Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Vicky Kaushal, Abhishek Bachchan
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Love story, made with passion and the signature stamp of a director, will always be captivating, more so, if it’s helmed by a non-conformist director like Anurag Kashyap. Here female lead too, is someone who rarely comes across in any Bollywood film. She is feisty, uncompromisingly honest, demands what she desires, and so, a far cry from millions of sharp, quick-witted girls who often adorn the silver screen. With a mind of her own, she is someone who even announces to the man she has just tied the knot with that she is not a virgin.
Manmarziyaan — touted as his first attempt at telling an out-and-out romance — has the unmistakable punch you would expect from Kashyap. More than the story, Kashyap’s film is served by a clutch of utterly committed, unselfconscious performances from actors who genuinely understand and believe in the material. It’s clear that the three leads are completely in sync with their roles, with the rest of the cast too, pitching in competent performances.
But Manmarziyaan is as edgy as it gets, with broadly a comic approach to the material in the first half that serves so well.
The free-spirited Rumi (Taapsee Pannu) is a typical Punjabi kudi in a middle-class household in Amritsar. She and Vicky (Vicky Kaushal) is a pair who can’t stay out of the bedroom. When they’re caught red handed by Rumi’s family, pressure builds up within the family for her to get married. Having lost her parents, she is also dependent on her uncle and aunt for survival. But Vicky gets cold feet, possibly due to commitment phobia, and keeps avoiding her request to bring his parents over and ask her hand in marriage. Rumi knows what she needs to do: she gives up on him and agrees to an arranged marriage. And that’s when Robbie (Abhishek Bachchan), a businessman from London, enters the proverbial love triangle.
Kashyap extracts the best from the cast. Had it not been the inclusion of two characters — Vicky’s and Rumi’s — filled with madcap idiocy on paper itself, the film would not have been elevated to this screwy level. The credit for it must be shared with story, screenplay and dialogue writer Kanika Dhillon since, Manmarziyaan, despite telling a story that one has seen umpteen times before (of a girl having to choose between her former lover and her husband), has an intriguing quality of its own. A triangle of this kind is, perhaps, almost as old as cinema itself. But even when you think of Gumrah, Gharaonda, Ek Pal or Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Taal, to name a few, Kashyap’s three lead players fit into a glib yarn only because they knew that they were playing unusually frenetic people, and lend wacky touches to their roles.
In many ways, it subverts audience expectations at times, and develops the kind of genuine emotional power that keeps it from being just another romance saga. Its beauty is that even when it doesn’t upend expectations, or fails to avoid any generic resolutions it refuses to fall into stereotypes of male and female behaviour.
The strength of such a film comes from its actors. There is an unvarnished innocence to Pannu you all will be decidedly captivated by. Though she flies off the handle, she remains unapologetic about it; plays her emotions raw, and is stripped of endearing cuteness or winsomeness to win attention; she keeps it just all in check. That as an impulsive, fiery, almost wild at times, and controlling woman, she doesn’t fall to prey to overdoing it, and doesn’t allow a single false note, is also because of her co-actor Kaushal. For him this was a challenge: a role that was least expected of him to sink his teeth into. He looks and acts every bit like a rapper and a DJ, who cares a damn about the film. His world centres around Rumi, and beyond her, he doesn’t even want to know anything. He excels as a sloshed loser discarded by Rumi when she agrees to marry Robbie. In other scenes, his not being able to fathom Rumi’s insistence on getting married, extract some of the finest moments of the film.
Bachchan, who returns after a two-year break, doesn’t have a role to die for. As the quintessential do-gooder husband, who inexplicably wants to marry a girl he knows, has a past. He could be Devgn of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam or Shreeram Lagoo of Gharaonda. Only here, he makes more sense with his composure and sensible remarks. “Let’s talk,” he tells Rumi when he finds her still pining for Vicky.
There are other moments when Rumi asks Robbie why he wanted to be with her when he knew about her relationship with Vicky. These and the constant one-liners keep the film on a high-energy intensity throughout.
Composer Amit Trivedi and cinematographer Sylvester Fonseca provide other key elements to lift the film higher. Trivedi’s unconventional compositions, in particular, are perfectly matched with the tempo of the film.
What fails in this 157-minute messy love and romance tale is the lack of freshness in the finale. It also has unoriginality with expected obviousness. After a superb first half, when all of us enjoy the Punjabi lines laden with humour, there comes a time when the film just stops. Or, refuses to move forward. For the most part, this is a film that will have you tingling with pleasure from a charming start. Instead of giving us a heart-pounding finish, the tepid end looks forced, as if, one of the leads, wouldn’t have it otherwise.
The writer is a film critic and has been reviewing films for over 15 years. He also writes on music, art and culture, and other human interest stories....