Abhishek Pathak’s Ujda Chaman is the kind of film that’s so insecure about its humour that it relies on boisterous background score to evoke laughs. At times, the score is just screechy noises you’d hear a 5-year-old make to get attention. At times, it’s so loud, you can barely hear some of the dialogues. Which is actually good because you’re better off not hearing some of the lines from this brazenly insensitive film that is fatphobic and sexist, silly and unfunny and could’ve been cut short by at least 20 minutes.
A remake of the Kannada film, Ondu Motteya Kathe, Ujda Chaman is about 30-year-old Chaman Kohli (Sunny Singh), resident of Rajouri Garden, professor of Hindi at Hansraj college, and someone who doesn’t have a full mop of hair. Chaman is mocked by everyone he meets (other than a sympathetic peon) and is violently rejected by women and their families because, well, bald men have no game and don’t get laid.
His romantic fate finally changes when he meets 29-year-old bridal make-up artiste Apsara Batra, who’s super chill about her weight, which the film perceives as some sort of an anomaly. After a series of woefully dull and painfully unfunny sequences where Chaman’s baldness and Apsara’s weight turns into the subject of crass humour, the pair is shown to hit it off. But there’s a problem. Despite not being a hit with the ladies, Chaman has preferences and going for a big girl is weighing him down. How he overcomes this ‘issue’ is the central premise of the film which has such troubling politics, it’s hilarious that the makers presumably think that they’ve weaved in woke social commentary in this farce.
Despite a sincere performance, Sunny Singh cannot elevate this film’s substandard writing that has a scene where a character confuses ‘celebrate’ with ‘celibate’ and ‘testosterone’ with, well, a phonetically similar version, as excuses for jokes. The writers try desperately to evoke sympathy for its leading man, but Singh never manages to humanise the character, treating him like a stock-loser-dudebro from Delhi, a caricature who talks as if he’s mocking a caricature. Nothing about him rings true. The rejections feel superfluous, almost never taking us into the character’s inner life, his insecurities or the psychological toll of having a ‘defect’ based on the perception of others.
It’s one thing to derive humour out of a helpless situation but quite another to treat it with condescension. Udta Chaman uses societal fatphobia as a device. It isn’t interested in exploring the idea of body positivity as much as it is hellbent on exploiting it for laughs, including a tasteless scene where the lead couple meet with an accident because of the woman’s weight. Instead of critiquing the pervasiveness of such regressive attitudes, Ujda Chaman participates in it, becoming the very thing it set out to question. The redemption is too weak, too hurriedly arrived at, and laughably tokennist in its outlook.
Maanvi Gagroo is a naturally gifted actress but her commitment to the role cannot discount the shortcomings of the script and the lack of genuine skill in Pathak’s direction.
Punjabis are loud, college kids are imbecile, people wrestling with weight issues look for ‘inner beauty,’ thin women fool around, every stereotype you’ve ever wanted to run away from, Ujda Chaman honours and celebrates it with obnoxiously high decibel levels. That it calls the young man of the family as ‘pure,’ a euphemism for virgin, is the only place where it subverts gender norms, but treating baldness as something that’s emasculating in itself problematic.
This is a film with the kind of subtlety one associates with a Ganesh visarjan. Just when you feel you’ve wasted two precious hours of your life, Ujda Chaman pulls its ultimate trump card, one featuring a subplot about the peon (Sharib Hashmi) and his wife which is so cruelly patronising, it’s simply unwatchable.
It’s cute that Bollywood has found a template with upper-caste, straight men having persecution complex. A good-looking bald man who earns 70,000 a month? To speak the bald truth, life must really be hard. Sad.