When it seems that every Indian or Pakistani romance coming down the pike centers on the traditional patriarchal values of arranged marriages and dowry (even when their message is about escaping those constraints), finding a story that refuses to use such notions as anything more than a distraction proves refreshing in the best way. Because that’s what it is for Kanika Kapoor (Bhumi Pednekar) in Karan Boolani’s Thank You for Coming. She’s rejected that path her entire life. The only reason she’s even considering it now is because she’s already tried everything else. Well… almost everything else.

Despite the synopsis for Radhika Anand and Prashasti Singh’s script distilling it down to Kanika’s alcohol haze making her forget who helped her reach her first orgasm at age 32 on her engagement night and the subsequent adventure to discover the culprit’s identity, that event doesn’t occur until the midway point. While it drives the second act forward, forcing her to revisit past loves and recognize she was never the problem after all, it’s merely one day in a life unwittingly building towards self-acceptance.

BFFs Tina (Shibani Bedi) and Pallavi (Dolly Singh) help her sleuth it out, hoping the answer is obvious: Kanika’s fiancé Javeen (Pradhuman Singh). And if it isn’t, Tina wonders if she shouldn’t call off the wedding and marry whomever it is instead while Pallavi says not to worry; men have been allowed to sleep with whomever they want before the actual nuptials without judgment for centuries. None of them––not even Kanika––takes it as a sign that maybe she just shouldn’t get married at all. The societal pressure (especially from her grandmother, Dolly Ahluwalia) has rendered that path a nonstarter.

Why? Because that’s what her mother (Natasha Rastogi) chose. She picked career and happiness above duty and “morality.” Kanika is just as strong-willed, but she’s never shaken the fairy-tale desire to find her prince charming anyway. She tried young (Sushant Divgikar), old (Anil Kapoor), and unattainable (Karan Kundrra). Why not try safe too? Javeen owns a successful business. He respects women and truly seems to love her. Maybe that’s what she’s been missing. Maybe all those attempts to make the men she loved into her king, it’s time for someone who loves her to treat her like a queen.

That the result is a raunchy sex comedy from India (certainly not as raunchy as you’re used to in America) only adds to the appeal––the juxtaposition proves so jarring. Most work from this part of the world that makes its way to the U.S. consists of period pieces or tragedies or Bollywood extravaganzas. This is a sex-positive contemporary rom-com with drag queens, club hopping, and women getting into conservative men’s faces to tell them where to shove their so-called “civility.” And with a subplot featuring Tina’s daughter (Saloni Daini) potentially making the same “mistakes” as Kanika, that feminist battle cry can erupt anew.

It’s a very funny romp with a fantastic comedic performance by Pednekar. The men (especially Divgikar, Singh, and Kapoor) are more cartoonish as catalysts and thus earn some of the bigger laughs, but it’s her Kanika that holds everything together. There’s a heartfelt honesty to go with her brutal candor. She loses herself in front of these men she lusts after and accepts her fate to hope contentment with Javeen will replace her fantasies of ecstasy. Compromise, impossible expectations, and alcohol are a lethal combination for laughter and lessons. The latter just might not be what you expect.

That’s why Thank You for Coming is a success. Kanika is taking us through her life with the expectation that there are only two outcomes: settling for Javeen or finding her soulmate in one of the other men onscreen. The film intentionally plays with preconceptions and cultural imperatives to shield us from a third, more important conclusion: that happiness isn’t dependent on anyone other than yourself. It might seem an obvious message for those born in progressive nations, but it’s a crucial one for young women (and men) trapped under the grip of religious customs that render them obedient at best and subservient at worst.

Thank You for Coming premiered at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.

Grade: B-

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