Mumbai, 28 Sep 2018 4:00 IST
Vishal Bhardwaj juxtaposes two warring sisters in a Rajasthan village with the tumultous relationship between India and Pakistan, and the result is entertaining.
Vishal Bhardwaj has a wicked sense of humour. We have seen it in films like Kaminey (2009), 7 Khoon Maaf (2011) and Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola (2013). With Pataakha, Bhardwaj goes the whole hog in his quirky style to create a hilarious film from a seemingly intense story.
Bhardwaj takes Charan Singh Pathik's short story, Do Behnein, and gives it his own spin.
It is difficult to keep Bhardwaj away from the socio-political realities of the time and place his films are set in. Here the filmmaker juxtaposes warring sisters Chutki aka Genda Kumari or, as she is lovingly called by her hubby, Marigold (Sanya Malhotra) and Badki aka Champa Kumari (Radhika Madan) with India and Pakistan who are constantly bickering with and battling each other.
Chutki and Badki can't stand each other and their altercations only get uglier as they grow up. Their troublemaker friend Dipper (Sunil Grover) plays Narad Muni — or the British, who divided and ruled — in their lives, often instigating them with his sweet talk to pick up fights.
The two sisters are seen at loggerheads throughout the film. Their fights break out over the silliest of things sometimes and life-changing events at others. The treatment induces laughs even in the most tense situations.
Chutki-Badki's grandmother-in-law is compared to the United States of America which tries to maintain peace between the warring parties with its power. But the moment she looks away, things get out of hand.
Their father (Vijay Raaz) is quite inadvertently called Bapu, though the director never makes an obvious reference to Mahatma Gandhi. Yes, the comparisons are simplistic and superficial, but they are used quite effectively in the narrative.
All the artistes are perfectly cast and deliver performances that are as authentic as Bhardwaj's setting of a Rajasthani village and as quirky as the narrative that carries them.
Sunil Grover, as the narrator of the story, is perfect as the common friend of the two sisters and perhaps the only one who understands the real dynamics between them. Known best for his comedic talents, Grover sinks his teeth into this part.
Namit Das and Abhishek Duhan are also good as the well-meaning husbands.
After a long time Vijay Raaz gets a meaty part and he makes the most of it. He plays with maturity and ease the worried father who dearly loves his two squabbling daughters.
The heroes of the film surely are newcomer Radhika Madan and one-film-old Sanya Malhotra, who don't put a foot wrong. It is difficult to tell them apart from the characters they are playing. Not afraid to look ugly, with their haystack hair, shabby clothing and beedi-stained teeth, both blend into their setting and put up delightfully unabashed performances. Their firecracker acts light up Bhardwaj's potent screenplay.
Bhardwaj creates two strong and fiery female characters for the screen. Even as he depicts patriarchy, the director does not indulge in gender stereotypes, creating characters who fight tooth and nail, with circumstances and with each other, to create the life they envision for themselves. While one dreams of being an English teacher, the other wants to own a dairy farm.
What is important is that Bhardwaj gets his groove back with this film. After a distant and lacklustre film like Rangoon (2017), the filmmaker seems to have enjoyed writing the screenplay of a more rooted movie in which he gets to use his unique storytelling style. He captures the milieu of a Rajasthani village and its social and cultural nuances quite well. However, while the background music is used effectively in some portions, in others it feels overpowering.
The film's pace dips in the second half, but the bizarre plot developments keep you hooked. Bhardwaj does not delve deeper into the sibling dynamic and the core of their problems with each other and decides to keep it light on all levels, which could be a drawback. The laughs keep coming though as the director cleverly constructs some interesting sequences.
Despite its flaws, Pataakha is a study in filmmaking — the screenplay, acting, costumes (Karishma Sharma), production design (Subrata Chakraborty and Amit Ray) and makeup (Shoma Goswami and Natasha Mathias) are top-notch. The film itself is wickedly funny, quirky and entertaining. Time for Bhardwaj to delve into Shakespearean comedies, perhaps?
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