Shaadisthan movie review: Cringe-worthy thesis on feminism and its response to conservatism

·4-min read

Language: Hindi

"Hum jaisi auratein ladaai karti hai taaki aap jaisi auraton ko apni duniya mein ladaai na karni pade." (Women like us fight so that women like you don't have to fight in your own world.) €" These words are tossed at an ultra-traditionalist stay-at-home wife and mother, Kamla Sharma (Nivedita Bhattacharya), by the rock musician Sasha (Kirti Kulhari) in Shaadisthan.

Sasha's cutting condescension does not emerge from a vacuum. This is her response to Kamla's own condescending reminder to Sasha that in her quest for independence, it should not be necessary for her to "become like men" and be the ill-tempered, quarrelsome person that she is. If you are a woman who is a non-conformist and you witness this exchange in isolation, chances are you will understand and condone Sasha's irritation. Because the sad truth is that any woman who has not taken a socially prescribed path faces not just the insecurity of men but also the resentment of women who have embraced convention in their lives. In Sasha's case, she is independent, unmarried, successful in a profession that is an unconventional choice for women, constantly on the road, and has probably been driven to exasperation by unrelenting censorship and condemnation.

Here's the thing though: Kamla did not lash out unprovoked; she herself says what she says to Sasha at the end of hours of being lectured and patronised by Sasha in a film that €" in its tone and tenor €" appears to view such sermonising as true feminism and views women in binary terms as hum jaisi auratein and aap jaisi auratein at loggerheads with each other, us and them, the progressives and the conservatives rather than human beings on a spectrum.

In this and many other ways, Shaadisthan is a cringeworthy thesis on feminism and its response to conservatism, in addition to being a sample of really bad filmmaking.

Kamla and her husband Sanjay Sharma (Rajan Modi) are introduced in Shaadisthan when they miss their flight to Ajmer where they have to be for a family wedding. The cause of their tardiness is their 17-year-old daughter Arshi (Medha Shankar) who tried to run away on the eve of the trip for reasons that are later explained. The groom arranges for the trio to board the bus by which Sasha's band is travelling to Ajmer where they are scheduled to sing at one of his pre-marriage functions. Obviously, this leads to a clash of cultures and sensibilities on the road.

The family and the band are each a certain type. The Sharmas are prissy and stiff-necked, Mrs always keeps her head covered and seeks his permission for any move, and they dictate terms to Arshi about life's every decision. The band on the other hand fits the filmmaker's clichéd definition of 'free-spirited' just as Sasha matches his stereotypical notion of 'feminist': they smoke, drink alcohol endlessly, curse and are sexually permissive.

This is not to say that no such individuals exist in the real world or to pass judgment on them, but that writer-director Raj Singh Chaudhary does not possess the craft to create characters who do not look like they have each been taken out of a box that is labelled either hum jaise log (people like us) and aap jaise log (people like you).

The slotting of the band enters dangerous territory in a scene in which their supposed coolth is illustrated by their amused response to an acquaintance spiking their tea with a drug without their permission. The beverage was also consumed by Kamla and Arshi. Seriously? What next? Will Shaadisthan 2 tell us date rape drugs are kewl?

Frankly, the discussion about Shaadisthan's politics is secondary to its shoddiness in every other department. Not only is the characterisation bereft of shades of gray, loose threads and illogic lie around, the cinematography is shorn of imagination and the sound quality is poor.

The only positives worth writing about are the grace in that scene in which Arshi tells Sasha, "Right now I just want to be you", and actors Nivedita Bhattacharya and Rajan Modi who lend an iota of credibility even to their under-written characters.

Ajay Jayanthi who plays Sasha's bandmate Imaad and Nishank Verma as the chap at whose shaadi they perform, both have an interesting screen presence and seem to deserve better than this under-par film. Kirti Kulhari looks thoroughly at home as a stage singer. And I enjoyed the band's two shows during Shaadisthan, especially the fusion in the number at the wedding sangeet.

The star of the cast is Kulhari who, you might imagine, has some bargaining power since she drew applause for her work in Pink (2016) and continues to reap popularity with her role in the Amazon Prime series Four More Shots Please! Perhaps we assume wrong, or at least the kind line to take on why she signed up for Shaadisthan is that Bollywood is not, in fact, offering her sufficient worthwhile roles. To assume instead that she was actually impressed with this script is not a compliment to her instincts at all.

Shaadisthan is now streaming on Disney+Hotstar. Watch the trailer here €"

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