Mumbai, 13 Sep 2018 19:22 IST
Manmarziyaan emerges more as writer Kanika Dhillon’s film than director Anurag Kashyap's while Taapsee Pannu has an edge over Abhishek Bachchan and Vicky Kaushal.
No matter how big a power India becomes, Indian society will continue to be defined by its family values and system. That, perhaps, explains why most Indian parents, especially from the vast middle classes, are obsessed with getting their offspring married.
In a patriarchal society, youngsters are often tied into relationships without knowing what it is that they seek from life. Hence, it is not surprising to see Indian cinema largely speak the language of 'love'. Who doesn’t love romantic stories on screen?
Maverick filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, respected more for his neo-noir films, digs into a conventional romantic drama with Manmarziyaan, in collaboration with producer Aanand L Rai, who has made a career out of making endearing small-town love stories.
Yes, Kashyap's last film Mukkabaaz (2018) was a love story, too, but that was more of Kashyap flirting with the genre. The story had romance, but it also possessed the trademark Kashyap edge and aggression.
Manmarziyaan, thus, might be regarded as the director's first out-and-out romantic film.
Over the years, a paucity of fresh stories and, more worryingly, the lack of refreshing storytelling have hampered the romance genre. In an age of social media and multiple dating fora, human relationships are forged quickly and disintegrate just as quickly.
So we have Rumi (Taapsee Pannu), a young, feisty, rebellious Sikh woman from Amritsar, who is madly in love with the funky DJ Vicky Sandhu (Vicky Kaushal). They are obsessed with each other and don’t miss any chance to get intimate. Rumi has already had an abortion, but that doesn’t stop her.
Whenever she proposes marriage however, Vicky shies away. Fed up, an angry Rumi gives in to pressure from her family and marries Mr Nice Guy Robbie (Abhishek Bachchan). But it is never easy to forget your first love and Rumi’s past resurfaces to bring turmoil to the lives of the three protagonists.
A conventional love triangle is always locked in limited possibilities. Manmarziyaan is no different, but where it differs is in its refreshing storytelling. This is a Kashyap film in body all right, but the soul is not necessarily Kashyap.
Readers may recall that producer Rai had begun shooting this film with a different director, Sameer Sharma, with Ayushmann Khurrana, Bhumi Pednekar and Kaushal in the cast. Creative differences saw Rai replace Sharma with Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari. That dream, too, never took off.
A year later, the title was revived with Rai, surprisingly, choosing Kashyap as director. Kaushal was joined by Pannu and the struggling Bachchan.
Though Kashyap came on board, the story, screenplay and dialogues belong to Kanika Dhlllon, who is also the film's creative producer. Maybe he was just entrusted with directing Dhillon’s Manmarziyaan. We will come to the direction later, but it is only fair to label Manmarziyaan Dhillon’s film.
The plot is a familiar one, but Dhillon scores with her refreshing storytelling through a long and mostly gripping screenplay and fine dialogues. The varied characters on show intrigue us. Rumi is a feisty, rebellious young woman, Vicky a possessive, immature lover, and Robbie the gentleman, but what binds them is that that they represent the youth — all right, all right, at 42 Bachchan is no youth, but Robbie has a young soul — for whom marriage is not the be-all and end-all of life. Robbie and Rumi are burdened by family pressures while Vicky simply looks lost.
Then we have the traditional Sikh mothers and aunts who, though they often spar with their spouses, strongly believe they can choose the best bride/groom for their own child/kin. Neelu Kohli plays Robbie's mother. She does most of the talking in the house, but Mrs Bhatia is not your cliched 'Bollywood' over-the-top Punjabi woman. She, however, quarrels more with the butler than with her husband. Kohli pulls off her role with elan.
Rumi’s parents are no more and she is brought up by an uncle and aunt. The older citizens in Rumi's household and in Robbie's speak Punjabi. This reviewer, being a Haryanvi, was able to gauge most of the conversation, but without subtitles the non-Punjabi-speaking audience may struggle. Credit to Kashyap and Dhillon, however, for having the characters stick to their roots. Hindi cinema has seen many artistes playing Sikh characters, but most of the portrayals have lacked soul.
Sikhs value pride and honour above anything else. Given the chaos Rumi brings to her life, a patriarchal society would have been very unforgiving of any act that damages its pride. But the wise old heads in her household do not unleash any fury upon their child. Similarly, Robbie’s father, too, is shown as a calm and collected person.
Manmarziyaan does not boast of any pathbreaking performances, but. collectively, the cast does its job efficiently. It is Pannu who has an edge over her co-stars, not for lack of any effort from Bachchan or Kaushal but on account of the sheer nature of Rumi. Here is a feisty character with grey shades. One moment you have her trying to instil sense into Vicky, and the next they are making passionate love. It is out of rage that Rumi agrees to marry Robbie, but she does not have any emotional connection with him.
On their wedding night, Rumi gives Robbie the cold shoulder. The same continues on the first day of their honeymoon, when Rumi barely talks to her husband. However, the anger gives way to a wry smile as she is charmed by Robbie’s wit.
She is nursing a broken heart, she is caught between heart and mind, but Rumi is not one to suffer an emotional breakdown. In 2015, Pannu had said in an interview that she could never date a fellow Sikh. Maybe it was this attitude that made her apt to play Rumi. Pannu steals the show with her intensity.
Vicky Kaushal is going through a purple patch. It’s quite a transition to see him play the funny Gujarati man Kamli in Sanju (2018) and now this funky avatar in Manmarziyaan. Maybe Sanju’s company spoilt Kaushal here. Vicky Sandhu is an obsessive lover but has no goal in life. The Yo Yo Honey Singh wannabe sports a funky blue Mohawk. No wonder Rumi’s family mocks him as nila kukkad (blue cockerel).
With no other shades to his character, Vicky Kaushal is restricted, but it is not a one-dimensional performance. You hate him for his immaturity, but Sandhu’s stubborn behaviour is still likeable.
Of all the cast, it is Abhishek Bachchan who can heave a sigh of relief. Despite having been part of a few hits — Happy New Year (2014) and Housefull 3 (2016) — Amitabh Bachchan's son has struggled to get meaningful roles in the past few years. Manmarziyaan is a timely reminder that a good director can get the best out of him.
What aids Abhishek Bachchan is the calm demeanour, maturity and sense of humour of Robbie. The man himself possesses these qualities in real life and so he slips into the character seamlessly. Robbie may be a too-good-to-be-true character, but we all love to see Mr Nice Guy on screen. Irrespective of the commercial returns, Bachchan deserves nothing but praise for this mature performance.
Dhillon and Kashyap also delight us with two sets of twins who cast their spell on you though they appear only in songs. We have the Kashmiri brothers who make a brief appearance in a song, but it is the other set of twins, the nameless girls, who pop up at critical junctures. Their breathtakingly synchronized dance moves and timely interventions only enrich those scenes and tracks. Without uttering a word, the girls leave a lasting impression.
We also have an amusing character in Kakaji (Saurabh Shrivastav), the popular Amritsar matchmaker who has set a record 100 marriages. Ironically, his own marriage is in the doldrums with his wife seeking a divorce.
We live in times where music has been reduced to a formality in most films. With Manmarziyaan set in Punjab however, composer Amit Trivedi and lyricist Shellee add to the film's authenticity by having mostly songs with Punjabi lyrics. At the Indian Screenwriters Conference 2018 in Mumbai recently, Shellee had moaned how audiences and producers today want everything to be simplified and how that sometimes hampers the creativity of a lyricist.
Here, he and Trivedi give us a few memorable numbers, none more soulful than 'Daryaa'. Each song plays out to the situation at hand beautifully. With the songs largely in Punjabi, they may not have pan-India appeal. But it is also true that music has no language. If it is pleasing to your ear, the keen listener will make the effort to understand the words.
The film also captivates you with its photography. Cinematographer Slyvestre Fonseca captures some fine visuals. The ones that stand out are the intimate conversations between Rumi and Vicky and the scenes where Rumi’s growing affection for Robbie shines brightly on her face.
The first half is lively. The screenplay in the second half drags a bit and you wish Kashyap and his editor Aarti Bajaj had trimmed the film a bit. But the endearing climax sequences make you overlook this flaw. The GPS has been set by Dhillon, with Kashyap ensuring that the ship reaches its destination smoothly. While the film belongs to Dhillon, Kashyap, perhaps, now opens himself up to the mass, family audience.
Though predictable, Dhillon’s refreshing storytelling drives Manmarziyaan. The film shows us how we look at marriage. While the wise old heads still view it through their traditional glasses, Manmarziyaan also poses tough questions for the youth. How trivial have relationships and marriages become for you? Is a simple swipe right on Tinder (a mobile dating application) the way to find your soulmate? Should we let the heart take over the mind easily?
Life is no bed of roses. Have your Manmarziyaan, but think before you say ‘I do’.
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