Satyaprem Ki Katha aspires to be a social issue picture that feels less heavy-handed than other Hindi films about important topics sometimes do. It almost meets its goals, but it trips just before crossing the finish line.
One of Satyaprem Ki Katha‘s selling points is that its characters are nuanced and have room to grow. Kartik Aaryan plays Satyaprem, whom everyone calls Sattu. He’s a nice but mediocre guy who’s been left behind as his peers advanced in their careers and romantic relationships. He tends the house with his dad/best friend Narayan (Gajraj Rao) while his mom Diwali (Supriya Pathak) and sister Sejal (Shikha Talsania) earn money teaching dance and exercise classes.
Sattu pines for the beautiful woman he saw dancing at last year’s holiday function: Katha (Kiara Advani), daughter of wealthy shop owner Harikishen Kapadia (Siddharth Randeria). When Sattu doesn’t see Katha at this year’s function, her father tells him that she felt unwell and stayed home. Sattu sneaks into the Kapadia mansion to confess his feelings, arriving just in time to stop Katha’s suicide attempt from succeeding.
Worried that Katha’s recent breakup with her rich boyfriend Tapan (Arjun Aneja) and her newly revealed mental health problems will tarnish Katha’s reputation among the upper crust, Harikishen marries her off to the first suitable groom he finds: Sattu. Katha agrees to the marriage, but only because her dad threatens to kill himself if she doesn’t. The look of heartbreak and betrayal on Katha’s face as she leaves home after the wedding is devastating.
Understandably, the marriage starts off rocky. The fact that Katha won’t let Sattu sleep in the same room as her becomes hot neighborhood gossip. As unsympathetic as Katha’s father is to his daughter, he kindly explains to Sattu that something awful must have happened for Katha to have attempted suicide. Sattu takes his time earning Katha’s trust, helping her to open up and reveal the trauma she’s been hiding.
Harikishen is a good example of what Satyaprem Ki Katha — directed by Sameer Vidwans and written by Karan Shrikant Sharma — does well in terms of character creation. All of the characters are multidimensional, sometimes holding contradictory views or changing their stance depending on the circumstances. Narayan is the same way, counseling Sattu on patience and understanding, but only until the family is threatened by scandal.
Such complexity makes the characters feel believable and gives the actors a chance to demonstrate their range. Advani nails her part, but Aaryan understands what’s being asked of him, too, saving his smarmy grins for dream-sequence dance numbers. Pathak and Rao are also quite good as Sattu’s concerned parents.
Speaking of dance numbers, the inclusion of several song sequences lightens a film that deals with heavy subjects, but without being jarring or tonally inconsistent.
For all the good work Vidwans and Sharma do creating characters who address complicated issues from multiple angles, the moral center of the film falls apart as the story draws to a close. What had been a good example of how to exercise patience with victims and take their accounts seriously becomes yet another film where a victimized woman is sidelined and the male hero is centered. By the end, it’s Sattu who decides the proper way for Katha to heal, and he defines what constitutes justice.
I’m not willing to write Satyaprem Ki Katha off entirely just because it doesn’t stick the landing. There’s some value to be found in dissecting the ways the movie gets things wrong at the end, as well as what it gets right early on. Still, it’s a bummer to see it come so close only to fall apart.
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