Cast: Dhanush, Sonam Kapoor, Abhay Deol
Director: Aanand L Rai
Rating: Three stars
Yo, he’s one of those. Fixated about a girl since his childhood, the boy just doesn’t grow up. He moons, swoons, croons, slashes his wrist to spill khoon, and generally goes loony tunes. Nothing matters for this Mad Hatter, as long as his object of desire lands on his mental platter. So what if he’s a Brahmin kid and happens to be quite illiterate? And she’s a Muslim professor’s daughter and happens to be super-literate?
Clearly, the boy and girl are unmade for each other and how, in Aanand L Rai’s 'Raanjhanaa'. Incidentally, there seems to be an extra ‘a’ fixation, too. The name was just Anand when the director debuted with 'Tanu Weds Manu'. Plus his film’s title as you can see is littered with, presumably, goodluck-friendly a’s. Aaaaaah, never mind.
This love story - or the lack of it – between a ping ponging twosome, on the ghats and backlanes of Varanasi, is quite engrossing. It’s elevated by inspired performances, fluid cinematography, splendid locations, some truly smart editing chops to cloak badly orchestrated sequences, A R Rahman’s terrific songs (but who did those jarring, operatic symphonies in the background, please?), and the audacity to actually go bitter dark towards the second-half.
What Aanand L Rai doesn’t have, is a script which is half-believable. Blame it on the director or the writer Himanshu Sharma, but there are more potholes here than on the monsoon ravaged streets. Just three examples: Can a father not even know the name and identity of the boy whose antics have led to her exile to another city? Can a boy who’s been nuts about a girl-in-the-next-mohalla, ever since both were knee-high, not even know her name? Can a bunch of JNU students go gaga over a thief on the campus premises, sourcing their sympathy to social class inequities? Contrived situations keep intervening like scam mail.
Also, the motivations and obsessions of the characters – particularly those of the eponymous hero -- are so bipolar that they would require immediate psychiatric consultation. Practically everyone on the scene seems to harbour a death wish, especially Kundan (Dhanush) who enjoys being slapped, insulted and told to go fly a kite. Alas, his skin is thicker than a rhinoceros’. Ditto the jabberwocky girl (Swara Bhaskar), who adores him to micro-pieces. Kundan is rude, crude, rough and tough with her but she’s a glutton for punishment. Oof, so many masochists out here.
The pivot of Kundan’s life happens to be Zoya (Sonam Kapoor) ever since both were cherubs. No dice. She’s madly in love with the firebrand student union leader (Abhay Deol). Kundan boy, however, is just not willing to get the message and makes everyone’s life spin totally out of control. Unfazed, he follows a very upset Zoya to JNU, is acknowledged as a cutie-pooh teady bear and soon, becomes a charismatic leader, no qualifications required. After all, he can prevent a street riot by just speaking in Tamil with the Tamilian police officer. Now only if life, campus codes and politics were that simple!
Like most Bollywood films, the first-half is fairly smooth and lovey-dovey. Post-intermission, there’s a U-turn to the political side of campus life, reminiscent of Prakash Jha’s 'Rajneeti' capers. The ideology proposed by the director and writer is surfacial when it isn’t cloudy.
Although you’re quite surprised and even impressed for a while by the U-turn from the sunny Varanasi sheningans to New Delhi’s dark power games, 'Raanjhanaa' turns into quite another film entirely. Political science is equated by a stage banner to “Rural Development and Land Allocation.” Really now? An inscrutable pundit on the Ganga banks, unfathomably, delivers a speech on killing someone and the ensuing guilt. Profound!
Of the cast, the 38-year-old Abhay Deol is completely miscast as a student.
The more inspired casting is to be discovered in the ensemble actually. Swara Bhaskar and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub as the hero’s support systems, and Shilpi Marwaha, are unquestionably impressive.
Dhanush, overeager and hyperactive, is appealing when called upon to do scenes of some seriousness and sobriety. But it’s Heer whom the film belongs to. Projecting vulnerability as well as steely resolve, Sonam Kapoor carries out her age graph sensitively and belts out her most mature performance yet. Just for her, go for it.