Ahh, there goes another Friday and with it another small town love story to match. Thankfully R.S Prasanna’s Shubh Mangal Saavdhan (SMS) is by no means a tired addition to Bollywood’s current small-town wave and makes for sweet, enjoyable ride. His SMS is an interesting mix of the new and the same old. While it has all the tropes we’ve now become all too familiar with such as setting, cast and in particular characters, it offers enough that’s refreshing and different to make it well worth the ride.
What sets this rom-com apart is the honest treatment of its subject matter (of erectile dysfunction) but more so that it offers one of the most sincere and touching love stories to grace our screens this year. Hitesh Kewalya’s sparkling screenplay coupled with moving performances from the film’s lead pair, wonderfully capture the childish, playful and almost naïve nature of first-time love. As we’ve seen before, Bhumi Pednekar and Ayushmann Khurrana share a charming and heartfelt chemistry which lights up the screen and moves you in the smallest of moments. Their connection is the emotional spine of the film and keeps you invested through even the more uneven portions of the narrative as you want nothing more than their love to succeed. It is to the credit of both actors that this is the second time this year we’ve seen either of them in a love story within a small-town setting (Khurrana in Bareilly Ki Barfi and Pednekar in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha) and yet they still manage to command our affections so entirely.
SMS is concept done right, approaching the issue of erectile dysfunction in a mature and pleasant fashion without forcibly mining for laughs at every turn and focusing instead on the emotional impact of the all too common ‘gent’s problem’. Ayushmann Khurrana (who seems to have become the face of addressing taboos in society) is Mudit Sharma, a man who inherently lacks confidence and can’t even pluck up the courage to talk to the girl he likes, Sughanda (Bhumi Pednekar). Eventually, it is for her to make the first move and following some Skype-based family-on-family courtship, the two are soon engaged to be married. All appears to be going swimmingly in their self-confessed ‘love-cum-arranged-cum-love-marriage’ until it becomes apparent that Mudit suffers from erectile dysfunction. The film explores how this increasingly becomes a source of tension and stress on their relationship and impending marriage with their families making it a point to forcibly insert themselves into the situation at every turn.
Humour and a strong supporting cast seem to have become a staple in all Aanand L Rai-produced ventures and on that front SMS certainly doesn’t disappoint. The film offers light, playful comedy, with Prasanna displaying a strong hold over all the comedic beats of the story. That said, there’s real heart behind the humour as the film doesn’t shy away from exploring the emotional toll the whole predicament takes on either character. Put simply, some of the film’s most hilarious scenes are also some of it’s most heartbreaking such as one sequence which sees Sugandha trying to emulate an ‘adult’ English film as a means to seem more appealing and address Mudit’s ‘gents’ problem. It is a scene which will have you in splits one second and move you to pieces the next.
Similarly, the supporting characters do well to create the distinct familial chaos of joint families and the typical Indian wedding. If Pankaj Tripathi has become the face of Bollywood’s new-age father after his turn as the supportive, progressive dad in Bareilly Ki Barfi, then Seema Pahwa (who played an overbearing mother in that film) is no doubt his maternal counterpart here. As Sughanda’s mother she is nurturing, has no qualms about talking about sex and taking her daughter lingerie shopping, adopting the role of a friend more than a parent. A further nod to Brijendra Kala who is simply hilarious as Sughanda’s uncle and carries much of the film funniest sequences.
While both Khurrana and Pednekar are great in their respective roles it’s nothing we haven’t seen before from either of them, as both have been clearly typecast in these small-town lover avatars. While Khurrana oozes earnestness as always, his Mudit is but a different shade of a character we’ve seen him play before, as the unassuming man struggling with his masculinity and the pressures of wider society. Pednekar’s Sughanda sees her yet again in the feisty, fiery mould which she was seen in just a number of weeks ago in Toilet: A Prem Katha. While theirs is an adorable pairing which does much to make this film what it is, I for one hope this is the last we’re seeing of them in these kinds of roles and instead see a different dimension to them explored in the future.
Additionally, the way SMS approaches various taboo topics is certainly commendable, such as how it explores the more daunting and intimidating side to sex. Equally, I found myself impressed with the progressive approach it took with the institution of marriage, focusing on the aspect of equality. As the film reminds us at every turn, this is a problem for both Mudit and Sughanda to face together rather than struggle alone, and it is in that partnership and dependence that allows them to have their happy ending.
In the end, despite some degree of unevenness and a final leg which felt unnecessary, SMS is an enjoyable, sincere film with a central love story which I couldn’t help but fall for, I’m going with three and a half stars.