Mumbai, 16 Feb 2018 9:00 IST
Despite its lovely touches of romance in the digital age, Onir's film lacks the sharpness, and brevity that would have made it memorable.
The internet is currently flooded with confessions of love for Priya Prakash Warrier's cute wink in Oru Adaar Love. This is symbolic of the emotion today. People fall in love, and out of it, in the time it takes to create a meme. In Onir's Kuchh Bheege Alfaaz, love takes the scenic route. It simmers slowly through sweet messages, radio talks, and anonymous chats at a pace that belies the times it is set in. The trouble is that the film, like life, takes too long to come to a boil. Perhaps a little too long.
The story begins, in Kolkata, with Archana (Geetanjali Thapa), a meme creator and hipster rebel artist who seeks to unshackle art from its corporate masters. She works with Apu (Shray Rai Tiwari), her best friend who has a massive crush on her, in creating memes for a startup. She goes on blind Tinder dates with men who are awkward, rude, and sometimes shocked by her leukoderma. Her only solace is the voice of RJ Alfaaz (Zain Khan Durrani), who is a companion to her silences.
RJ Alfaaz himself is a hermit, who works at a radio station, but stays away from anything in the virtual world (don't ask how!). He is running from his own dark past and seeks comfort in poetry.
These two anonymity seekers find each other through a wrong number and begin a cloistered friendship that slowly turns to love. Archie takes Alfaaz's poems and turns them into a viral meme on WhatsAapp, Alfaaz takes Archie's friendship and quietens his own ghosts. But the path to finding each other is not simple, neither is it fast.
Onir garnishes the film with wonderful little touches. It is shot in scenic Kolkata with blue and white pastels and rained out streets with grey skies. However, visual serenity cannot make up for a meandering plot. It sometimes feels as though the film would have done excellently in Bengali. After all, there is a certain languor in the language itself that would have matched the pace of this film.
A runtime of two hours feels like a stretch for this film. The film has all the pace and schematics of a 1960s romance. For much of the first-half, the film circumambulates around Archie, her job, and obsession with Alfaaz. When the two do begin to interact, the conversations often go on to no purposeful end. The few moments of drama are let to pass without creating an impact. In that, it almost seems lifelike.
Geetanjali Thapa does a good job as the naively romantic Archana, though we would have preferred her to speak in her natural Hinglish lingo more. Zain Khan Durrani uses his voice to good effect as an RJ, but falters in the emotional moments. The two manage to create broken, struggling characters facing the world with endearing optimism.
The scene stealers are the supporting cast of Shray Rai Tiwari and Mona Ambegaonkar. As Apu, Tiwari embodies the heartbreaking confusion of a best friend/partner in crime, unrequited in love. Ambegaonkar does better as the modern, WhatsApp addicted single mom teaching her hipster daughter to connect with the world.
The overuse of Urdu seems artificial at times and affects the dialogues. The cheesy conversations, at times too lengthy, also make it cringeworthy. Archana's startup, aptly named NotSoPunny, approves memes that outdo forwards by uncles in the housing society WhatsApp groups.
Technology is a key protagonist in the film. Whether it is the mode of communication, or the use of memes, or the reason for Archie and her friend's fight. Radios, mobile phones, and memes make up for the loneliness of people. A scene set with the two talking over WhatsApp while sitting in the same bar seems like a metaphor for relationships today.
Cinematic romances offer an escape from the complicated, painful, tetchy nature of real-life love. The hero and heroine meet. They fall in love. They confess. That's it. The audience finds it satisfying to watch romances find consummation.
Onir's romance has a known beginning, and a familiar ending. It is the middle where he creates an endearing world. If only there was a little less conversation, and a little more action.