Ayushmann Khurrana, a true Chandigarh guy, feels completely at home in his bristly-brawny-softie Manu in Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui. Vaani Kapoor’s slim certified physical trainer with a rough history reminds you of the potential she showed in ‘Shuddh Desi Romance.’
What happens when arrogant Chandigarh Munda Manu Munjal (Khurrana) falls in love with the very’s Ambala kudi’ Maanvi Brar (Vaani Kapoor), a weightlifter, bodybuilder, protein-ingester, keto (pronounced, very rightly by such a one, ‘Kitto’) dieter? To begin with, there’s a lot of sex.
Yes, that same thing that far too many Bollywood rom-coms continue to be evasive about. Full credit to Khurrana and Kapoor for throwing themselves at one other with gusto, presenting us with a tangle of bodies that makes their frantic couplings incredibly realistic.
He has bulging biceps, shaved sides of his head, and a high ‘pony.’ She has legs, slender arms, and a mild swell of the breast; she has legs, slender arms, and a gentle swell of the chest. She is a Sector 4 type (Chandigarh residents would get the in-joke; for the others, ‘Sector 4’ refers to the elegant, cool, old-moneyed kinds). He says Joomba, she says Zumba. He farts, and she makes a sensitive expression.
While we’re busy admiring this wonderful display of passion between two consenting people, there’s an unexpected rise in the works. Maanvi has a terrible, dark secret, and as it comes to light, bitter words are spoken, and a breach appears in the family.
Abhishek Kapoor’s film is on to something when it comes to how love is love, hey gender flexibility, distinctions be darned. Even in 2021, Bollywood likes to play it safe and avoid all controversial themes. In that regard, including a transgender character as a love story point is a brave move.
But Kapoor is also cautious, perhaps a touch too cautious, and wraps everything in-jokey stereotypy. However, if you are concerned about potentially offending your audience, you are likely to dilute the weight of your issue.
Manu is assigned two nosy sisters who are so concerned about his well-being that you want to tell them to shut talking. He has a widower father who is in love with a woman of a minority religion: the film slips in a murmured remark about Hindu-Musalmaan friendship. He has two BFFs, twins who surround him with ‘faadu Punjabbi’ phrases that are all hearty and harsh.
These are well-known aspects into which you may inject the love with trans person viewpoint and wait with baited breath. Will we agree to it? Or do you want to walk away from it?
We have some good news. When Bollywood wasn’t looking, we grew up. While having a line like ‘aadmi wali shakal ki aurat’ for a woman who was a man before the sex-change operation, a mention of ‘bi’ people. A brief speech on what constitutes ‘normal,’ and the presence of a clearly butch person are all brave. The whole doesn’t add up to a film with any surprises: you know exactly what will happen at every beat. The film does venture down a route that no major Bollywood film has dared to tread, yet it comes across as curiously bland.
That’s a shame. Kapoor understands how to mine a story: his ‘Kai Po Che’ remains a fan favorite. Khurrana, a true Chandigarh lad, looks perfectly at home in his bristly-brawny-softie outfit. Manu, Kapoor’s slender certified physical trainer with a problematic history. It reminds you of the potential she showed in ‘Shuddh Desi Romance’. In the end, he is the macho guy, beating other muscle-bound males in a testosterone-fueled tournament; she is simply another female hoping for her man to bring home the prize.