Comedy Couple Review: Saqib Saleem, Shweta Basu Prasad Starrer Isn’t A Tight Set, But Offers Relationship Lessons Galore
When I saw the trailer for Nachiket Samant’s Comedy Couple, starring Saqib Saleem and Shweta Basu Prasad, I was very intrigued. A millennial couple that performs standup comedy together? That’s such a fresh premise and with so much potential! Standup comedians derive a lot of inspiration from their own lives. And if this was true for Deep and Zoya, then there were chances of things getting real messy off-stage. When your punchiest joke is about your own relationship, where do you draw the line between what’s funny and what could be hurtful? Will there be insecurity, à la Abhimaan, where the woman is better than the man, causing insecurity? Also, couples fight, right? So what happens when they’re in the middle of a bad one, and they’ve got to perform a show?
The story is by Bikas Ranjan Mishra, with dialogues and screenplay by Kashyap Kapoor and Raghav Raj Kakker. The film also stars Pooja Bedi as Zoya’s feminist mom who paints nudist art in Paris. According to Zoya, her mother’s had enough adventure with a failed marriage and single parenthood for the both of them. Zoya wants relationship with an average guy who is a 6/10 on his best days. That is Deep alright. Rajesh Tailang plays Deep’s rather conservative father with Gandhian values and not a clue about his software engineer son’s decision to leave a six-figure paying IT job and work Gurgaon’s standup comedy scene. Although, he should’ve been more suspicious considering he is aware that Deep has a lying problem.
Okay, so here’s where things get a bit… era… messed up. You see, until the first 30 mins or so of the film, you’re still thinking that this is going to be movie about how this couple balances their professional and personal. Definitely a lot more about how they write their material, and what is at stake in their personal lives to make them the best comedy duo in the country. But a new plot point is introduced which kind of shifts the focus and makes everything else supplementary devices. Deep lies, like A LOT. In the first 15 mins of the film, he and Zoya have already lost their rented apartment because he lied about their marital status. And we slowly realise from his antics that his parents know nothing about his career change or about his girlfriend.
Just as they find their dream apartment with a little help from their friend, Timmy, and some more lying, a series of events unfold that nearly destroys Deep and Zoya’s relationship. Add to that an FIR for obscenity and cracking jokes on gaumutra and the arrival of Deep’s parents at the house he shares with Zoya, and you’ve got a convoluted web of themes here. There’s the lying bit, then the relationship issues, and there’s also the persecution of comedians in our country.
Not exactly a tight set
For a movie that is about comedians, Comedy Couple has a dearth of good punch lines. I understand comedy is hard especially when it is as obvious as writing a standup set into the story. But still, it’s kind of the expectation that this couple who has lofty ambitions would at least crack jokes on stage that elicit genuine laughter. During the climax of the film, Deep is performing this sad monologue on stage when Zoya butts in and says, “Joke suna. JOKE.” And you know, I felt that. Most of the sets didn’t feel like standup comedy, but more like some influencer giving a TED Talk about relationships on stage. You’d think that happened only when Deep and Zoya were going through a heartbreak, but nope, it was all throughout.
The film’s got comedians like Aadar Malik (who plays Deep’s stoner friend living in a pigsty of a house that made me cringemax) and Jasmeet Singh Bhatia. And a seasoned actor like Rajesh Tailang who though we’ve seen in very serious roles lately, manages to make the naïveté of a Gandhivaadi dad look hilarious. But while their presence does bring in the comic relief, Deep and Zoya left me quite high and dry when it came to their humour.
I did feel a tad disappointed when the premise was nothing about what I expected. But hey, I was ready to go with the flow, had it not taken this long to arrive at the good parts. The arrival of Deep’s parents, for me, was the high point of the story. That’s when the lies start to catch up with Deep, and the stakes get high. He has messed up with his parents, with Zoya, his profession, and is almost branded a terrorist by news channels for a joke. The subtle hints that were peppered through the first half, about Zoya being the smarter, funnier and more mature one in the relationship also has its moment in the light when Deep’s insecurity peeks through.
But it’s all still a lighthearted tone because Deep’s living with his stoner friend and his father’s on a maun vrat out of anger.
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Came for the jokes but taking away some relationship lessons
My expectations from Comedy Couple where inspired from a bunch of movies and shows that revolve around comedy and relationships that mix both business and pleasure. In Marvelous Mrs Maisel, Midge Maisel’s husband Joel is the one who wants to practice comedy professionally, but turns out, his wife is funnier than him. Now the two made a great team and could’ve been a comedy couple themselves. But Joel couldn’t bear his personal life being discussed on stage and mocked by his wife, and they part ways off-stage too. I also saw a Band Baaja Baaraat-esque plot, where the couple realise that the #1 rule of biness is “Jiske saath vyaapaar karo, usse kabhi na pyaar karo.” Meaning, while the idea of being a standup comedian couple was novel, it wasn’t really sustainable because emotions always mess things up. And then what are you going to do when the organisers come knocking and you’ve got sold-out shows to perform?
Comedy Couple barely touches upon the details, but broadly gives you an idea that professionally partnering with someone you love or falling in love with someone you’re working closely with is not good for business. Especially if your business affects other people’s lives, like in this case, Zoya and Deep’s manager’s. There’s also that huge lesson about lying and how it can destroy your perfectly happy life, which we’ve been taught ad nauseam by Jim Carrey in Liar Liar and Govinda in Kyo Kii… Main Jhuth Nahi Bolta.
There’s also the insecurity bit to be examined. You see, artists can be rather selfish and thirsty for praise. When it’s split in two, with one getting more than the other, that can be a problem. We see in Zoya and Deep’s case that they both perform the same joke on different occasions and while Zoya nails it, Deep gets jailed for it. They might be partners, but with Zoya making all the decisions, such as taking a stand as an artist and cracking risqué jokes, there’s always going to be a chance that only one of them is on board with the choices.
And finally, if both of you are comedians, how do we know when one is serious or joking? This often causes miscommunication not just between Deep and Zoya, like the whole ‘let’s get married’ decision, but also their relationships with their friends.
Comedy Couple gets points for genuine effort. The premise is something new, and in sync with how Indian cinema is now focusing on unique stories of real people that are relatable. Even though the jokes aren’t as funny as I wanted them to be, you instantly relate to the couple’s struggles, such as finding an apartment that lets live-in couples rent, or being a standup comedian in an increasingly intolerant country.
I do wish the writing would’ve been crisper and sharper, and the story focussing a little more on the comedy couple bit than the ‘liar liar’ and ‘couple’ bit.