India’s first major cinematic breakthrough, which centred on the LGBT community, was a bold and much awaited step for Bollywood. Following the helm of breaking taboos and social barriers, the Ayushmann Khurrana led film attempted to normalise the conversation surrounding same-sex relationships and their acceptance in mainstream Indian society. The film aimed to be a conversation starter to the masses – especially to the ‘average Indian homophobe’ who is either averse or oblivious to the reality of the LGBT world.
The battle between romantic freedom and family disapproval, is aptly captured in the humour and hysteria of ‘Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan’. When viewing the film from a ‘Vedantic’ perspective, one can see the journey of Nara (Humanity) merging with Nārāyana (Divinity).
Spoiler Alert: The film is centred around the love between the extroverted, charming, loud and ‘over-energised’ ‘Kartik Singh’ (played by Ayushmann Khurrana) and the introverted, ever-obedient, moody, and anxious ‘Aman Tripathi’ (played by Jitendra Kumar). Their fundamental struggle is to obtain the approval of the Tripathi family, with its major obstacle being Aman’s ‘homophobic’ father, Shankar Tripathi. He tries various ways to ‘purify’ Aman, restrain him from being with Kartik, and pushes him to marry a family friend, Kusum. The other family members press on to ‘normalise’ Aman, but his union with Kartik is inevitable.
Aman and Kartik are reminiscent of the dejected and confused Arjun and the enlightening and blissful Krishna, respectively. Kartik is Aman’s reality which he tries to conceal from his family; Krishna, who is Nārāyana (God) is Arjun’s, who is Nara (Soul), inner self, that he is unaware of. In the earlier segment of the film, Aman rides the motorbike whilst Kartik embraces him. The Supreme remains concealed by the individual. Arjun at first is overconfident in winning the war, and later submits to Krishna due to his fear and anxiety. In the final scene, a stark contrast is seen as Aman lets Kartik ride the motorbike to the station; Krishna becomes Arjun’s charioteer and leads him to liberation.
The entire film can be allegorical of the classic conflict between the individual soul’s (Aman) yearning to be with the divine (Kartik) vs. the pull of the ‘Vikāras’ or vices (Tripathi family) and ‘Māyā’ or illusion (Kusum). In Hindu philosophy, the Vikaras prevent one from seeing the divine within one’s own self. They are the covering on the soul which plunge one deeper into ‘Māyā’. The Tripathi family can be represented by the ‘Shadripu’ or ‘six-enemies’. Shankar Tripathi, is ‘Mad’/’Ahankār’ or ego/individuality, resulting from the false pride of his reputation as an ‘agricultural scientist’ and his son as the propagator of his lineage. Shankar Tripathi is the dictatorial patriarch of the Tripathi family. The ego exerts tremendous control over the vices and the Self, to fulfil its desires. This ‘false pride’ in his black cauliflowers and his son’s heterosexuality are both unsuccessful. Sunaina Tripathi (played by Neena Gupta), Aman’s mother, has immense motherly love towards her dear son and his future in marriage; she represents ‘Moha’ or attachment.
Chaman Tripathi (played by Manu Rishi), Shankar Tripathi’s younger brother, is always overshadowed by him. He represents the ‘Lobha’ or greed to occupy his brother’s position and become independent. Champa Tripathi (played by Sunita Rajwar), is Chaman’s wife, representing the ‘Mātsarya’ or jealousy towards her controlling brother-in-law and sister-in-law. Rajni ‘Goggle’ Tripathi’s (played by Maanvi Gagroo) incessant ‘Krodha’ or anger results from her mistreatment by the family and her suitors, due to her disability. Keshav Tripathi (played by Neeraj Singh) is the ‘Kāma’ or desire to be appreciated by the family, as the entire plot revolves around Aman. Kusum Nigam (played by Pankhuri Awasthy) is the ‘Māyā’ or illusion, that Shankar and Sunaina want to forcefully wed their son to. Our internal enemies compel us to identify with the body. This enables us to fall prey to the temporary, illusory nature of the world – Māyā.
Throughout the movie, Kartik instigated Aman to fight the family, likened to the catalyst Krishna who inspired Arjun to fight through the Gita.
Kartik, like Krishna, initially acts. He drapes himself with a ‘rainbow coloured pride cape’ and uses a blowhorn to cleanse the Tripathis of their homophobia. This scene reminds us of Krishna’s Sandhi (conciliation) for the Pāndavas, at the court of the Kauravas. Duryodhan’s attempts to bind Krishna, is mirrored in the abuse of Kartik by Shankar. The Lord repeatedly fights the individuality, but it is up to the Soul to find its way out.
Once the Vikāras – the Tripathis – had decided that Aman, the Soul, must marry Kusum, Maya, Kartik, the Lord, attempts to put an end to his delusion. Aman’s illusion of a heterosexual pretence, and the Soul’s attachment with the transience of Maya, are not too dissimilar. As Arjun’s Dharma is reminded, ‘dharmyāddhi yuddhachhreyonyat kshatriyasya na vidyate’ (the Dharma (duty, inclination) of a warrior to fight in war), and his form as the eternal Soul,‘nainam chhindanti shastrani..’, Aman’s natural inclination is reminded. Kartik strengthens Aman, ‘klaibyam mā sma gamah Pārtha’, and tells him to face his reality. The Lord within repeatedly tells the Soul to realise its essential nature. Kartik let’s Aman be, as Krishna leaves the decision to fight with Arjun himself, ‘vimrishyaitadasheshena yathechhasi tathā kuru’.
From the start, Aman’s hesitation in revealing their relationship, just as Arjun’s arguments to not wage war – ‘Prajñāvādānscha bhāshase’ show the conflict between Dharma – duty and one’s inclination – and family and Māyā.
In the end, neither Kartik nor Krishna acted; Arjun and Aman did. The Soul fights the Vikāras and Māyā through the advice of the Lord, but the journey is of the Soul alone.
Towards the end of the film, Aman is unwillingly getting married to Kusum. She escapes with the wealth. After the Soul’s persistent efforts, Maya reveals her true nature to the Vikāras that want to possess her: Māyā is the illusion of possession that can never be fulfilled. The more she is chased, the further she will go. Once the alliance with the Māyā has ceased, the Lord can unite with the devotee. Kartik occupies the place of the bride. In a comical fight of ‘ Kabaddi’, Aman finally manages to win over the family, and even circles the fire with Kartik. He has his ‘nashto moha smritirlabdhvā’ moment, in which all his delusion has ended. He comes to senses and has total surrender to Kartik. The Tripathis – Vikaras – have no choice but to accept this union.
Despite the struggle, Aman (the Soul) subdues and controls the Tripathis (Shadripus) to be with Kartik (Supreme) with their approval and acceptance to be with Kartik (the Lord). In the end, even Kusum (Maya) leaves, but the Shadripus (Tripathis) are angered by this and enforce the heteronormative alliance between a man and a woman, between the Soul and Illusion. But for Aman (the Soul), his marriage to Kartik (God) is legitimate. Aman’s strong resolve to stand up against his Vikāras – his family – wins the hand of Kartik. The final unwillingness is of the ego, Shankar Tripathi. The individuality does not wish to leave the Soul; once the identity ends, the Soul and the Lord are non-different from each other ‘Ayam Ātmā Brahma’. Even if Shankar Tripathi’s homophobia has perished, his reluctance to give up his son to Kartik persists.
The highest stage of devotion, before ‘Advaita’ (oneness of the soul and the Lord) is Madhurā-Bhakti. This is when the devotee enjoys the company of the Lord, as a lover. In the Gitā, Krishna instructs Arjun, ‘priyā priyārharhasi deva sodhum’, come to me as a lover. To become a lover, full submission is required. The ego – the biggest obstacle of merging – needs to be forsaken. Shankar Tripathi is the ego of the Soul that prevents this union.
Aman finally lets go of Shankar Tripathi. The devotee, although unwillingly, is ready to let go of the ego. The devotee says: ‘Who cares to become sugar, I wish to taste it’. The devotee wishes to merge with Divinity and become liberated. The train is the infinite joy in which Kartik (the Divine) is waiting. Aman joins the hand of Kartik and the movie ends. He is assumed to live with Kartik forever in Delhi. The devotee enters a spiritual marriage with the Lord and lives in this state of oneness eternally. ‘Grbhanāmīte Saubhagatva Yahastam’ (Rig Veda, join my hand in marriage for your welfare)