CHANDIGARH KARE AASHIQUI (2021)

Vaani Kapoor and Ayushmann Khurrana

Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui is relevant, well-acted and entertaining

— Ambar Chatterjee

Manu Munjal (Ayushmann Khurrana) is a bull-headed lifter and cross-fit sports enthusiast. He runs a gym by the name “Jatt Flex It Gym” in Chandigarh. He covets the local “The Best Gabru” award that has for the last few years been kind to Manu’s biggest competitor and aggressor Sandy. His coach believes that Manu can do it but he keeps failing at critical junctures. He is 32 years old and his elder sisters want him to get married ASAP. His father is frustrated with his lack of income and craze for fitness sports. He wants him to get married and start earning his own bread as he himself wants to marry a second time and enjoy conjugal bliss before his ability and need to do so flickers away. Manu has had just one relationship in his life and that too didn’t pan out well for him. He is focused on his goal of being the best Gabru in town and doesn’t pay any heed to any of his family members.

Things take an interesting turn when Manvi (Vaani Kapoor) walks into Manu’s life. Manvi is an exquisite and classy beauty who comes to his gym to teach Zumba for a contractual period of 3 months. She is fashionable, sweet, well-read, and in every way the exact opposite of what Manu is. However, it seems that she enjoys his company and his crass and unabashed way of expressing himself. Manu, for the first time in a while starts developing feelings for someone and Manvi quickly takes precedence over all his other focus areas. The duo starts spending time together and then the inevitable happens. After a Holi bash, Manu gets physical with Manvi and it proves to be just the beginning of a round of fierce physical exchanges that are as romantically charged as they are carnal. Within days Manu falls head over heels in love with Manvi and proposes marriage to her. It is at this juncture that Manvi reveals to him that she is, in fact, a trans-woman. What happens next is what Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui is all about.

Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui is investing from start to finish. This isn’t the kind of film that has action, thrills, and over-the-top romance. It doesn’t boast of any overtly inspiring moments or heroic exploits from the ensemble cast. Yet there isn’t a single moment in the narrative that stalls the effortless surge of the narrative. This was largely due to the interesting characters, the effective interpersonal drama, and the good performances of the actors essaying the characters. Abhishek Kapoor understood the beats of the characters and what would stick with the Indian audiences and ensured that the audiences were given exactly that.

While Ayushmann Khurana is as far from understanding the predicament of Vaani Kapoor’s character as he can be and is brutal in his dismissal of her, he does show signs of confusion and even empathy towards her condition. While he is frustrated and raging about her not telling him about her condition, he still knows somewhere down below that she is more than the skin and flesh that makes up a human. He seems to be in awe of her quality as a human being and appreciates her for that. This is something that wins him over in the end and helps him make the right decision. If this was something that was done abruptly, it would not have made such an impact. Abhishek Kapoor gradually builds up on Manu’s dormant understanding and empathy of Manvi’s predicament and also his appreciation of her humanity and qualities more than her sexuality. This point hits hard at the end of the film and makes for a fitting finale.  

Manvi on the other hand is shown suffering for the lack of understanding and empathy to her predicament of the society and the people around her. The only two people who seem to be on board with her even after knowing her secret are her father and a fellow trans-friend. Kanwaljit Singh plays her father and in many ways, is the voice of reason and acceptability in her life. He is what keeps her sane. While he is not entirely successful in defending and shielding Manvi from the brutal insults of the society, he does infuse her with inspiration and the ability to fight on from time to time. This is portrayed through subtle dialogues that are neither too dramatic nor too inspiring. These sequences are what you expect from a father and daughter dialogue discussing problems and pan out well because they are kept so low-key. Through these discussions, we are told things that if told through the protagonists would feel like propaganda and/or messaging.

Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui relies heavily on its cast and none of them disappoint. I was surprised by how good Vaani Kapoor was in the film. She is someone who hasn’t had any chance to portray her acting guiles in the films because of the kind of roles that she has been offered. Finally, she gets to play a character that is risqué and has a lot of different shades to it and she makes the most of it. I just loved the sequence where she has to reveal her secret to Ayushmann. It was probably one of the most well-done sequences in the entire film. The moments where she is insulted again and again by different characters and how she deals with her situations are also done extremely well.

Many would sight the fact that she should have been shown going overboard in some of these scenes towards the end as she was under so much emotional pressure and turmoil, but I am of the opinion that by keeping her predicament low key and letting her be sober even in the face of extreme abuse, the director makes her character even more haunting and laudable. One scene in particular that worked wonders, for this reason, was how Manvi made peace with her mother who had been at loggerheads with her ever since she decided to go for the sex reassignment surgery. Vaani Kapoor through her mature and seasoned essay turns the character into someone who we can relate with and one we can support for all that she is.  

Ayushmann Khurana plays Manu with clinical ease and that is for the simple reason that he is from Chandigarh and all of this comes naturally to him. A lot has been said and brought up about his physical transformation. I can say safely that his transformation is nothing out of the ordinary and that it is something that aids his character greatly. He feels real and his transformation feels real. As is always the case with him, he disappears behind the skin of the character and brings out the best version of the character through his essay. One also has to appreciate Ayushmann for the sheer volume of odd and relevant characters and themes that he has been choosing for his roles in cinema.

Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui is an investing film from start to finish. It is so because of its relevant story, fantastic performances, and effective execution. While the only downside is the lackluster music and the fact that the theme might not appeal to one and all, the film is as relevant as it gets and one should definitely give it a watch. While this may not be an essential theater viewing experience, it would serve the makers well to come up with such unique ideas in the future if this was supported with a theatrical watch by the Indian audiences. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
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