Books of The Times: Review: In ‘The Private Life of Mrs. Sharma,’ a Search for Release

A woman in Delhi whose brain has been annexed by worry craves an escape.
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Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (Humpty Sharma’s Bride); Hindi, With English Subtitles

Watching Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (Humpty Sharma’s Bride), a Bollywood romantic comedy written and directed by Shashank Khaitan, is like watching soccer. It’s got a huge playing field, the clock keeps ticking, and there’s always something going on. You don’t necessarily notice the director’s nuances, the actor’s characterizations, or the plot’s intricacies. But you do feel how everything blends together, melodic, rhythmic, and colorful. You get swept up in the enchantment of the spectacle’s bumpy road to love story.

It’s been decreed that Kavya Pratap Singh (Alia Bhatt) will marry Angad (Siddharth Shukla), an Indian doctor who works in the United States. Though the family’s well off, her father, Mr. Singh (Ashutosh Rana), won’t buy her a designer dress for her wedding. Headstrong and spirited, to put it mildly, she goes to Delhi. Not only does she intend to buy the dress she covets, she intends to make the money to buy it herself. In Delhi, she meets Rakesh “Humpty” Sharma (Varun Dhawan). He’s handsome, charming and, as we learn early on in a scene in a public restroom, single. He has a posse, Shonty (Gaurav Pandey) and Poplu (Sahil Vaid). They indulge if outright admire his success with women. Kavya and Humpty meet when he and his chums have tied her uncle, his professor, to a tree. He needs a passing grade to please his father, Mr. Sharma (Kenny Desai). Despite the inauspicious beginning, sparks fly, most notably when she bests him in a drinking contest.

The film plays out their on-again, off-again romance. He has her, he doesn’t. He sort-of does. Then, on her father’s orders, he almost get killed by Ranjit (Aditya Sharma), Kavya’s brother. Before it arrives at the inevitable (see the title) and enchanting conclusion, the film is magical and violent, hopeful and sad. Metaphorically and literally, it’s the stuff of song. Throughout the film, the on-again bits seem ordained from heaven and the off-again bits seem destined for hell.

Bhatt manages to be radiant, feisty, and stubborn at the same time she plays the role of the mostly-obedient Dutiful Daughter. She has a cornucopia of riveting facial expressions. There’s the Don’t even think about hitting on me face. There’s the I don’t care what you say, I’m wearing a designer dress at my wedding face. And, best of all, there’s the radiant I want to spend the rest of my life with you face. Even if it were a silent film, you’d know precisely what’s on her mind. She’s perfectly cast next to Dhawan’s Humpty. Though Dhawan himself is a firecracker, to watch his cataclysmic fall from anything goes playboy to monogamous swain is both startling and moving.

As Kavya’s sister Swati, Mahnaz Damania is like a morning moon to Bhatt’s sun. You notice her around the edges of the film. Even before you knew her backstory, you knew there was more than met the eye. You could argue, in fact, that Damania’s character is the most interesting, that her performance is the most complicated. Against her father’s wishes, she married for what she thought was love. The subsequent divorce brought shame on the family, and especially on Mr. Singh. It was up to Kavya to show that it is possible to make a good marriage based on love.

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