Mixed Doubles is mixed fare. Stuck uncomfortably between being a comedy of sorts and a serious look at the modern marriage, Mixed Doubles is a bit of a hash. You come out of the theatre neither with profound thoughts on marriage nor vastly tickled. Director Rajat Kapoor starts off with an interesting premise but sketchy characters and clumsy execution messes up the effort.
So here’s a quick look at the plot:
Sunil [Ranvir Shorey] and Malati [Konkona Sen Sharma], mid 30s, live in Mumbai with their young son. A marriage of choice, it is clear that the early years were very happy. Now they have the usual indicators of a good middle class life: Double income, single kid, nice apartment, decent job, some good friends, washing machine, desktop computer, car. But while there is still comfort, after ten years, the spark is gone.
One evening, their NRI friends come home for dinner and the man confesses to Sunil that the secret of their happy marriage is ‘swinging’. Some rather corny jokes later, Sunil is fixated on this as the solution to their bedroom predicaments. Much of the movie then focuses on him trying to find other swinging couples through newspaper ads. Some inconsequential and supposedly amusing scenes later, he meets Vinod [Rajat Kapoor]. Vinod and Kalpana [Koel Purie] apparently do this regularly. They agree to meet for dinner and take things forward from there. Sunil assures Vinod that his wife, having studied science in college, loves to experiment.
Of course, this is far from the truth. Simple, straight-laced Malati is aghast when she finds out. She doesn’t want to swing. She doesn’t want to sleep with a stranger. She is disgusted that her husband wants her to. There are arguments. There is huffing and puffing. There is much throwing of clothes into a battered washing machine. Finally, she walks out in disgusted flurry despite husbandly attempts to appease.
This is where the movie loses its realistic treatment and becomes ludicrous. Sunil fakes a heart attack (!) to convince his wife to come back and swing. She is advised by the doctor that he should not undergo any “stress”. I wasn’t clear about whether Sunil managed to fool the doctors at a hospital (unbelievable) or they were in cahoots with him (even more so). Malati is distressed by poor hubby’s condition and reluctantly gives in to the idea of doing it ‘just once’.
What I find offensive here is that while we have no problem showing or seeing partner swapping, we can’t stomach the fact that a woman would go along without being coerced/blackmailed into it. So we prefer to see poor unsuspecting Malati go along with her cad of a husband to ‘save his life’ (ah, the bharatiya nari that she is) rather than agree to the idea after a friendly, equal discussion. Because that would make her a bad woman. And we can’t have that, can we?
The climax is surprisingly short and a bit of a whimper after the elaborate stage setting that has taken place for two hours. Won’t give spoilers here so watch the movie to figure out the details of who sleeps with whom.
On the positive side, some of the scenes have been handled with sensitivity and realism to bring out the rhythms of normal, married life. Some of the humour elicits chuckles. Konkona Sen Sharma is natural, endearing and credible. Koel Puri, in a very limited role, is decent. She is getting stereotyped as the ‘disturbed woman’ though. Rajat Kapoor is merely passable.
The movie is clearly centred around Ranvir Shorey and this may be its biggest problem. While he is natural enough, he imbues his character with nothing special. Not a single distinctive quality. Nothing makes one want to understand or empathise with Sunil. What are his motivations? What is his thought process? All one gathers is that he really wants to have sex with women other than his wife. But is there guilt? Confusion? Sadness?
Ranvir plays the character completely straight, with no nuances, no shades and no greys. He comes across as relentlessly callow, selfish, insensitive and dishonest. He supposedly loves his wife but does not shy away from lying to her and then emotionally blackmailing her into something that he knows she does not want to do. Even his jealous outburst at the end is shallow and clownish.
If this is the ‘real’ man, heaven help us.
And this, in essence, is my problem with the film. While posturing as a realistic, modern, serious and provocative film, Mixed Doubles reinforces the same old gender stereotypes. Men are selfish, sex-obsessed creeps; women are loving, sacrificial lambs. And women who aren’t (like Kalpana) smoke too much, see spirits, talk nonsense, prefer role playing sex games to the actual thing, and in short, are cuckoo.
It’s sad that over the centuries, we’ve moved from talking about romance to sex to alternative lifestyles, open marriage and partner swapping. But in our stories, the woman still doesn’t have much of a say. So much for modernism.