Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
Rajkummar Rao is a performer from India. He won Best Actor at the National Film Awards, which is India’s version of the Oscars. He won for the legal biopic Shahid (2013). He would go on to star in the political satire Newton (2017), which was India’s official submission to the 90th Academy Awards. Most Americans who know him would know him from The White Tiger (2021), which was nominated for an Oscar at the 93rd Academy Awards. It was also nominated for a Spirit Award and two BAFTA prizes. It was one of my favorite films of that year. In my review of The White Tiger, I commented on the possible homoeroticism, just on the fringes. However, it nowhere near compares to this film, where in fact Rao plays a gay character.
It should be noted that this isn’t the first film that Rao has done with LGBTQ themes or characters. Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019), which is streaming on Netflix, is about a closeted lesbian whose family thinks she’s dating a man, played by Rao. In various ways, this film, directed and co-written by Harshavardhan Kulkarni, is basically that same idea all over again. There is a wrinkle. Rao’s character in that 2019 flick was heterosexual. Here, his character is also closeted. Rao stars as Shardul Thakur, a 32-year-old police officer. His family is pressuring him to get married. In particular, his aunt wants to set up an arranged marriage for him. After witnessing some homophobia at his job, he dare not tell the truth.
Bhumi Pednekar co-stars as Suman Singh, a 31-year-old woman, a physical education teacher whose family owns a business, a copy shop or possibly an office supply store. She uses a phone app or online site to date women. She gets calls from a single mother who is apparently her former lover, so it’s clear that Suman is a lesbian. Her family is also pressuring her to get married. When her father needs his stool sample taken to a clinic to be tested, Suman is the one tasked to do it. While at the clinic, she meets a female lab technician named Rimjhim Jongkey, played by Chum Darang. There is an instant attraction there.
When Shardul realizes that Suman is also gay like him, he proposes a lavender marriage. A lavender marriage is when two gay people of the opposite sex get married as a way of further hiding or covering up their homosexuality or queerness. It’s basically a marriage of convenience for LGBTQ people. Shardul believes that it will ease off the pressure from both their families. This film follows the two of them as they navigate this lavender marriage, as they come to realize it’s not as easy as it might seem. For example, things become especially problematic because once their families get them married, the pressure doesn’t stop. The pressure merely shifts to trying to get them to have children.
A lot of the humor and comedy in this film comes from Shardul and Suman circumnavigating the pressure from their families to have a baby. Unlike a lot of Bollywood films, this one doesn’t have many musical numbers. There’s really only one. At first, the comedy is the awkwardness of Shardul and Suman living together as mismatched roommates. The comedy then becomes about the awkwardness of the two of them interacting with family members, trying to avoid the subject of their sexuality and not get caught. It might seem frustrating the more this awkwardness continues. However, the two actors, Rao and Pednekar lean into it and really make it funny. Sheeba Chaddha who plays Shardul’s mother steals the back half of the film. She’s hilarious.
Yet, Rao and Pednekar are given monologues toward the end of the film, which sell the dramatic stuff as well. Rao in particular gives a wrenching performance. In many ways, he becomes the heart of the film, even though his character is the most annoying. By the end though, the film is really a critique of the law in India that prohibits same-sex couples from adopting children. As that, this film is extremely effective.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 27 mins.
Available on Netflix.