Director: Pravesh Bhardwaj
Starring: Prashant Narayanan, Aruna Shields, Naved Aslam, Lucy Hassan
First time director and writer Pravesh Bhardwaj sunk without trace after his low-budget, big screen flop Mr. Singh/Mrs. Mehta and deservedly so. The film is set in the UK and follows the convoluted saga of advertising executive Karan Singh (Naved Aslam), his wife Neera (Aruna Shields), an online agony aunt, businesswoman Sakhi Mehta (Lucy Hassan) and her painter husband Ashwin (Prashant Narayanan), whose lives become intertwined when it is revealed that Karan and Sakhi are having an extramarital affair.
Neera uncovers this after reading incriminating text messages and overhearing a telephone conversation, conducted in a ludicrous stage whisper, between Karan and Sakhi. Intent on confronting the mistress, Neera turns up on Sakhi’s doorstep, but is met by the clueless Ashwin instead. Embarrassed, Neera pretends that she has come to the wrong address and promptly leaves.
Unannounced, Ashwin arrives to collect Sakhi from work one day and sees his wife getting into a cab. He secretly follows her to a hotel where he encounters Neera, also spying on her husband’s movements. A tentative friendship between Neera and Ashwin develops from their shared predicament and eventually becomes a full-blown affair, played out against a backdrop of the artist’s studio.
When Ashwin suggests painting Neera in the nude she senses the perfect opportunity for revenge on their respective spouses and ultimately achieves her objective in the closing scene. Incidentally, viewers excited by the prospect of seeing a naked Shields will be sorely disappointed; the conservative Indian censors were unwilling to allow any blatant nudity, presumably unconvinced by its “artistic merit.”
Skin show and sex scenes alone don’t render Mr. Singh/Mrs. Mehta watchable though, as the film not only suffers from shoddy production values, but some truly appalling acting as well. Shields, in particular, seems unable to convey any genuine emotion when required during key scenes, such as registering shock at the discovery of the affair, but this could be partly due to bad direction, or a poorly written and highly predictable script.
For example, the film opens with both couples looking ridiculously mismatched and the audience is left in no doubt as to how the story will unfold, whereas lines such as: “For this painting I can do anything, even have children if you ask me to” (said by Sakhi, when attempting to ingratiate herself with her cuckold husband) will have you laughing out loud! The dialogue delivery is also stilted, with neither British Asian female lead able to speak fluent Hindi.
Narayanan emerges as the only talented performer of the entire cast, who somehow manages to make the spineless and easily manipulated Ashwin a sympathetic character, but Shields’ lack of acting ability evokes nothing but indifference to her portrayal of Neera’s plight. In fact, the only saving grace of Mr. Singh/Mrs. Mehta is the lilting, traditional soundtrack, largely composed by Grammy nominee Shujaat Hussain Khan, which is totally incongruous with this tacky film.
Mr. Singh/Mrs. Mehta’s tagline proclaims: “If the world was perfect, they would never have met.” In my perfect world this film would never have been made!