In the first half, Satyaprem Ki Katha is a bad film in a jokey, frivolous, meandering way. After the intermission, it becomes a different sort of bad film, all tears and trauma and moral instruction. To have a worthwhile Hindi film release in 2023 seems too much to ask, so perhaps we should be grateful when we get to sample different flavours of failure.
Satyaprem (Kartik Aaryan) is a good-natured wastrel who lives with his parents (Gajraj Rao and Supriya Pathak) and sister (Shikha Talsania). He badly wants his bachelorhood (virginity) to end, but has neither money nor prospects. He’s fallen hard for Katha (Kiara Advani), the daughter of a wealthy snacks shop owner; she barely knows he exists and is in a relationship with some rich dude. Those with a taste for repetitive comedy and Gujarat porn—every scene a perfect storm of kem chhos and khakras and majamas—might just be awake when the film throws the first of three curveballs and Katha tries to kill herself.
After an incoherent series of events, Katha’s parents offer her hand in marriage to her rescuer—Satyaprem. She’s dismayed with the arrangement, but is forced to agree when her father threatens to slit his wrists. Satyaprem knows she’s unhappy—she tells him so in as many words—but he chooses to get married anyway (it's unclear why—he really doesn't seem the kind who'd want his partner to be miserable). The film slips back into Aaryan-esque comedy as Katha refuses to sleep in the same bed as her husband because he snores loudly. Then comes another bombshell. “I’m asexual,” she tells him, leaving the parents in my screening who’d brought their kids with some explaining to do in the interval.
Having grown up with two strong women and a meek father, it’s no surprise Satyaprem turns out to be a wife guy. He’s so supportive of Katha, in fact, that she invites him back into bed with her, rendering the debut of asexuality in Hindi cinema a brief one. But just when they’re on their way to belatedly consummating their union, she has what I can only describe as an episode. Her face stricken, she repeatedly takes the name of her former boyfriend, pleading with him to stop. Satyaprem looks on in shock, realizing not only that his wife was raped but that this was the reason she tried to take her life.
With that, Satyaprem Ki Katha completes the transformation into message film. What follows is as contrived as the comedy of the first half, but because it’s cloaked in moral certitude it probably won't be dismissed the same way. A character barely seen up till this point becomes the primary antagonist. Satyaprem continues to be supportive, fights with his family and in-laws, urges his wife to file charges, barely puts a foot wrong. Meanwhile, his hitherto decent dad morphs into a conservative scold, which just shows how vague the film’s idea of itself is. There isn’t a moment where director Sameer Vidwans and writer Karan Shrikant Sharma are able to suggest that these are actual living, breathing people. Like so many recent Hindi films, it lives in its own world, condescending to its viewers.
Advani and Aaryan are an uninvolving pair—as always, he gives the impression he loves himself more than anyone else. The problem isn’t that he’s a worse actor than most of his contemporaries but that he seems to have an unerring instinct for terrible projects. Thirteen years is too long a stretch to be an in-demand actor and still not have done one unambiguously good film. As for new Pasoori, let’s not overreact. It’s perfectly in tune with the lack of ambition that surrounds it.