Cast: Vikrant Massey, Kriti Kharbanda, Yamini Das, Gauahar Khan
Director: Devanshu Singh
Rating: 1.5 stars (out of 5)
If you are a sucker for big fat Indian weddings, especially of the unbridled kind that Hindi movies peddle, chances are you will take a shine to 14 Phere. The film has two. Hence the title. The problem is that the grand weddings that this dreary dramedy stages do not add up to the intended double dose of drollery.
Neither is that all. 14 Phere, written by Manoj Kalwani and directed by Devanshu Singh, commits the cardinal error of trivializing the menace of upper caste entitlement and the ugliness of patriarchy.
On the face of it, this Zee5 film might appear to be calling out people who take pride in the perch on the caste hierarchy that their birth has granted them. What it actually ends up doing is make light of the thought processes that engender social and gender prejudices.
Doubtless, 14 Phere has an unusual plot. A Rajput boy from Bihar and a Jat girl from Rajasthan are in love with each other. They, however, know for sure their families will have none of it. Left with no option, they enlist the help of a pair of Delhi theatre actors. The duo stands in for the parents of both the girl and the boy. The payoff from this peculiar premise proves to be negligible.
14 Phere isn't a rollicking romp. Notwithstanding the serviceable chemistry between the lead actors, Vikrant Massey and Kriti Kharbanda, and a few eye-catching performances from the supporting cast, the film goes around in circles, making all the wrong noises in the bargain.
Serious issues - caste prejudice, gender discrimination and honour killing - yes, even honour killing - are employed to fuel mirth instead of moral disquiet. To be sure, the last-mentioned act is only contemplated but not actually implemented.
Small mercies? No way. References to a patriarch's intention to eliminate a girl who has eloped with her lover are made with alarming nonchalance as part of the film's supposedly comic construct. A manhunt is launched for the woman and the audience is expected to accept this misdeed as a fact of life in 2021.
It is hugely problematic that the social mores that compel the lovebirds (they are live-in partners in Delhi NCR and co-workers in an MNC that is toying with the idea of transferring one of them to Boston on a long-term assignment) to resort to subterfuge do not eventually earn the contempt they deserve.
The wayward parents - especially the two paterfamiliases - get away with all but murder. You want the overbearing, entitled men - among them is the girl's brother - to pay for the sins they commit in thought and in deed. They do not, certainly not to the extent that would make the comeuppance exemplary.
14 Phere perceives their transgressions not only as temporary errors of judgment but, more surprisingly, also as manifestations of the men's love for their progeny and their belief that their daughters do not have minds of their own and therefore need protection. Even when the tables are turned on them, they aren't brought to their knees.
Sanjay (Vikrant Massey) is from Jehanabad. Aditi (Kriti Kharbanda) is from Jaipur. Given the distance the two have travelled from where their respective families are stuck, they could well be residing on a planet their parents have never heard of.
Sanjay's father (Vineet Kumar) has another crisis to deal with. His daughter, the hero's elder sister, has eloped. The old man is desperate to find the girl he once doted on. He now wants to kill her. Nobody raises an eyebrow.
Summoned to Jehanabad at very short notice, Sanjay quickly figures out that now isn't the best time for him to broach the subject of his marriage with Aditi. He knows that his mother (Yamini Das), as docile as a lamb but far more broad-minded than her husband, is in no position to take a stand against the head of the family.
The plight of the motherless Aditi is no better. Her father, Dharampal (Govind Pandey), and her elder brother Vivek (Sumit Suri), too, are unapologetic misogynists. They are bent upon ensuring that neither Aditi nor her younger sister Sneha (Sonakshi Batra) stray from the straight and narrow. The notion that the two girls in the family should have the right to decide for themselves what they want to do with their lives is anathema to them.
Aditi and Sanjay turn to Zubina (Gauahar Khan), an amateur theatre actress who calls herself "the Meryl Streep of Delhi", for help. She has already been cast as mother to the lead character that Sanjay is playing in the troupe's upcoming play. The opportunity to pass herself off as his, and Aditi's, mom in real life excites her no end. It's the role of a lifetime, she exults.
Amay (Jameel Khan), a Method actor who swears by Stanislavski, comes out of self-imposed retirement at the hero's behest despite his strong reservations about Zubina being roped in to don the guise of his wife twice over.
The hope of a right royal comic romp from here on is dashed because the caper never gets going in right earnest. The situational comedy limps along without coming anywhere near delivering the goods.
Aditi and Sanjay have to pull off two real weddings with their fake parents in attendance. Once the ball is set rolling, there is no turning back. 14 Phere hurtles down a zig-zagging path strewn with inane, implausible ideas.
One wedding is as chaotic as the other: brothers, sisters, a maternal uncle, a travel agent and whole lot of wedding guests, some real, others fake, are thrown into the infantile mix in the hope of generating some hilarity. The ill-advisedly facetious 14 Phere rides on vacuous prattle and only leaves one baffled at the futility of the exercise.
Massey and Kharbanda make a passable pair and the supporting actors, notably Vineet Kumar, Jameel Khan and Yamini Das (as a silent, submissive woman who is a far cry from the garrulous mother/mom-in-law she played in the recent Haseen Dillruba) hold their own. But the performances cannot escape the brunt of the banal.
Hadn't the film been as casual about the repercussions of putrid paternalism, it might have squeezed some humour out if its less laboured moments, no matter how few and far between they are. Given its questionable messaging, 14 Phere is not funny.