Shaadisthan Film Cast: Kirti Kulhari, Medha Shankar, Nivedita Bhattacharya, Shenpenn Khymsar, Apurv Dogra, Ajay Jayanthi, Kay Kay Menon
Shaadisthan Film Director: Raj Singh Chaudhary
Shaadisthan name: Two stars
Two different worlds come together, fall apart and eventually merge seamlessly. Sounds poetic, and perhaps that was the intention of Shaadisthan, starring Kirti Kulhari, Nivedita Bhattacharya and Kay Kay Menon. Yet the end result is a presumptuous and condescending sermon rather than an attempt to dismantle patriarchal foundations in society. Shaadisthan tells the story of a road trip by a conservative family who wants to marry their 17-year-old daughter. During the trip, they have a band for company. They don’t care about the rules of society, as Kirti Kulhari’s character, Sasha, would like you to know. She barely smiles in the movie – she’s too grim about the rot in society.
The destination for the two groups of people is the same: to go to a wedding. The daughter Arshi does not want to get married, but her parents insist, or rather the father. He fulfills the desi stereotype of an uncle who won’t let his daughter talk, and nearly beats up one of the members who try to get close to her.
She collapses and asks Sasha (Kulhari) and her crew, “Are your parents monsters?”
From then on, Sasha plays messiah for Arshi and her mother, played by Nivedita Bhattacharya. She has the sensitivity of a battering ram and is eager to let Arshi’s mother know that she has the privilege of marrying whomever she pleases and that she enjoys her freedom. This reinforcing discourse takes place when they make rotis. Sasha explains: “I make food because I want to. You are here because of your conditioning.” The conversation is almost painful to watch as Sasha asks her, “When was the last time you had sex?” She continues to insist, “When was the last time you hugged your ‘voh’?” Meanwhile, blank-faced, Arshi tells one of the band members that she feels like committing suicide. But after more preaching by Sasha, there is a sudden upheaval of mindsets, age-old beliefs are shattered and personalities are rewritten. All in a matter of minutes. Happy ending to everyone.
We have little or no idea about Sasha’s life or even more sides of her personality than just judging others who don’t have the same level of freedom as she does. In her role as Sasha, Kirti Kulhari just looks at others and directs a snappy remark at anyone who interferes with her space. But she’s the heroine on the show, and you know you have to take care of her.
Shaadisthan could have tackled these deeply layered issues with more sensitivity and grace. Oppression in disadvantaged families where women are constantly silenced cannot be brushed aside by a few condescending speeches. The savior complex becomes more emphatic when Sasha says, “Hum jaise auratein ladte hain taski monkey jaise auratein apni zindagi mein khush raho.”
There are a few pleasant moments here and there, such as when the mother shyly reveals that she would like to go alone someday, and the start of the road trip.
This movie could have been so much more. It could have been more powerful and nuanced. Instead, it just feels like a compelling lecture you never want to hear.
Shaadisthan is now streaming on Disney Plus Hotstar.