Film

It May Not Be Flawless, but 'Veere Di Wedding' Brings the House Down

With a first half that is breezy, unruly and bawdy, this latest female ensemble film, sans the feminist tag, gives viewers the joy of watching several firsts despite being a quintessential Bollywood drama.

Veere Di Wedding is centred on four close friends – Kalindi (Kareena Kapoor Khan), Avni (Sonam Kapoor), Sakshi (Swara Bhaskar), and Meera (Shikha Talsania) – who are caught in varying degrees of confusion and trouble. Kalindi is about to get married to Rishabh (Sumeeet Vyas), a guy she’s been dating for three years, but she’s not sure. She loves him and he loves her too, she says, but what does that have to do with marriage? Avni, a lawyer, is constantly pressurised by her mother (Neena Gupta) to get married. Sakshi is about to divorce her husband and, for the same reason, doesn’t get along with her parents. Meera, the mother of a two-year-old boy, is happily married to an American, living a content life, but she hasn’t spoken to her uncle, her long-time guardian, in years. This bunch is meeting after long, in Delhi, for Kalindi’s wedding.

Hindi films haven’t had a long history of female ensembles. Of late though, a few films, such as Angry Indian Goddesses, Parched, and Lipstick Under My Burkha, have bucked that trend. These films, barring Angry Indian Goddess’ awful climax, have been entertaining and intense, but it wasn’t hard to gauge that they for various reasons, either due to astute marketing or straightjacketed expectations, were primarily projected and seen as ‘feminist’ dramas – the implication being that a movie with an all-female cast had to be ‘something’, that it couldn’t be itself, a film like any other trying to tell an entertaining story. To be fair, those films were label friendly to an extent, with their plots and resolutions clearly feminist in nature.

Veere Di Wedding, however, is a much simpler film – if you want to be blunt, you can call it a much dumber film. Here the protagonists are privileged and shallow, their engagement with the world is limited to failed relationships. That may sound like a demerit, but it also frees the film from the baggage of ideology and representation, allowing it to find its way. And when Veere Di Wedding does find its way, when it is at its finest, it brings the house down.

Sakshi is, by far, the most rambunctious of the lot. Perpetually smoking cigarettes or downing drinks, she has little regard for propriety. Bhaskar, who usually plays hard-hitting characters, slips into this role with ease and seems to be having a lot of fun. Her Sakshi is what most good characters are: consistent, compelling, unpredictable. Even Kalindi and Meera (Talsania is wonderful) are well-written characters. (#SpoilerAlert: Sonam Kapoor still can’t act and threatens to ruin the movie every time she’s in the frame).

The joy of watching Veere Di Wedding is the joy of watching several firsts. It feels liberating to see female characters just be in a Bollywood drama. Unlike most films, here their conversations don’t revolve around men. In fact, some of them hide things from each other. Early in the film, Sakshi is in her car, berating her parents over the phone. When Meera enters the car, asking who was on the phone, Sakshi replies, “Oh nothing, Airtel.”

Then much later Meera, while vacationing in Phuket with her friends, reveals an embarrassing personal detail of her life. Many scenes in Veere Di Wedding have an infectious, life-like quality to them, like eavesdropping on a conversation among close friends. Scenes often flow in and out of each other easily. The characters and their conversations, as a result, aren’t substitutes for ideologies.

Veere Di Wedding accumulates its victories slowly. They are in scenes where an expensive wedding dress – or the wedding itself – isn’t an end in itself, in bits where Meera gets annoyed by her son (motherhood cannot vanquish your own self), in portions where Kalindi derides the marriage’s patriarchal norms. This should be the default level for such a ginormous and profitable film industry, but Bollywood is particularly slow to change, so even basic efforts seem path breaking.

A film that makes you laugh – and Veere Di Wedding does that a lot till its first half – becomes easy to like. So when its flaws start to appear to the point that they threaten to outsize its merits, it causes more disappointment than usual. Veere Di Wedding revels in its comedic strains, but sometimes it tries too hard, and the outcome is silly and contrived. For instance, it’s one thing to show Sakshi as a chain smoker, it’s quite the other to show her with a cigarette all the time (even inside a mall). Similarly, Khan, who is otherwise fine in the film, has a tendency to act for the camera, making funny, exasperated expressions even when she’s by herself. Neena Gupta’s character, too, overdoes her marriage fixation. Since Veere Di Wedding is primarily a comedy, it is always looking to milk any funny scenario, but such efforts, when not backed by credible writing, start looking trite. What’s worse: their triteness is easily evident.

The film is particularly weak in its final segment, when it tries to give some shape – an overarching sense of seriousness – to this freewheeling drama. These scenes, dealing with different familial misunderstandings – between a father and a daughter, an uncle and a niece, two brothers – should have been well written, showing how family dynamics can be complex, fluctuating, and even absurd at times.

Instead we get plot turns that seem too convenient and neat, rushing to wrap up the film. Besides, the individual outcomes of the characters’ stories, which more or less confirm the status quo, are disappointing. Veere Di Wedding needn’t have gone anywhere else for inspiration, its first half – breezy, unruly, bawdy – would have been cue enough.