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Different Strokes

India Today logo India Today 14-02-2020 Suhani Singh
Jitendra Kumar, Ayushmann Khurrana are posing for a picture

Hindi cinema, in its hund­red-odd years of existence, has relentlessly milked the lovers- who-fight-with-their-families-to-be-together formula. Writer-director Hitesh Kewalya rehashes that potion in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (SMZS), albeit with a twist: his romance involves two men (played by Ayushmann Khurrana and Jitendra Kumar). The LGBTQ community has to fight many battles, but the one with the family is the biggest, says Kewalya. They are fighting the world with all its biases, and they need the family by their side. If the family understands them, it's the biggest validation.

In SMZS, Kumar's Aman struggles to come out to his parents (Gajraj Rao and Neena Gupta) while Khurrana's Kartik embraces his alternative sexuality. SMZS isn't the first Hindi film to have homosexual protagonists. Fire (1996) and My Brother...Nikhil (2005) were two of the earliest to address the challenges of being gay in India. Some films like Dostana (2008) used the theme solely for laughs while others like Dedh Ishqiya (2014), Margarita with a Straw (2014), Aligarh (2015) and Kapoor & Sons (2016) addressed it with some sensitivity. Significantly, all these films came out, as it were, when Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code still criminalised homosexuality.

Last year's Ek Ladki ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga with Sonam Kapoor playing a closeted Punjabi woman failed at the box office. Other than Kapoor & Sons, a family drama in which a character's covert homosexuality was one of the many arcs, very few gay-themed movies have enjoyed mass appeal. SMZS becomes different as it is a romantic comedy headlined by a popular actor (Khurrana). Kew­alya tips his hat to 1990s superhit Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge in more than a few scenesthe train sequence, the difficult father, the setting of a weddingin his directorial debut. That's because DDLJ, for Kewalya, is the epitome of heteronormative romance. The idea was to take pop cultural references that are embedded in our mind and use them so that every generation relates to them, he says.

It's also why Khurrana says the film is not preaching to the converts but to the boomer generation and the homophobes.The family is as significant in SMZS as the taboo couple. Through the family, I have tried to introduce a spectrum of the kind of people we meet, says Kewalya. The film, he says, is foremost a conversation between a father and a son, one that also touches on what a parent goes through when their child comes out. SMZS will not be the only release of 2020 to tackle the subject. There's also Sheer Qorma with Swara Bhaskar and Divya Dutta as a lesbian couple, and Dostana 2, which has Kartik Aaryan, Janhvi Kapoor and newcomer Laksh Lalwani.

Meanwhile, Khurrana, who has been on a roll, is hoping his latest becomes a means to change perceptions while also ent­ertaining the audience. So does the film, like his last two, have the potential to earn Rs 100 crore? If it does, it'll certainly be a case study, he says.

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