For a film decked up in full Punjabi-Bollywood regalia, complete with a catchy Sachin-Jigar soundtrack, Abhishek Kapoor’s Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui is surprisingly gentle – or at least, it sincerely tries to be. Its plot is as straightforward as can be – a guy and a girl meet and fall for each other. There’s just one hitch. (Let’s get to the ‘hitch’ in a bit.)

Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui is meant to be a light-hearted depiction of a serious subject; and the film approaches its characters and plot exactly that way. The guy in question is a gym owner named Manvinder Munjal aka Manu (Ayushmann Khurana). The oddballs around Manu are plenty – like his twin acolytes Riz and Jomo who are his biggest cheerleaders, and his widowed father who has finally found love again at the tender age of 55. (I was particularly tickled by the cutesy way this particular situation – an inter-faith one, no less – was treated in the film, way in the background.)

Manu’s two sisters, meanwhile, play the role of mothers (firmly plural) in his life, meddling with his own best interests in mind, desperately trying to get him to ‘settle down’. One fine day, a Zumba instructor walks into his life. The attraction is instant and mutual. Sparks fly, songs play. Now, we come to the ‘hitch’.

Manu Munjal, on the other hand, is a macho Punjabi munda, whose sole focus in life thus far has been an unfulfilled quest to win a local pageant for strong, bulky gabrus. For a guy like him, discovering this aspect of Manvi’s life is too much of a leap. And therein lies the conflict. If you glaze over the details of the conflict, the rest of the film follows the path we’ve come to expect of most Bollywood love stories. Luckily, the simplicity of the film doesn’t hinder the impact that it can potentially have.

Mainstream Hindi cinema has rarely centered stories around trans characters, and trans identities in general haven’t always been treated with respect in our movies. So, just having a transgender character as one half of the lead pair in a Bollywood romance is worthy of appreciation by itself. But Kapoor and his writing team of Supratik Sen and Tushar Paranjpe don’t just stop there.

What’s remarkable is that the film isn’t just about Manu and the people around him updating their understanding of gender and identity. In Khurrana’s social comedy oeuvre, this one is slightly unique because he isn’t the one who is stuck in a predicament, so to speak. The solution to his problem in the film is simple – go and google it.

More importantly, the film spends considerable time giving us a sense of what Manvi has gone through, the struggles she has endured (and still does) to carve out a space for herself, to be the person she is within. Granted, upper middle class Manvi comes with socio-economic privileges that many more in our country don’t have. But expecting discourse on intersectionality in a film that’s already pushing a certain boundary is too much of an ask. Whatever it does delve into, is portrayed with a nuance that I did not expect.

There are many aspects of the film worth dissecting and debating over. Casting an ostensibly cis-gendered actor to play a transgender character, for instance. Or where the line for humour lies in the context of the film, and whether or how often the film crosses that line. Expectedly, derogatory words and euphemisms about misunderstood aspects surrounding trans people are some of the first reactions to Manvi’s secret. But, in the film’s hierarchy of characters, starting from Manu downwards, visibly enough people learn and grow in the course of the film. Personally, I do hope the film evokes critical reactions and writing around these aspects, especially from transgender voices.

Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui movie review A breezy social message romcom that punches well above its weight

Nonetheless, what Kapoor and team have pulled off must be appreciated for the strides it does take. While Ayushmann is as competent as ever, this film gives us Vaani Kapoor’s most significant role yet. As an actor, she is a product of a system that has relied heavily on encouraging unrealistic beauty and body standards (especially for women), while discouraging individuality or queerness.