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5 Weddings review: Nargis Fakhri finds her comfort zone in this tale of cultural shocks

Release Date: 26 Oct 2018 / Rated: U/A / 01hr 39min

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Mayur Lookhar

While director Namrata Singh Gujral touches upon a few social issues, the tardy screenplay and poor supporting cast drag the film down.

How often does it happen that the harder you try to move away from something, the closer destiny plots to bring it to you?

Shania Dhaliwal (Nargis Fakhri) is an American journalist of Indian descent who is not too fond of India. To her, India is a filthy land full of bugs. The entomophobic (afraid of insects) Shania is stunned when her departing editor-in-chief assigns her to do a special feature on weddings in India. Reluctantly, Shania agrees to take it up.

Fearful of any 'untoward' reportage, police chief Gill (Survinder Vicky) assigns a liaison officer Harbhajan Singh (Rajkummar Rao) to accompany Shania during her trip. More than the five weddings, however, Shania is moved by the state of transgenders in India. This is the human interest story she wants to take back home, but she is thwarted in her attempts.

5 Weddings has had a long journey. First set to be filmed in 2008, it was to have director Namrata Singh Gujral and singer-actor Harbhajan Mann playing the leads. Unfortunately, Gujral was diagnosed with cancer and the film went on the back burner. But the American came through the tough phase to finally achieve her dream.

The long delay, however, meant she had to look for new leads. While Fakhri became her Shania, Gujral chose to name Rajkummar Rao’s character Harbhajan.

Gujral has been aided by Denise Cruz-Castino and Andy Glickman on the screenplay. While Gujral touches upon a few key issues, the inconsistent and tardy screenplay is a major drag on the film.

Gujral views India and the desi characters through American stereotypes. Most Indians have arranged marriages, but that is often perceived indifferently by the West. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan had famously rebuked David Letterman, who found arranged marriages bizarre, reminding the American TV host that most Indians have arranged marriages and they are largely successful.

5 Weddings is not a cultural clash but more of a cultural shock for Gujral’s protagonist. The traditionalists will abhor Gujral, but the director also gives us Harbhajan Singh, a reflection of the new urban Indian youth. In his first meeting with Shania, Harbhajan Singh senses that she is carrying her stereotypes. He frequently reminds her that India has changed, it’s not the same old poor third world country. India has now even accepted the third gender legally. 

While the plight of the hijras [an often derogatory term used to describe the transgendered] piques Shania’s interest, it comes across as more of a subplot. Shania has a personal agenda on this visit.

It is impossible for a film titled 5 Weddings to not have a love story. For a woman who, until a few days ago, had nothing but disdain for all things Indian, Shania gradually grows fond of her chaperone Harbhajan Singh. Though this story plays out in a mature, realistic way, Gujral could not help but resort to the customary melodrama — the man running to the airport to stop the woman from taking her flight. 

The subject and the language of the film (English) make Fakhri perfect to play Shania Dhaliwal. Following a horses-for-courses strategy, Gujral gets a decent performance out of her. But the Czech Republic-born actress still falters in the emotional scenes.

As a journalist, however, it is rather bizarre to see Shania come to India in pursuit of a story without doing her homework. She has no idea of Indian culture or marriage customs. Starting off as a fiercely aggressive journalist, Shania, surprisingly, chooses heart over mind in the end. Then again, we live in an era where fearless journalism faces many challenges. All said and done, Fakhri has put in a refreshing and mature act.

Rajkummar Rao is much loved for mastering the various Hindi heartland lingos in films like Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017) and Stree (2018), but he surprises you here with his fluency in English. For a Punjab cop, Harbhajan Singh is rather mellow. He has a wicked sense of humour though, making witty remarks that highlight the American stereotypes. The most flattering dialogue is when Harbhajan Singh tells Shania, “I’m going to meet your dad when we are not even dating.” Seldom does Rajkummar Rao disappoint the viewer in a film, and 5 Weddings is no different.

Harbhajan’s America-obsessed colleague likes to be called Donald (Ravi Aneja). Donald’s jokes are silly, but he is a likeable character. The most adorable character in the film, however, is the little American child who plays young Shania [Isabelle Jem]. The girl is separated from her father at the age of six. But in a few years, when the child gets to see her father Rajinder Singh Dhaliwal [Rupak Ginn], little Shania poses some pertinent questions on life and death.

The innocence and confidence of the child artiste is admirable. While she is exemplary, the same cannot be said about her father and mother. Ginn and one-time sex symbol Bo Derek make for an odd pair on screen, and their act looks staged.

Where 5 Weddings is really disappointing is in the performances by the rest of the cast. Shania covers five weddings in Punjab. At each, the bride, groom and their families come across as clichéd Punjabis. The most disappointing is bride-to-be Bhavna (Saru Maini) and her Muslim boyfriend Salman (Abhimanue). The local Punjabi singers are poor in their craft, and poor at acting too. 

Although the film's runtime is just 90 minutes, you still feel Gujral and her editor Steve Mirkovic could have trimmed it further. A tighter screenplay and better supporting cast would have made Gujral’s 5 Weddings an auspicious film.

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