For a third consecutive week, an Indian man’s marriage prospect is the central conflict of a Hindi film. After Sunny Singh and Ayushmann Khurrana learned to embrace their bald spots and grow beyond them in Ujda Chaman and Bala respectively, it’s Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s turn to plead for a bride in spite of his seemingly ‘unsuitable’ appearance in Debamitra Biswal’s Motichoor Chaknachoor. 36-year-old Pushpinder Tyagi (Siddiqui) is a non-resident Bhopali, and much to his family’s pride, lives and works in Dubai. Earning a decent livelihood for himself, the only problem in Pushpinder’s life seems to be that he’s still a single man.
Not considered conventionally ‘good-looking’ according to the society’s standards, Siddiqui brings a striking pathos to his character. “Kahaan lagi hai… line?” – he meekly asks his mother, as she rejects another proposal on his behalf saying her son has suitable brides queued up outside his door.
On the other side of the net, is a fast-talking and ambitious ‘Annie’ (Athiya Shetty). Which is just an anglicised version of Anita. An amalgamation of Rani Mukerji from Bunty Aur Babli, Anushka Sharma in Band Baaja Baraat, Kangana Ranaut in Tanu Weds Manu & Kriti Sanon in Bareilly Ki Barfi, Shetty’s Annie is manipulative, aware of her good looks, blunt… you get the drift. All she desires is a groom who works abroad. “London… Amreeka… Singapore…” ~ she keeps chanting like a possessed heroine of a Vikram Bhatt film. Her demands are reasonably snowflake, flood social media timelines with selfies abroad, and make her sahelis jealous. That’s the mantra we all live by anyway.
There’s something strangely respectable about both the characters’ transparent reasons to get married. Shetty’s Annie has a simple logic- because in her mind, she’s extremely pretty, she deserves to settle abroad. Siddiqui’s Pushpinder, on the other hand, is a boomer who has simple requirements that don’t involve social media sho-sha at all. He just wants to get laid, and maybe find pyaar in the process. His mother, however, who won’t allow him to get married until a dowry of Rs 25 lacs was paid for her ‘foreign-returned’ son, is another roadblock in Pushpinder’s road to happiness.
Thanks to Bollywood’s commitment to ‘small-town, quirky romances’ in the past few years, Motichoor Chaknachoor manages to set an ‘authentic’ milieu for this. Overly enthusiastic parents delivering a punchline with every second dialogue, unmarried aunts with a colourful vocabulary, and ‘wacky’ elder characters diffusing tension at critical moments… the stage is set like every other Ayushmann Khurrana/Rajkummar Rao film. The first hour crackles with a few standard sitcom set-ups. Both Siddiqui and Shetty are good for their parts, fully maximising the comic potential of this odd pairing. “Are you standing on a brick or something?” – Pushpinder asks while straining his neck to look up and speak to a taller Annie.
And then comes Hindi cinema’s infamous curse of the second half. Just when the scene is set for this odd romance to get into ‘message’ territory, the film blows up into pieces smaller than motichoor boondis. As it turns out, the makers have little to say beyond the obvious takeaway of society’s unfair mould of ‘good looks’. Maybe a note about transactional relationships, or stories around marriages of convenience… like we saw in Made In Heaven? No. The sitcom levity suddenly makes way for soap-opera melodrama. And all good work till then, comes undone. It’s not hard to see the potential in Nawazuddin Siddiqui as a romantic lead, considering how some of the best moments in the Wasseypur films are his scenes with Huma Qureshi’s character.
At one point in Motichoor Chaknachoor, Siddiqui’s character describes his simpleton ways by comparing himself to Ludo, while equating Annie’s scheming ways to… Chess. Now, if only debutante director Debamitra Biswal had abandoned her Ludo approach for the farce of a climax.