Director Abhishek Pathak’s Hindi remake of Kannada film Ondu Motteya Kathe (2017) is both engaging and entertaining
Rating: 3 / 5
By Mayur Lookhar
Through the course of the next ten days, cinephiles will be privy to two films that are based on the same theme. Abhishek Pathak’s Ujda Chaman (2019) and Amar Kaushik’s Bala (2019) both tell the story of a man suffering from androgenic alopecia. In layman’s term, it’s simply referred to as balding. Pathak’s Ujda Chaman is up first when it releases on 1 November with Bala following a week later.
Ujda Chaman is the remake of Kannada film Ondu Motteya Kathe (2017). (The Kannada film was written and directed by debutant Raj B. Shetty who also played the lead role)
Set in Delhi, Ujda Chaman tells the story of Chaman Kohli [Sunny Singh Nijjar] and his struggle to cope with his balding. Ridiculed by his students, the Hindi professor from Hansraj College is more consumed by his own insecurities. Having been rejected 50 times, Chaman gets lucky to find a date through Tinder [popular dating mobile application]. Things don’t turn out as both Chaman and Apsara Batra [Maanvi Gagroo] had envisioned. Their short meet ends on a ‘we-can-be-good-friends’ note. Destiny though has other plans for Chaman and the stout woman. [No disrespect to the lady]
Your reviewer has not seen the original Kannada film, but word has it that Pathak has stuck to the core storyline. What’s naturally changed is the tone and the setting. With the film based in Delhi, Pathak’s delves into the Punjabi, Haryanvi humour. The tone is a little loud in the first half, but the neatly paced screenplay in the second half lifts the film. The key message of embracing one’s individuality comes to the fore, but it’s done so without resorting to any unnecessary melodrama.
Bald and obese people are often subject to cheap slurs. Bullying is to be condemned but the bigger harm that people do to themselves is by succumbing to their own insecurities. As former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu often said, “Duniya main sabse bada rog, mere baare mein kya kahenge log ? (The biggest disease in the world is what will people think of me?) The constant bullying leaves Chaman frustrated as he believes his bald look will never see him being loved. Bald he may be, but Chaman aspires to be married to a beautiful woman. While he questions the societal behaviour towards bald people, Chaman himself is guilty of having a myopic view of beauty.
Sunny Singh Nijjar ‘s claim to fame is featuring in Luv Ranjan’s misogynistic romantic comedies – Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 (2005), Akash Vaani (2013), Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety (2018). With Ujda Chaman, he comes out of Luv Ranjan and Kartik Aaryan’s shadow to carve his own identity. Nijjar aces the look (courtesy make-up artiste Preetisheel Singh). More than the physical aspect, Nijjar succeeds in understanding the emotional depth of his character. Nijjar is particularly efficient at bringing out the gullibility of Chaman Kohli. He easily buys into suggestion of wooing his student Aaina (Karishma Sharma) or his colleague Ekta (Aiswharya Sakhuja). None though yield the desired result. He’s too meek to even speak his heart out. Chaman moves you with his vulnerability. Arguably, Chaman Kohli is the most defining role of Nijjar’s career.
Maanvi Gagroo’s been around the TV/ Web circuit but like Nijjar, she too, enjoys her finest hour in films with Ujda Chaman. Having been shocked to find her date being bald, Apsara curses her luck. The prejudice though doesn’t last long. That attitude stems from her Apsara making peace with her own imperfections.
Gifted with an adorable smile, Gagroo has a tremendous screen presence. Her natural talent sees her pull off the character with an effortless ease. The screenplay truly lifts the moment Apsara enters into the fray. Gagroo leaves an indelible mark on the viewer, but the lady would also hope that going forward she doesn’t get stereotyped as the plump woman.
Much of the humour stems from Chaman’s apathy but it’s the supporting cast that leaves you in splits. Atul Kumar and Grusha Kapoor are brilliant as Shashi and Sushma Kohli, Chaman’s parents. The duo are true blue Punjabis. Loud they are but not annoying. Kapoor had first made an impression way back in the 1990s when she played Devyani Seth in the popular soap Tara. A Punjabi herself, Kapoor plays the Delhiite Punjaban to a nicety. The funny one liners belong to Sushma and Shashi.
Saurabh Shukla plays the father to Ayushmann Khurrana in Bala. The veteran actor though plays a small cameo as the family astrologer in Ujda Chaman.
Unheralded actor Sharib Hashmi has a pivotal role. He plays the Hansraj College peon Raj and Chaman’s good friend. Chaman bares his heart to Raj, who eventually helps him find peace.
Pathak gets his cast right but a slightly underwhelming first half hampers the film. The dramatic, loud background score in certain sequences is annoying. Ujda Chaman speaks against physical prejudices, but in trying to bust a few, it inadvertently is guilty of carrying one.
Initially, Chaman longs to be surrounded by beautiful company. The gorgeous women Aaina and Ekta though break his heart. While a person’s inner beauty ought to be given consideration, but natural beauty is no crime. Ujda Chaman partly projects its beautiful people as mean, opportunists. The film perhaps questions the character of Aaina and Ekta, but it passes off Chaman’s lust as desperation, humour. Beauty lies in an in the eyes of the beholder. Social message is vital but no film should make sweeping statements.
People tease bald men but it’s rare to find an entire classroom openly make fun of their teacher. And it’s not just the students but the Hansraj college principal too indirectly mocks Chaman. The insults by the college students and the principal gives a sense of institutionalized bullying. That’s never healthy.
Ujda Chaman though rides over its follies to still give the viewers an engaging and entertaining experience. Chaman Kohli has made a bald statement. Now, it’s over to you Bala.