Ujda Chaman Movie Review: Callous comedy that can’t comb over its flaws
The film’s tone is constantly wobbly, from jokey to insensitive
Everyone sneers at Chaman Kohli. The dashboard of his car has a smirking bobblehead. The first girl he falls for is named Aaina (mirror). A Hindi lecturer at Delhi’s Hans Raj College, Chaman’s regular parking spot has a vandalised scrawl: ‘Takle ki (baldie’s) parking’. Life, in short, is a series of humiliations for Chaman. He is a joke, not just to his students or the women he meets, but, more worryingly, to the film that pretends to hold him.
Director: Abhishek Pathak
Cast: Sunny Singh, Maanvi Gagroo
There’s something to be said about the slapstick nature of movies like Ujda Chaman. Frequently growing in number, these films revel in their false engagement with social misfits. The makers know that, rest assured, there will be a soulful monologue to tidy things up — but not till the end. First, the film must frolic a little, play along to the jesters and hecklers in the crowd, before pulling the rug on them. In effect, these films are like that uppity college senior who eventually takes you under his wing, but not before the customary taunts and twits. The result is a tone that’s constantly wobbly, from jokey to insensitive.
Ujda Chaman is set in Rajouri Garden, an old neighbourhood in West Delhi. In the very first scene, Chaman (Sunny Singh) and his parents are ousted from a meetup. Chaman, 30, has gone partially bald, a fact he hides under a tilted baseball cap and a five-year-old photograph passed around on matrimonial sites. The issue of marriage is a pressing one: an astrologer (Saurabh Shukla) has prophesied that Chaman must tie the knot before 31, or remain a celibate his entire life.
“Celebrate?” wonders Chaman’s knockabout Punjabi mom, while his father frantically chops up the word ‘testosterone’. This is all the humour Ujda Chaman has to offer. The only laugh it truly lands is a borrowed one. Watching TV with his family, Chaman is struck by Sunny Deol’s indignant bellowing in Gadar. Like Tara Singh, he too has fallen for a Muslim girl, but can’t bring himself to apprise his parents. The problem is resolved when the girl pulls a fast one on him, so do all the women he approaches. Battered with rejection, Chaman does the unthinkable. One fine night, he musters all his courage, sits bolt upright on the bed, fixes a death stare, and… gets on Tinder.
It’s here that the film turns from a pop-your-cherry comedy to a middling love story. Chaman’s frustrations with worldly judgment are contrasted with his relationship with Apasara (Maanvi Magroo), a bridal make-up artist he deems too heavy for companionship. And even though the film makes a gag out of Apasara struggling to ride with Chaman — squeaky background score and all — the pair eventually winds up at a hospital, and a sweeter story ensues. We see their parents meet, haggle over hospital bills, and some emotions finally click into place. But then director Abhishek Pathak overplays this hand, vainly and stupidly prizing apart his leading pair so Chaman can be set on a path of repentance and self-reflection. At a halting 120 minutes, Ujda Chaman feels like a drag, like a long day at the dermatologist’s.
Sunny Singh is a fine performer to whom plainness comes naturally. He appears comfortable in Chaman’s discomfort, clipping his dejection to minimal gestures and smiling broadly only when he meets a girl. Maanvi has clear instructions of playing to type, yet finds neat moments like chomping on a burger before attending to a break-up. Sharib Hashmi, recently seen in The Family Man, has an interesting part, as a peon who is always on the phone, and delivers the film’s sincerest line: ‘love is acceptance.’ Ujda Chaman frequently states the obvious, but rarely with so much candour.
As I left the theatre on a Friday morning, a group of boys passed me by. One of them had learned several new slangs from the film, and was gleefully deploying them on his friend’s thinly buzzed hair. This is not a reaction the writers were going for (I’m only guessing here), but looks like the jokes have done their bit. Nothing worse than a film that backfires.