Satyaprem likes to dream. In his dreams, he is a "Gujju patakha". In his dreams, this virgin youth has desi snacks with a date and then goes boating with her in a desi lake. But when he wakes up, he is a loser who has no job because he hasn't cleared his law exams. Kartik Aaryan sells this character beautifully. I wish he'd drop that pout once in a while and the early scenes have him in that loud, abrasive avatar that made him a star. But as Satyaprem Ki Katha goes on, the protagonist becomes really likeable – a genuinely good-hearted man. And this film, written by Karan Shrikant Sharma and directed by Sameer Vidwans, is a genuinely good-hearted drama. This is an issue-based movie, but it takes the issue to the masses – unlike, say, a Thappad, which was more multiplex-y. What's lost in nuance is gained in emotion. I teared up quite a bit.
But… only in the second half. It took me quite a while to tune into this very broad narrative, set in Ahmedabad. Satyaprem's father (Gajraj Rao) is unemployed, too. His mother (Supriya Pathak) and sister (Shikha Talsania) bring home the bacon – or whatever the vegetarian version is. Like many things in the movie, the sister is treated generically, superficially – like Satyaprem giving the law exams another shot, or his snoring problem (like in the Tamil film, Good Night), or even the falling-in-love. We get a gorgeous Arijit Singh number in 'Le aaunga', but the intensity in the music isn't complemented by the intensity in the scene. Then again, Satyaprem is not an intense guy. He takes life as it comes. He, too, is superficial. He just sees a pretty woman (Kiara Advani, as Katha), falls for her face, and dreams of a happily-ever-after.
It's Katha who finally pulled me into the film. Unlike Satyaprem, she is a serious person – and the character is written with some seriousness. She has a traumatic past, and when she gets together with Satyaprem, it haunts their relationship like a ghost. She slits her wrist with a razor blade, and when she survives, her father asks if she could not have tried harder to locate the vein. "Zindagi bhar ka shok manane se terah din ka maatam manana behtar hai," he says. Why is he being so cruel? That is part of Katha's trauma. You can see why, despite some initial resistance, Katha is drawn to Satyaprem. His innocence is irresistible. When she asks if he has no friends, he just says they have all moved on. "Jitne the, sab aage nikal gaye." I smiled, but with some sadness. But Satyaprem is not bitter. He has an in-house friend in his father. That will do.
The second half takes the generic hints dropped in the first half and truly becomes its own movie. At first, Satyaprem's father comes off as the nice guy and his mother comes off as the nagging shrew. But post-interval, we see that the mother has a far greater understanding of people than the father has. "If you cannot understand someone's pain, at least don't aggravate it," she pleads. Running a family, she probably knows something about pain – and it's refreshing to see the traditional saas-bahu-style friction being subverted. This is a private moment, and it finds an echo in a very public moment when Satyaprem puts his mother's thoughts into action during a Satyanarayan puja, which is a prayer to the Lord who is seen as the essence of Truth. These are big Hindi-cinema beats, and they work solidly.
Satyaprem Ki Katha plays out like a dramatic version of an Ayushmann Khurana movie. Asexuality, rape, consent, social stigma – it's all in here. And the film's finest stretch is when Katha and Satyaprem confront their ghosts, and their families. The expected earthquake happens, but the tremors are mild. The families come around easily because Satyaprem and Katha are not afraid of consequences – and that is the real message. One of Satyaprem's most endearing qualities is that he blurts out whatever's on his mind, because… why be afraid to tell the truth! There is, at first, a rebuttal of this thought – that some truths cannot be told so easily. But by keeping everything inside, your life becomes a lie. When Katha reveals her trauma, she begins to smile. That's this film's most beautiful image. That's why the title works both ways. Satyaprem makes Katha his – so she becomes "Satyaprem Ki Katha". But more importantly, the truth sets her free. Put differently, the film is about the love for truth: "Satyaprem Ki Katha".