Hindi movies do a lot of things very well, but frank investigations of mature sexual relationships aren't usually considered to be one of those things. It's a difficult subject for any movie - in any language - to handle well, with the right mixture of humor, sensitivity, and sexiness. Rajat Kapoor's Mixed Doubles, despite choosing the absurdly sensational device of spouse-swapping as its point of departure, manages reasonably well.
Malti (Konkona Sen Sharma) and Sunil (Ranvir Shorey) have been married for ten years, and they are content in their domesticity - but their sex life has gone to sleep. Malti feels frisky, but Sunil isn't interested. Sunil is troubled by his absent libido, but unsure how to spark it - until a boastful friend plants the idea of spouse-swapping in Sunil's mind. Sunil becomes obsessed with the idea, and through advertisements placed in the back of salacious magazines, discovers a willing couple, Vinod (Rajat Kapoor) and Kalpana (Koel Purie). But Sunil has to convince Malti to go along with the plan. And even if he can wrangle a way to do that, there's the matter of the fateful night itself, and the consequences for Sunil and Malti's marriage.
This plot is a minefield, in which a misstep could cause an explosion of bad taste or juvenile tittering. For the most part, though, Mixed Doubles hits the right notes. Its portrayal of Sunil and Malti's marriage is natural and believable enough to balance out the squirmy gratuitousness of the notion of spouse-swapping. It's wonderful - not to mention, a refreshing twist on the steretypical bed-death scenario - that Malti is a mature, faithful wife with a healthy sexual appetite. And, of course, the performances are excellent - especially Konkona Sen Sharma, whose mixture of concern, indignation, disgust, and love is just pitch-perfect.
Most of the movie's laughs are of the awkward variety, where the audience laughs because of character's discomfort. I am not usually a fan of this brand of comedy - The Office is the canonical example, a show that I know is good but that I simply cannot watch. Here, though, it works, as a source both of comedy and of pathos. There is something ineffably sympathetic in Sunil's irrational obsession with the spouse-swapping scheme; I can identify with his restless pursuit of an outrageously bad idea. Ranvir Shorey's confused everyman performance helps keep him sympathetic - up to a point. Indeed, the deception with which Sunil convinces Malti to accede to the plan is the movie's only real wrong note.
Sunil's maladroit encounter with the bizarrely fascinating Kalpana is another source of awkward humor. Kalpana is an extremely irritating character, childish and impulsive, a caricature of a Bohemian free spirit - but also, at least to me, wildly physically appealing, and that juxtaposition is oddly engaging. Her husband Vinod is bland and formal by comparison.
The ending of Mixed Doubles doesn't offer much in the way of resolution, but that probably makes for a better film than any attempt to wrap the extreme emotions of Sunil and Malti's mutual misfires into a too-tidy package. Each of them has deceived and deeply wounded the other, and the damage of that is just too heavy to try to fix in one movie. The final scenes offer a gentle settling back into the quotidian domestic routine, suggesting that a peaceful resolution is possible for them, even if it hasn't yet happened by the time the credits roll.