Saturday, June 22, 2013


Benarasi Babu
There is a lot that’s impressive about Raanjhanaa besides AR Rahman’s music. Aanand L. Rai has set part of the film in Benares, and it is good to see a slice of India rather than the Alps.

It’s a Benares of noise, bustle, processions, sadhus and crowded mohallas (superb production design, excellent cinematography). When the protagonist, Kundan, is first seen, he is a kid in Shiva costume and aviators, hustling for Dussera donations.  He is precocious and glib-tongued. At that age he falls in love with a Muslim girl, Zoya, and for him, it’s forever.

He grows up to be a mohalla ruffian (Dhanush), son of a Tam-Brahmn priest (clever backstory, explains his dark skin and peculiar accent), with a best buddy Murari (Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub) and a tomboyish punching bag Bindiya (Swara Bhaskar).  But Zoya (Sonam Kapoor) remains the love of his life and he stalks her without shame or apology. When she slaps him, he keeps coming back for more, celebrating each slap as it were a kiss. This behaviour would appear alarming or distasteful to most women, and probably enjoyable to young men, but Zoya neither encourages nor discourages him, obviously flattered by this roadside Raanja.  When she does agree to meet him (he has given her a phony Muslim name), she explains it’s because he is consistent. But when the flirtation results in slashing-wrist drama, she is sent away to study, and he keeps waiting and dreaming of her, no ambition beyond running errands for her parents.

There is a lot that’s so obvious that it does not need to be emphasised. Caste, religion, small town mentality, and despite the stalking, this part of the film has humour, charm and a lack of pretention. The second half of the film drops all these pluses to become messy and chaotic. From Kundan’s obsession, it becomes Zoya’s romance with a college activist (Abhay Deol), her political awakening, her discovery of her own reserves of strength, hate and love. Rai’s attempt to be topical, relevant and mature falls short, simply because he is out of his depth here.

The bunch of naive activists (watch Hazaaron Khwahishen Aisi for accuracy and depth), who debate all night on why a man would become a thief (“he is poor and unemployed”), become a serious threat to the government?  How? Okay so they also rush to join a farmers’ protest, clean up a filthy street, perform street plays, and form a political party, with as much enthusiasm as a kid building a castle with a Lego set.  Zoya sulks and glowers, Kundan prances and charms everyone but her. The runaway film is brought into control towards the end, when the greys emerge, no rainbow in sight.

The men’s behaviour towards women—Zoya and Bindiya—is deplorable, but the film, like the rough-hewn Kundan, goes bravely where most film stories fear to tread, but also stumbles in the dark.

Dhanush who looks ordinary and human, unlike today’s six-pack heroes, is perfectly cast and gives a performance that endears and infuriates. Sonam Kapoor has made a move towards maturity, though her expressions and dialogue delivery often do not match.  

Raanjhanaa is watchable even through its large chunks of boredom, because its positives outweigh its negatives.


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