Dir: Vikas Bahl. With: Alia Bhatt, Shahid Kapoor, Pankaj Kapur, Niki Aneja Walia. 144 mins. Cert: 12A
First the Tour de France, now a big fat Bollywood wedding: everything gravitates to Yorkshire in the end. After so many spectacular monsoon weddings, there is undeniable novelty in seeing one conducted under the auspices of Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council in no more than a passing drizzle; likewise in seeing a fleet of gold limousines emerging from behind dry stone walls to traverse the moors while a steam train toots in the distance. Welcome to the world of Vikas Bahl’s Shaandaar, where there’s a high possibility during the musical numbers that everybody on screen is dancing just to keep themselves warm.
The geography is but the first quirk in a broad crowdpleaser that replays the high-stakes family gathering of June’s Dil Dhadakne Do on dryish land for goofy laughs. The pairing of gentle Eesha (Sanah Kapoor) with preening nitwit Robin (Vikas Verma) is a power move, engineered by the bride’s chilly gran to offload the family debt onto their crass industrialist in-laws-to-be. As that partnership founders, Cupid looks elsewhere: upon the bride's adopted, insomniac sister Alia (Alia Bhatt) and Jagjinder (Shahid Kapoor), the unflappable wedding planner. Their affinity is such they can see inside one another’s fantasies, a kind of penetration so few lovers enjoy.
As that development suggests, Bahl and screenwriter Anvita Dutt pursue a strain of logic-less comedy that nine-year-olds might describe as “random”, and it can feel tinny within the lavish stately-home setting – like a small boy tearing around Downton making fart noises with his armpit. Eesha’s younger sisters communicate solely in text-speak acronyms. The groom’s gun-toting father, himself prone to mangled syntax (“Please call me The Harry”), claims the Windsors as honorary Indians: “She’s pushing ninety, and her son’s still living at home with her”. There are talking chickens. All I can say is that it grew on me.
Bahl, hosting his second successive nuptials after last year’s Queen, has twigged that making a movie is akin to throwing a wedding party: you spend enough money, invite the right people to make speeches, and trust those who show up will relax and enjoy themselves. The itinerary Dutt provides – you couldn’t call it a plot – is so busy that it scarcely matters that some gags fall flat, or that the issuey bits (notably Eesha’s low self-esteem, sensitively described by Kapoor) come and go. Instead we’re whisked off skydiving, or to a black-and-white ball, then a Mr. & Mrs.-style game hosted by megastar director Karan Johar.
Dramatic focus is achieved only once, in an electric battle-of-the-sexes number – the best I’ve seen in 2015 – which features the first recorded Bollywood use of the phrase “misogynistic prat” and cares to rhyme “trousersnake” with the multi-layered lyric “Men are mistakes that women make”. Here, as elsewhere, Shahid – his winning smile enhanced by the three consecutive scenes he’s required to play with a mouthful of toothpaste – and Bhatt, one of Hindi cinema’s most spirited up-and-comers, display a nicely conspiratorial chemistry, born of cadging cigarettes and felt-tipping moustaches on one another.
Shaandaar will eventually side with this generation over their overbearing elders, but then – unlike DDD, which might have passed as a credible portrait of modern Indian relations – it’s coming from an inherently childish place, all animated backstory and lengthy tickle fights. Bahl and Dutt treat this wedding as a youngster might a dolls’ tea party, attentively passing out sweets and filling everybody’s cups with imaginary chai: there’s something naively charming about it, even as it reduces Temple Newsam to a fairytale backdrop. I can’t say I didn’t giggle – I did, often – but as any Yorkshireman would doubtless declare: it ain’t half daft.
Shaandaar is now playing in cinemas nationwide.