The women in the Luv Ranjan universe can never rise above their type, can they? Abhishek Pathak’s Ujda Chaman, thanks Luv Ranjan and Akiv Ali (Ranjan’s assistant and director of De De Pyaar De) before its opening credits begin. And can sure enough, one can spot Luv Ranjan’s influence in the way Pathak (also an assistant on Ranjan’s films) envisions his female characters. Director of the Punchnama films and last year’s Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, Ranjan has been repeatedly criticised for his depiction of women as the conniving, manipulative type, completely bereft of decency. Ranjan’s women seem to embody sexist forwards from Whatsapp. And it’s something Pathak plays up for laughs, even in a film about a young man coming to terms with premature balding.
Sunny Singh, who has previously starred as the bhola West Delhi gym bro in Ranjan’s Punchnama 2 and Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, is seen playing a similar role with a skull cap. A Hindi lecturer from Rajouri, 30-year-old Chaman Kohli’s (Sunny Singh) receding hairline has resulted in a bit of a suitor crisis. Having been nicknamed Takla, Ganja, Ujda Chaman… by the students in his college, Chaman’s self-esteem is severely battered.
Unlike Ondu Motteya Kathe‘s Raj B Shetty, the original Kannada film on which Ujda Chaman is based, Singh doesn’t really look the part of someone ‘disadvantaged’ in the looks department. Apart from his bald patch, Singh sports a fine-trimmed beard and bulging biceps. As a result, the insecurities never quite hit home and the film never quite possesses the underlying sadness of a man wallowing in self-pity, like in the original. In the case of Singh, he mistakes the character’s drab personality to deliver a spectacularly dull performance.
Pathak borrows the film’s gregarious tone from his mentor Luv Ranjan, with an overwhelming Delhi flavour. With no Kartik Aaryan to deliver monologues, Pathak has to make do with poking fun at the three types of women Chaman meets as prospects for marriage. One is the manipulative college student (Karishma Sharma), who wears a Thank You, Next t-shirt on a date, after which she’s going to dump her teacher/boyfriend. The second woman (Aishwarya Sakhuja) is Chaman’s colleague from the college faculty, who excuses herself out of a potential date situation, by citing her boyfriend as the reason. She flirtatiously talks to him, almost immediately after her break-up. There’s also the heroine, Apsara (Manavi Gagroo) – the ‘overweight girl’ with a heart of gold. Gagroo is superb in her role, and there’s no doubt that all these ‘types’ of women do exist, but then it would be nice to see them beyond their purported single dimension, no?
Not to say that Ujda Chaman is a complete waste of time. There are a couple of moments when the film’s observations really come alive. A moment that stands out is when the concerned parents of the boy and girl (both drifting away from their ‘marriageable age’) meet in the aftermath of an accident, how seamlessly the conversation moves beyond the accident, and they start talking like prospective in-laws. It’s a hilarious take-down of anxious Indian parents coming down on their ‘unsettled’ kids. The punchline for this scene comes in the form of the two patriarchs arguing at the cash counter, both equally insistent on clearing the hospital bills.
There’s also a subplot about the college peon (Sharib Hashmi) dishing out advice on Chaman’s love life. The resolution to this sub-plot is something that one can see from a mile (even in the original Kannada film), but the scene… works. Powered by Hashmi’s earnestness in the scene, the advice to Chaman about falling for the other person’s ‘inadequacies’ (if it can be called that) – is sure to move even the most discerning viewers. However, there aren’t too many of these moments.
In the end, Abhishek Pathak’s Ujda Chaman is too timid to say anything profound about the issue it has taken up, and neither is it witty about handling the protagonist’s predicament. When Chaman’s filmy monologue takes place in the climax, where he ‘accepts’ himself and others for who they are, one wants to pat him on the head for FINALLY behaving like a reasonable adult. This is the exact moment when one begins to doubt the director’s intentions behind the film. Was it just an excuse to make takla jokes for two hours, without reaching for a deeper truth? But then, how often has Bollywood really cared for that?