It explains a lot when frustrated musician and new husband Sid (Farhan Akhtar) admits to a friend in “Shaadi ke Side Effects” (“Side Effects of Marriage”) that he does not watch much TV. That’s the only way he could possibly have missed the fact that every plot point hinges on exaggerated just-married “crises” that were done to death decades ago on TV sitcoms and in standup comedy routines. The often lively staging of writer-director Saket Chaudhary will keep viewers alert and hopeful for longer than viewers might expect, but at a Bollywood-mandated running time of almost 2½ hours, the film’s repetitive scenes of bickering and reconciliation become almost unbearable. You may find yourself rooting for divorce.
The wearying central issue of this impeccably upper-middle-class rom-dram-com, in which no one ever sweats a car payment or worries about healthcare costs, is how much truth a marriage can stand, and whether or not strategic white lies are required to maintain domestic tranquility. If there is anything new to be said on this subject in the early 21st century, “Shaadi ke Side Effects” does not find it.
Of course, jokes about pregnancy tests, latenight feedings, postpartum weight gain, baby monitors, alienated slacker pals (strikingly original cultural markers include videogames and pizza) and over-competitive dads at kids’ parties may seem fresher in India. Or perhaps they don’t, because even there, at the upscale urban multiplex theaters at which it seems squarely aimed, “Shaadi” did not open well, pulling a first-day gross of just a little more than $1 million.
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“Shaadi” is a direct sequel to Chaudhary’s modestly successful “Pyaar ke Side Effects” (“Side Effects of Love,” 2006), but the two central roles have been recast, and it’s easy to see why. Both Akhtar (“Bhaag Milkha Bhaag”) and Vidya Balan (who won a National Film Award for actress for 2011’s “The Dirty Picture”) are extremely likable actors of considerable depth and subtlety; they’re playing smart people who seem genuinely to enjoy each other’s company, and there are flashes of real distress and anger, and a sense of what’s at stake, in their scenes together. The emotions they express when acting out a wrenching final twist, which turns out to be a groan-inducing cheat, offer us a fleeting glimpse of what these terrific actors might be able create together in a better movie.