Marriage is more often than not an exhibition of caste, class and its associated privilege. So when a film is about not one but two marriages, there are problems abound on-screen and off of it. 14 Phere is about a Rajput guy Sanjay (Vikrant Massey) and a Jatt girl Aditi (Kriti Kharbanda) trying to live their ‘happily ever after’ despite surmounting problems from both their garden-variety casteist families. But it doesn’t mean these proverbial star-crossed lovers are in the world of a Sairat.
They don’t want to elope because they love their parents. They also want to get married because that’s what their parents want them to do. What ensues is a grand comedy of errors and mistaken identities, which never really takes off. When we first meet Sanjay and Aditi, they are already in love, and with just one montage song, we are acquainted with the story of how Sanjay met and fell in love with his college senior, Aditi. Both are in cushioned blue-collar jobs that allow them to rent a really posh house, and hold the prospect of a US transfer. It is this comfortable life away from the reality that comes crashing down when Shwetha, Sanjay’s sister, elopes with a guy from a different caste.
While Sanjay’s family’s decision to get him married immediately seems to be a normal consequence, the nonchalance about the family patriarch’s decision to bump off the sister is shocking. Soon after this insensitivity to Shwetha’s impending honour killing, we get a funny sequence when Sanjay is forced to start spinning a yarn of lies about the caste of his girlfriend. A similar lie is told by Aditi to her parents and then we have the couple taking in the help of a set of fake parents (Gauahar Khan and Jameel Khan) to pull off two marriages.
Making a light-hearted film about caste and honour killing is a tightrope walk. It isn’t that Sanjay and Aditi, who are at the receiving end of caste-based atrocities, are really absolving the idea of caste. They just want to tiptoe around it and move on to better pastures in the West. The treatment of this premise isn’t something that bodes well. The inconsistencies in tonal shifts is jarring. Even when we see people being threatened with immolation, we are expected to laugh at the ‘funny’ dialogue exchanges.
Even when we see Aditi wanting to run away from her casteist family, we see Sanjay wanting to stay back because of... well, mother sentiment. Once again, it might seem a decent enough thing to have a conflict on, but the ultimate resolution almost negates the earnestness. The same holds good for the central conflict too as the much-awaited climactic showdown doesn’t land all the punches. Yes, it shows a mirror to the futility of the idea of honour and caste, but with no real change happening in the minds of any of the characters, it becomes an exercise of a surface-level exploration of a deep-rooted problem.
While the performances and dialect proficiencies of the leads and supporting characters are engaging, their big humour set pieces, reminiscent of scenes from ensemble films made by the likes of Priyadarshan, don’t really work the way the makers had envisioned. This pulls back the impact of the fun quotient of 14 Phere, and we are left dealing with perfunctory lines like, “Honour bachi hai toh, killing kyun karna hai.” The satire element doesn’t really have the bite either.
Although the film doesn’t really absolve the casteist families of their violent streaks, it doesn’t really acknowledge them either. In fact, I was more worried about what would happen to this couple after the marriage got over, the climactic showdown was done, and they all returned to their respective homes. I couldn’t, for one moment, believe they were left off the hook because there isn’t even a cursory nod towards a change of heart. The families are still casteist. Both Sanjay-Aditi, and Shwetha and her husband, are still in danger. What if a year after the marriage or so, these families do the unthinkable? The unfortunate thing about 14 Phere is the situations are dealt with lightly but we are shown what the families are truly capable of. Even as the curtains close with all the characters smiling, I couldn’t help but think of a bunch of what-ifs. Hope all’s well with what actually only seems like it ended well.
14 Phere Movie Review
Cast: Vikrant Massey, Kriti Kharbanda, Gauahar Khan, Yamini Das
Director: Devanshu Singh
Streaming on: Zee5