Although the freedom to express one’s sexuality has been legal for years in India, mainstream Indian cinema continues to focus primarily on stereotypical hetero-normative couples who end up marrying and living happily ever after. Directed by Abhishek Kapoor, “Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui” is an unconventional love story between bodybuilder Manvinder Munjal aka Manu (Ayushmann Khurrana) and Zumba teacher Manvi Brar (Vaani Kapoor). Audiences can sense a chemistry between the two from their first meeting and, as expected, a passionate and intimate relationship ensues.
Little by little, simple lust and attraction turn into love. However, Manvi’s revelation that she is a trans woman drives Manu into a state of confusion and denial: how can he have feelings for a “man”? Raised in a typical Punjabi patriarchal family and educated in a public school, Manu struggles to accept that love transcends gender, norms, bodies and societal validation. Instead of beating around the bush, Kapoor reveals Manvi’s past at the start of the film itself, which will lead to different reactions from audiences depending on their perspective on gender and sexuality. Since this is a sensitive subject, the main actors strive to internalize their roles as characters and display the right emotions.
It is clear that Manvi’s struggles continue to this day; Bollywood rarely centers stories about trans characters in a positive light. Although Brar comes from a well-off family, she still struggles to find a place for herself in society. With only her father (Kanwaljit Singh), a retired sergeant, accepting her true self, she goes through various trials and sorrows, including isolation by her own family, even her mother. It also challenges established social norms of masculinity. Despite being humiliated by everyone, Manvi continues to be strong and doesn’t need a dominant man to save her honor. Vaani’s exceptional acting helps us understand his character’s story. It was a bold move on her part to play a trans woman compared to her arm candy characters in some of her previous films.
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The concept of what is “normal” is also explored through the Munjal family. From Manu falling in love with an “original girl”, as his sisters (Tanya Abrol and Sawan Rupowali) say, to his father (Girish Dhamija) being in an interfaith marriage, the protagonist is excluded from his own story.
Overall, the cinematic genre moves from comedy to romantic comedy to drama and finally ends with sports, grappling with various social biases throughout, which keeps audiences hooked. History never deviates; it’s pretty quick and manages to expertly highlight the difficulties faced by trans people. However, the story could be a little more realistic about how people navigate social prejudices about their gender identity and how they overcome and accept themselves.
Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui is a step forward in speaking openly about subjects considered “taboo” and also a revelation for many.
Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui
Who should watch it?
The movie is rated 18+ and therefore may not be suitable for the whole family to sit and watch together. Yet for anyone interested in understanding the issues facing the LGBTIQA + community in this part of the world and exploring their own gender and gender biases, this is a wonderful and refreshing watch.