In the crowded city of Mumbai, the ultimate symbol of freedom is owning your own home. The ultimate goal: love. The ultimate likelihood of either happening? Close to none.
“Love Per Square Foot” chronicles two strangers’ chance meeting, which turns into a desperate mission to escape the day-to-day drudgery of sharing space with a million other hot bodies. Sanjay Chaturvedi (Vicky Kaushal), an entry level software engineer, and Karina D’Souza (Angira Dhar), a loan officer, are employees at the same bank in the same building. The film opens with Sanjay brushing his teeth on the roof since there isn’t room in his family’s apartment, and it quickly becomes clear how precious space is. Every night Sanjay returns to a different relative sleeping on his bed. After coming back from a party to a particularly awful night with flatulent Uncle Gajju, he vows to get his own flat, something no Chaturvedi in four generations has done.
A perfect storm sets an improbable sequence of document forging, marriage faking and house acquisition into motion. The next morning, Sanjay sees an ad for government subsidized housing and bumps into the pretty clerk he saw at a party the night before (Karina). Seizing upon her dream for a house, they madly decide to marry, believing it to be their only chance at home ownership. Along the way, they realize they’re in love — even if they’ve done everything out of order, thinking of the house first, getting married for the house and discovering love after. It’s almost like an arranged marriage, all for a house.
Just as everything is falling into place and they win the lottery for the apartment, family differences and fate come roaring back into reality. She is a Christian; he, a Hindu. Her family is reserved and spiritual; his, boisterous and ritualistic. Still, they might have been happily in love if Sanjay’s old lover, his boss Rashi, didn’t meddle. To get the advance on salary for the house, she forces Sanjay to sleep with her. Then, she fakes a pregnancy, tells Karina and leaves this young, innocent, dreamy love in shambles.
Up to this point, director Anand Tiwari’s representation of Mumbai’s urban love largely works. A lot of the romantic moments border on corny, but the journey as a whole is desperate, endearing, badly thought out; the perfect ingredients for a romcom. He leans away from making big statements and instead gently pushes themes, like how poverty isn’t actually the condition that crushes spirits. Both Sanjay and Karina are happy, even if just briefly, in the pursuit of a dream. Nothing has actually changed, but there was hope. But when it comes falling down, the simple realization that everything you try — legal, illegal, moral or immoral — won’t change your situation breaks them both. As they prepare for a wedding no one knows is staged for the house, we get glimpses of a unique heartbreak. They have no one to go to because no one can know their love has failed.
Perhaps the worst part of the film is the protracted affair with Rashi (Alankrita Sahai, “Rangdari”), which drags on through the strength of her inconceivably psychotic character. Throughout, she plays her husband Kashin (Arunoday Singh, “1971: Beyond Borders”) off Sanjay, making them both jealous. But her final move puts the foundations of Sanjay and Karina’s relationship on a lie, for no good reason. It’s sickening and mistimed; the affair seems to be laid to rest and only brought back to add unnecessary minutes to the film.
At any rate, the day of the wedding finally arrives, setting in motion probably the best chapter of the narrative. As expected, the relatives clash over everything — the venue, decor, holy men. All the while, both sets of parents are desperately trying to find the bride and groom, who are having their own fight in the apartment. It seems the differences and unlucky twists of fate make the marriage impossible, but a moment of sacrifice sees Sanjay cede all ownership of the house to Karina. Taking care not to fall into most of the typical rom-com clichés, she doesn’t forgive him. But the difference between a house and a home, she decides, is the man that gave both of them up for her.
In the end, “Love Per Square Foot” was a more interesting concept than a movie. Some of the subplots drag on too long, and sections sometimes feel disjointed, almost better suited to an episodic airing instead of a long film. But it’s a movie that makes you feel good; the acting is expressive and the comedic bits do well to balance moments that could become grand clichés. Like Sanjay and Karina’s young love, the film doesn’t do anything groundbreaking or explore wild new themes. But maybe it doesn’t have to. Those fleeting moments of genuine charm make the ride worthwhile.