The music is good, the acting is decent, the message is there - but heavy editing lets the hardworking Namrata Singh Gujral's decade-long project down
Review: 5 Weddings is a film that could have been so much better
5 Weddings is a typical romantic-comedy, but with a major social issues twist. At the end, you walk out of the movie knowing that there was a message, one which you heard and empathised with, but the moral of the story doesn't quite linger, and for various reasons.
This is a Bollywood-Hollywood movie and the brainchild of Namrata Singh Gujral: the project was conceptualised in 2008, and was halted many times due to Gujral battling both breast and blood cancers over a period of five years. She fought the illnesses off, and then produced two cancer-related documentaries. When she came back to 5 Weddings, she was newly inspired after a chance encounter outside a hospital with a member of India's transgender community who told the director she wished 'somebody told our story'. In India, the blessings of transgenders are much-sought after at occasions such as weddings, but outside of these events they are often treated with disdain.
In the movie, Shania (played by Nargis Fakhri) is an American reporter sent to cover the glamour of Indian weddings to save her job, but while there she comes across the transgender community and wants to know more. Rajkummar Rao, a police inspector, is deployed to chaperone her on her reporting.
So what are the highlights (and lowlights) of the film?
The plot writing and the development of the two main characters in the film are weak, however the romantic scenes, the music and Daler Mehndi's cheerful song U U Yeah are refreshing moments. Christo Bakalov's cinematography often slips into documentary mode as well, especially in the scenes when the characters Shania and Sharmila end up in prison.
Fakhri carries off the scenes in which she has to essentially play herself, an American with an Indian connection, but her acting lacks the versatility and range to handle the scenes that touch upon serious social issues. Meanwhile, the competent Rao is his usual self, and this is a film he could have done in his sleep.
There are no weighty scenes featuring his character and the transgender community, and we don't really get to know why, but, when talking to The National Gujral said the film had changed shape to comply with censor boards in the 54 countries it was planned to be released in. While the film is showing in UAE cinemas, Kuwait has not released it.
"It got to a point that even I could not recognise my film," the director explains.
Perhaps it was a realisation of the myriad problems the movie faced that has prompted Rao to not be involved in the movie's promotion.
A standout performance comes from Sana Mehra, who plays transgender woman Sharmila, and tells a key story in her limited time on screen. "We are the soul of a woman trapped in the body of a man," she tells Shania in one scene.
Sadly, this movie's social message has been trapped in a rom-com and clearly heavily edited. The film may not do well, much to the chagrin of the very deserving and talented Gujral, but the director herself hits the nail on the head as to why this movie is important: "It's baby steps, but I am so glad the conversation has started."