From understanding one small-town India to ridiculing the other, Running Shaadi starts and ends on diametrically different notes.
Amit Roy’s Running Shaadi, starring Taapsee Pannu and Amit Sadh, opens with an endearing little segment. Here, Nimmi (Pannu) tells her friend Ram (Sadh) that she’s pregnant and needs his help. Ram likes Nimmi, but he’s kept his feelings to himself. It’s an awkward situation, for Ram at least, and he deflects it by getting angry, irritated, helpful, protective – all at once. In the next few scenes, we see the two of them sharing an auto ride, visiting a doctor, eating lunch from a small tiffin box. Once Nimmi’s done with school, she wants to study “English Honours” in a local college because it’s got a “phaadu crowd”. The film then follows her to college, where she admires a student strumming a guitar, gets a tattoo on her upper back, goes to restaurants and clubs. All of a sudden, she doesn’t have time for Ram, a Bihari, who works in her father’s garment shop, because she needs to scale bigger and better frontiers. Ram, on the other hand, is still smitten, and buys a hoodie from a mall to impress the new Nimmi. It doesn’t work.
Running Shaadi is set in Amritsar and its observations about small-town India, whose inhabitants are forever running, forever catching up, feel both true and sincere. Stories about the rich and famous are frequently made in Bollywood; the aspirations of a more hungry India need an outlet too. It’s possibly this hunger that spurs Ram on to float his own business, a website called RunningShaadi.com – although every mention of “dot com” has been beeped in the film – which organises runaway weddings.
It’s for sure a funny set-up but one that, after a few enjoyable scenes, fails to add up. And that is so because Indian weddings – intricately tied to class, caste and honour – are taken very seriously. And a sustained opposition to them can get quite dangerous, quite violent. Running Shaadi plays out like a comedy, so it can’t alter its tone and become a serious social drama all of a sudden, but even then Ram’s business booms with incredible ease. There are a few cases – marriages across cultures and faiths, one even involving the local police – that show the roadblocks of an enterprise like this, but they get resolved a little too conveniently, weakening the film’s central conceit, making it unconvincing.
Besides, Running Shaadi is overcrowded with subplots. The film is so often pulled in different directions, one subplot melding into other – taking Ram and Nimmi from Amritsar to Dalhousie to Patna – that it doesn’t focus on its main element: the chemistry between Pannu and Sadh. A romantic comedy needs to show some spark between its leads, the trajectory of a relationship – the hesitation, the indecision, the realisation – for us to care about its climax. But Running Shaadi is busy being distracted and never develops its most crucial beat fully.
The most disappointing bit about the film, though, pops in its final act, where the story shifts to Patna and it caricatures Biharis for easy laughs. With the exception of Sadh’s Ram, nearly every Bihari in the film is a bumbling buffoon. What does Running Shaadi know about Biharis? Quite a few things, actually: they can’t speak English; they are immature; they are unsophisticated. This crass stereotyping doesn’t just exemplify lazy writing and cultural ignorance, but also typifies shoddy commercial Hindi cinema.
From understanding one small-town India to ridiculing the other, Running Shaadi starts and ends on diametrically different notes. Too many Hindi films fail because they fail to figure out what they’re about. Running Shaadi is no exception.