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Versatile Vicky shines in a ‘hatke’ romantic, family drama – Beyond Bollywood

Though director Laxman Utekar and his writers have a fine social message, the route that they’ve take is way too hatke [different] for the traditional audiences. His quality cast though saves the messy screenplay.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️? (2.5 / 5 )

Vicky Kaushal and Sara Ali Khan in Zara Hatke Zara Bachke 2023]

By Mayur Lookhar

Recently, a report from the Supreme Court of India observed that majority of the divorce cases involves couples who had love marriage. Your reviewer is never married but he’s seen few love marriages fall apart in media circles. There can be bizarre reasons for certain divorces.

What’s that old desi adage? Shaadi ka ladoo joh khaye woh pachtaye, joh na khaye woh bhi pachtaye. The closest English translation would be one who marries suffers, and so too one who doesn’t.

Writer Maitrey Bajpai, Ramiz Ilham Khan, and director Laxman Utekar’s Zara Hatke Zara Bachke [2023] perhaps epitomizes the old Hindi adage. It borrows its title from a 90s light hearted drama that marked the debut of Lucky Ali and Dilip Joshi on television.  The story though is poles apart.

Set in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, Utekar’s film is about an inter-faith couple who are struggling for privacy in a small house. Yoga teacher Kapil Dubey, a Hindu Brahmin had married academic teacher Saumya Chawla, a Sikh. Two years later, they have filed for divorce. Few months later, they have their collective wish granted. What promoted the couple to take this step? It’s best that the viewers decipher the reason themselves.

Bizarre is not new to Utekar’s films.  Luka Chuppi [2019] and Mimi [2021] were bizarre tales. This reviewer is no great fan of these films, but the unconventional family dramas did find their audience. Mimi won Kriti Sanon the Filmfare Award for Best Actress.

Near two years later, Utekar doles out his most bizarre story which is billed as another new age romantic, family drama. The core social message that Utekar wants to tell is noble, but the route that he has taken is unlikely to cater much to traditional family audiences. Despite the bizarre prime plot, what keeps interest alive in this 132-minute drama is the fine acts by its ensemble cast. 

Just four years ago, he was the toast of the nation with a powerful showing in Uri: The Surgical Strike [2019].  He was touted for big things.  His subsequent release Bhoot: Part One: The Haunted Ship [2020] didn’t click. Kaushal, though, isn’t the first, and definitely not the last actor to deliver a dud following a blockbuster. Then came Covid-19 and the world came to a standstill.  Kaushal though was much appreciated in the intense, bone chilling period film Sardar Udham [2021] on Prime Video.  Govinda Naam Mera [2022] was a dud on OTT. Kaushal’s cameo in Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat [2023] certainly wasn’t the reason behind that film tanking.

Suddenly Uri: The Surgical Strike seems like a distant memory. There is no drop in the quality of the actor, yet some had their knives out already. Jeez, bigger names have given series of flops and yet survived. You almost felt that poor Kaushal has been unfairly targeted.

Oh, he isn’t hero material, he can’t do romantic films. We’ve heard that line before. Such voices though have forgotten that the man gave a tour de force as the humble Dalit lover boy in Masaan [2015], Kaushal was very likable in Lust Stories too [2018].  Clearly, some haven’t kept a track on Kaushal’s career and have grossly underestimated his range.

The very likable Kaushal proves his versatility in an unconventional romantic family drama. Kaushal’s Kapil truly imbibes the Indori lower middle-class spirit. Saumya calls him a cheapdo [cheapo]. Kapil doesn’t miss an opportunity to save money. Whenever he takes his wife out, he buys one cold drink and shares it. He appears to save the larger share for his wife.  It’s often one-by-two at most diners/luncheon at a local humble food stall. He tips the waiter boy one rupee. He can’t afford 5-star luxury, but he often treats Saumya with a Cadbury 5-star. It serves as a great aphrodisiac too.  

The stingy attitude can upset many, but Kapil Dubey is not one to flaunt his stinginess. One is moved by Kapil’s climax dialogue where he underlines how the middle and low-income groups are stingy not by design but purely by destiny. They save to survive tomorrow. They save in the hope that they won’t be helpless in their old age. This is no stinginess, but a grim reality of a populous country with unequal distribution of wealth.

Vicky is smart to not overburden himself with the local MP tone. He is fairly efficient in it. All through the divorce drama, there is seldom any malice on his face. In fact, both Saumya and Kapil would be bad at poker. Kaushal silences the few doubting Thomas’s with a near flawless act.

Having done an Atrangi Re [2021], the Utekar film could also have been titled Sara Hatke, Sara Bachke. Jokes apart, Sara Ali Khan finely steps into the shoes of a Sikhni. The Sikh community is spread across Madhya Pradesh.  Sara has the odd loud moment, but is largely in control of her emotions. Credit to the director. There is a fine chemistry between Sara and Kaushal.  Come the business end, the couple is involved in serious war of words. Sara doesn’t drop the intensity one bit vis-à-vis her more acclaimed co-star.  After enduring a bad run, Sara has redeemed herself first with Gaslight [2023] and now Zara Hatke Zara Bachke.

The lead actors do a fine job and they are backed by a skilled supporting cast. Inaamulhaq is simply hilarious as Bhagwan Ishwar Das, the government peon who is chiefly responsible for leading Kapil and Saumya on the path of separation. Being born in Uttar Pradesh, Inaamulhaq is also familiar with tones, dialects in neighboring states. Maitrey Bajpai and Ramiz Ilhan Khan reserve the best Malvi-Nimadi dialogues for Inaamulhaq, who aces every word and its pronunciation. The Bhagwan and Kapil-Saumya meet is a sight to behold where the government official uses clever, rustic wordplay to influence the naïve couple.  The MP culture is reflected adequately too. You do question though how Saumya commutes between Indore and Gwalior in quick time. The two cities are 500 kms apart.

The Dubey family is full of characters. Ved Prakash Dubey [Akash Khurana] and his wife Mamta [Anubha Fatehpuria] make for a hilarious couple. Mamta was married off at 15.  When she walked around with her husband, she was mistaken as Ved’s daughter. The manner in which Mamta bemoans about her past is simply hilarious. Ved and Mamta epitomize the classic Indian arranged marriage system from the old times.  Despite the age gap, and perhaps different emotional quotient, their marriage lasts like millions of Indians who bury their dream, differences to raise their kids.

Neeraj Sood (top left), Kanupriya Pandit (bottom left), Anubha Fatehpuria (c), Akash Khurana (top right)

The real jokers of the Dubey pack are mama ji and mami ji [uncle-aunty] and their cute but greedy kid. Purshottam mama [Neeraj Sood] and Deepa mami [Kanupriya Pandit] have moved into to the Dubey household. Their presence naturally has its effect on Saumya and Kapil.  Deepa aunty is at the forefront of creating tension between the young couple with her cheeky taunts. Ah, those expressions, Pandit is totally adorable in this agony aunt role.  She maybe divisive, but Deepa mami is the one to bring the ‘Kahani-ghar-ghar-ki’ humour to Zara Hatke Zara Bachke. Neeraj Sood has gained popularity in playing such roles.  The mama-mami secret at the end though makes you question their divisive behaviour.

Deepa and Neeraj are the ones to lead the Brahmin versus Punjabi conversations. One, however, is taken aback by the rather timid reaction by Saumya’s parents (Harcharan and Roshni Chawla) to their daughter seeking a divorce.  Rakesh Bedi and Sushmita Mukherjee end up playing cliched Sikh characters.  So, too, is Manoj, the overbearing divorce lawyer. For a heavy betel chewer, there is not enough red on his lips or mouth.

Acclaimed artiste Sharib Hashmi shines in a small but pivotal role. Daroga [Hashmi], the security guy has a penchant for checking the Aadhar Card, Pan Card of new entrants. Phew, is it a veiled dig at the government’s muck-talked about ‘linking of bank account with Aadhar, Pan Card’ policy? Hashmi’s presence ushers in a Hindi Medium-like nostalgia.  Like often, he doesn’t disappoint.

It is another collaboration between Maddock Films and the musical duo of Sachin-Jigar.  They tend to create one or two fine tracks.  There’s only one memorable song in Zara Hatke Zara Bachke.  Sadly, the Arijit Singh-crooned Phir Aur Kya Chahiye isn’t even placed properly in the film. 

Honestly, there wasn’t great hope around Zara Hatke Zara Bachke once the trailer had left most disappointed. The messy plot justifies the title. The fine social message ought to have been backed by a better screenplay.  Despite the flaws, the impressive cast and the local humour provides for adequate family entertainment.

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