From the not-so-subtle hint dropped in the trailer and the public reviews on social media, the plot of Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui is quite clear even to those who haven't watched the film. Ayushmann Khurrana, who plays the role of Manvinder Munjal, a ‘Gabru’ from Chandigarh falls head over heels for Maanvi Brar, the new Zumba instructor in his gym. After an awkward meet-cute, sparks fly and romance happens like any other Bollywood film.
So far we get to witness all the elements of a mainstream Hindi film — boy meets girl, attraction happens, confession of love, they sway on choreographed songs — until Maanvi drops the truth bomb. However, she never lies about it, just delays the coming out moment. Of course, she does so because one has to deal with the anxiety over and over again in every relationship.
When Maanvi informs Manu about her gender-identity, he evidently couldn’t accept the reality. Eventually, he goes from denial to acceptance. But we need to go through numerous sequences involving triggering terms, transphobic slurs, disturbing jokes made at the expense of the marginalised community to reach there.
What Abhishek Kapoor does differently is carving the character of Maanvi into a fierce and gutsy trans-woman, who doesn’t wait for a saviour. That makes me question why she is handed Manu as a trophy at the end?
Manu is introduced to us as a naive, ignorant, cis-man. His only concern at this point is bagging a local title, GOAT (Gabru Of All Time). Maanvi’s revelation provokes dismay and resentment in him. Fortunately, the makers dial down the melodrama during the confrontation, giving the viewers an insight into Maanvi’s personality.
As the film proceeds, we get a closer view at the fearless person Maanvi has emerged into, owing to her transformation. The conversation is kept concise and limited to physical transformation. However, her being comfortable in her skin definitely wasn’t just the pay-off of physically becoming a woman. In the course of a spat between Manu and Maanvi, the former hurls every possible insult that could be targeted at a transgender person. Rather than breaking down, she fights back and asserts the futility of a cis-man’s validation.
Needless to say, when you spot such a character, brilliantly brought to life by Vaani Kapoor, the ‘Knight in Shining Armor’ trope feels unnecessary. Even at Manu’s sister’s sniggering remark, “Ab munjal house mein ek kinnar bahu ban ke aayega” ( A ‘kinnar’ will become the bahu of a ‘munjal’ house now), Maanvi revolts in her own way.
That said, quite some space and screen time was allotted to Vaani Kapoor as it should be. But being the real protagonist of the film, we wanted her to be at the forefront. The rom-com does ride on the romance of a cis-man and a trans-woman but couldn't get over the ‘savior complex’.
Till date Bollywood relies on male saviours, who shield women in some way or the other, in cis-het rom-coms. Perhaps it’s too soon to expect otherwise in queer love stories, for now.