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It's Complicated

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MOVIE REVIEW
Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui (2021)

“Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui” starts off like many a Bollywood romance: Manu (Ayushmann Khurrana), working-class gym owner and strong-man contestant, falls madly in love with the well-born new Zumba instructor, Maanvi (Vaani Kapoor). Typically their affair would be doomed when her parents begin arranging for her to marry a suitor of compatible social standing, but something is a little different here. When signing up for a dating app, Maanvi hesitates for a moment before selecting “woman.” During a phone conversation with her father, we learn that she’s not on speaking terms with her mother. Given the press surrounding the film, it’s not spoiling to disclose that Maanvi is trans. There’s no shocking “Crying Game”-esque reveal, what with the aforementioned foreshadowing in place to mentally prepare those watching the film cold.

It’s sure to be controversial, but perhaps not in ways one might expect. So far, much of the fuss centers around the casting of Ms. Kapoor, a cis woman. Given that Bollywood only put out its first gay-themed movie in 2020 (“Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan,” also starring Mr. Khurrana), casting a cis actress seems like a no-brainer safe choice to push social boundaries without alienating the consuming masses. Before those who live in the Western glass house begin casting stones, let us recall the many Hollywood instances such as “The Danish Girl,” “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Transamerica” that similarly cast cis performers in trans roles. For his part, director-cowriter Abhishek Kapoor apparently said he wanted someone with acting experience.

Albeit well-meaning and earnestly challenging the stigma for trans people, the film may very well traumatize and potentially offend those in the LGBTQIA community. Like “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui” does not downplay the harm trans people endure. Manu’s meathead pals and rivals call Maanvi all kinds of names, including Mrs. Doubtfire. As for Manu himself, he first greets the news of Maanvi’s gender reassignment by alternatingly being mad at her and at himself. Hearts will break and tears will be shed as he works through his own conflicted feelings and the disapproval and ridicule from everyone around him.

Recasting a classic Bollywood trope to facilitate social change, “Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui” is radical and progressive in ways unmatched by anything from Hollywood. This is significant, especially if you take into consideration that, again, Bollywood put out its first gay-themed film just last year. It’s a brave, bold statement on top of a heart-rending love story. Both Mr. Kapoor and Mr. Khurrana deliver fearless and compassionate performances that most certainly don’t compromise the integrity of the storytelling.

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