ahead with the nuptials.

The wedding night and the nights that follow are, predictably, disasters. Inder’s bride Reema (Shweta Basu Prasad) thinks that Inder is suffering from performance anxiety. Assured by a doctor that sterilisation has nothing to do with sexual performance, Inder finally has intercourse, but is shocked when he learns that Reema is pregnant.

She must be having an affair with her old friend who keeps hovering around, Inder reasons. He deals with the situation by having an affair with Akriti (Sheetal Thakur), to whom he was initially attracted before consenting to marry Reema. When Reema shows up, with swollen belly and expectant eyes, Inder must confront his petty-mindedness.

Divyenndu and Shweta Basu Prasad in Shukranu (2020).

Written and directed and Bishnu Dev Halder, Shukranu manages to retain interest levels up until the big revelation about Reema’s pregnancy. The direct-to-streamer film is poised at this point to do more than merely use the shameful sterilisation of men during the Emergency as a plotting device to drive a wedge between Inder and Reema. And yet, the narrative steadily plummets from here on. Inder’s casual cruelty and callow behaviour, the characterisation of his girlfriend Akriti as a cleavage-revealing floozy, and Reema’s passivity are all signs of the movie’s disinterest in adding layers to its premise.

This is hardly the first time that forced sterilisation during the Emergency have been explored through the prism of comedy. In the 1978 satire Nasbandi, director and writer IS Johar also starred alongside Rajender Nath as one half of a pair of bumblers who get embroiled with government officials and doctors chasing impossible targets. Snipped against their will, these men make the most of the situation, transforming themselves into lawyers despite their inability to further the human race.

Shukranu is more in the realm of the Ayushmann Khurrana variety of male anxiety films revolving around sexual prowess. The talented Divyenndu keeps the comedy believable and low-key, but is barely convincing as Akriti’s object of desire. Shweta Basu Prasad, convincingly made up to look a 1970s heroine with a big hairdo and kohl-lined eyes, could have done more, but is underutilised in a movie most incurious about her point of view and only interested in giving Inder a shot at redemption.

Shukranu (2020).