Anaarkali of Aarah review: Swara Bhaskar shines in classy, sensual show of retribution

Release Date: 24 Mar 2017 / Rated: U/A / 01hr 47min

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Mayur Lookhar

Swara Bhaskar and Sanjay Mishra deliver power-packed performances as first-time director Avinash Das brings respectability to an otherwise marginalized community of erotic entertainers.

Unabating sexual crimes in recent years have triggered anger in civil society, and this is now being reflected in Indian cinema. Shoojit Sircar and Amitabh Bachchan ushered in a little ‘Pink’ revolution last year with their hard-hitting drama that exposed chauvinistic, misogynistic mindsets. A patriarchal, misogynistic society needs active feminism, but cinema often restricts such causes to urban locales while ignoring the marginalized rural belts.

In Anaarkali of Aarah, first-time director Avinash Das draws our attention to the plight of the rural orchestra artistes, who are not only objectified by lecherous men, but also demonized by their own ilk.

The director recently revealed how Tarabano Faizabadi, a Bhojpuri erotic singer, inspired him to create his Anaarkali of Aarah. It’s not just Faizabadi though. The film also reminds audiences of the tragic killing of dancer Kulwinder Kaur, who was shot by an inebriated man at a wedding in Punjab last December.

Anaarkali (Swara Bhaskar) is Aarah’s most loved orchestra entertainer, one who charms her audience with her innuendo-laden lyrics and desi ‘latkas’ and ‘jhatkas’. She titillates her audience but sells only her talent, not her body.

Trouble begins when an inebriated Dharmendra Chauhan (Sanjay Mishra), vice-chancellor of a local university, molests Anaarkali at her show. The woman resents it and puts him in his place. Chauhan, who is politically connected, abuses his power to make Anaarkali’s life miserable. She is feisty but too poor to take on the lecherous Goliaths and is left with no option but to flee Aarah.

Destiny brings Anaarkali back to Aarah where she must confront the monster, but this time she has a weapon to bring him down.

Anaarkali of Aarah has its heart in the right place with a taut, impactful script backed by powerful performances from the entire cast. Leading the way is Swara Bhaskar, who gets into the skin and soul of her character. The gifted actress displays the requisite swagger perfectly. She has mastered the feisty yet seductive tone of the bawdy singer. However, she also portrays Anaarkali with a touch of humility and humour, as displayed in the scene within the little studio when she spells sound proof as 'saand' [bull] proof.

Swara Bhaskar has called it her most difficult role, but the manner in which she has pulled it off makes you stand and applaud. It is arguably the finest role of her career so far.

In a film about an erotic singer-dancer, you don’t expect poetry from Anaarkali, but the erotic gibberish in the songs fits in with the cultural ethos of the film. These are the kind of lyrics that often send lecherous men at these celebrations into raptures. Pawni Pandey, who shot to fame with the chartbusting 'Laila Main Laila' track from Raees (2017), chips in with a raunchy, electrifying desi number 'Sa Ra Ra Ra'. The song has enough oomph to get the whistles going in the aisles.

Over the years, Sanjay Mishra has amused us with his goofy humour. In Anaarkali of Aarah, he plays the rare villainous role without losing his humour. Mishra has a touch of genius to him and gives enough evidence of it with his unabashedly lecherous act.

It is not just these two, however. The performance of every member of the cast stands out. Pankaj Tripathi proves his mettle with yet another sublime performance as the rustic Rangeela. Ishtiyak Khan might not be a popular name, but the unheralded actor shines as Hiraman Tiwari, the Raj Kapoor-style good samaritan to Anaarkali. The name itself is a doff of the hat to Kapoor's character in Teesri Kasam (1966). The character does seem a bit far-fetched for modern times, but that does not take anything away from Khan’s performance.

The film tapers off slightly when Anaarkali runs away to Delhi in search of new life. Though it is vital to the plot, the melodrama surrounding Anaarkali and Hiraman's bonhomie could have been curbed. However, it doesn’t take much away from the film.

Avinash Das has displayed great maturity and sensitivity in handling the subject. Anaarkali is a character filled with sensuality, but not once does Das tread on to the path of vulgarity. He gives proof that films do not need to resort to profanity or vulgarity to depict such characters. The director deserves credit for his attempt to bring respectability to such artistes, which is the prime motto of the film.

Reviewed by Mayur Lookhar