Very rarely do one get to witness a stand out climax in our romantic dramas like the one we see in Manmarziyaan. One that is sans the melodrama or the cliché settings (say like an airport or a railway station). It is something wonderfully set up by director Anurag Kashyap, who for a change grapples here with something more mainstream.
But the ending is only part of the tale. For first, you must reach there. And unfortunately, for that you need to tread a path that is familiar – as familiar as the Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam template, or the Rab Ne Banadi Jodi ones. Or for those familiar with South movies, as back as the Mani Rathnam classic Mouna Raagam or an Antha Ezhu Naatkal (remade in Hindi as Woh Saat Din). Here too, we watch as a young woman fall in and out of love, leaving the men in her life to helplessly sit back and watch as she sorts out the messy affairs of her heart.
The lady is none other than Rumi (Taapsee Pannu). She is a happy go lucky, free spirited young woman who likes to live life on her terms. Rumi has no qualms in sneaking in over her boyfriend Vicky and indulging in some ‘f-yaar’ away from the eyes of her family members. But when her folks do find out, she immediately takes control of the situation stating that she wants to marry her Tinder find. She even promises that if her boyfriend fails to show up with his parents formally with an alliance, she is willing to be the sacrificial ‘donkey’ and shall be up for an arranged marriage with any idiot who her family deems right.
That is the confidence she shows in her lover. But little does she know him. Vicky Sandhu (a terrific Vicky Kaushal) is a hopeless irresponsible bloke, a DJ by profession, is so in love with Rumi that he can leap rooftops for his love but the first to run away from any talk of commitment and marriage. He is the kind who is all set to elope with his girl, but without a penny in his pocket. And most of the first half is spent with Rumi trying to get some sense into the guy’s head and get him to be serious about their relationship in a more responsible manner for once.
Enter Rajbir aka Robbie (Abhishek Bachchan) , a investment banker from London, in town looking for prospective brides. But when the marriage broker shows him a pic of Rumi, he is immediately fixated on the woman. Despite being aware of her torrid affair with the Dj dude, Robbie still decides to risk things on an alliance with Rumi.
Anurag Kashyap thus brings these three diverse characters into the setting of middle -class Punjab to give you this bold take on the above-mentioned template. The loud Bhansali style Gujarati setting of Hum Dil De…,makes way for a subtler Punjabi one.
It is important to note how Kashyap and writer Kannika opts to keep the script free of any villains. Therefore you do not see the usual scheming family members or the screaming babu-jis in this one. In fact, all of Rumi’s family appear to be supportive of any decision that Rumi makes, that is she if makes up her mind. Having lost her parents at an earlier age, she cleverly manipulates things to her advantage with her aunts, uncles and grandfather to get whatever she desires. And as much as reckless and rebellious, she is also shown someone to be attached to things that she holds dear and near. Notice how she wears her father’s shirt when she goes to ask Vicky to propose to her.
But Rumi is as complex a character that can be, volatile and affectionate in equal measures and Taapsee Pannu has absolutely nailed this one. In what is easily her career best performance, Taapsee is in full control over her multi-faceted character. She is undoubtedly the life of the movie. But she gets wonderful support from the rest of the cast. Vicky Kaushal absolutely rocks as the irresponsible man-child and despite all the flaws of the character, Vicky still makes the character so endearing, without putting a foot wrong. Abhishek Bachchan, returning after a gap of two years, unfortunately is still playing the bland Ramji types- the kind he played in Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna,. However, the writing fails to do justice to this third wheel and even performance wise- Abhishek despite his calming assured presence, fail to really bring anything new to his portrayal.
Despite its predictability , Anurag Kashyap and writer Kanika ‘s treatment keep things interesting. The characters here are not boxed into any stereotypes and each have enough shades of grey to keep the viewers hooked. In fact, there is this constant motif of duality that is the center-stage of this script whichKashyap keeps exploring with these characters. And to drive home the point, he deliberately keeps throwing the visual cues like the dancing twins (Poonam and Priyanka Shah) or the twin guys we see in the Kashmir episode.
It is a welcome return for Kashyap to the romantic genre after a series of crime dramas since tasting success with Dev D. But Kashyap being Kashyap, gets into his fair share of indulgence that makes the movie appear a slog at 155 minutes. As we grapple with Rumi’s indecisiveness, Vicky and Rumi’s antics get a little too repetitive and brings down the energy at a lot of instances. You would find yourself wishing that these two would for once make up their minds and move on.
Glad to find Kashyap and writer Kannika truly liberating Rumi and unchaining her from the Bollywood rulebook that defines how a leading protagonist should act and behave onscreen. Virginity and sex is never brought up as a hindrance to anything as the big issue over a small tissue is outright thrown out of the window in this unflinching take on love, lust and marriage. In fact, right at the beginning, in the scene when the family members discover Vicky in her bedroom Rumi’s immediate reaction is ‘ So what?’
Successfully aiding Kashyap’s return to the romantic genre is partner from Dev D days – Amit Trivedi. Together with lyricist Shelly, the team has come up once again with a scintillating soundtrack that really works wonder and is effectively used to keep the narration stay afloat , capturing the various moods as required.
Cinematographer Sylvester Fonseca does full justice in capturing the hustle bustle of the small-town Punjab. Kashyap also cleverly uses food as one of the crutch points. Lassi, pakoras and such mouthwatering delicacies are served aplenty and all the food talk could whet up an appetite in you. So it is best advised not to watch it on an empty stomach.
Manmarziyaan, like its title, seem to be content doing its own thing as it pleases. Refusing to cater to the tried and tested, it constantly pushes and rebels its way out of the labels. Kashyap and team may not have exactly hit it out of the park but has managed to carve out something distinctly bolder from the usual bunch of glossy rom-coms and romantic dramas that Bollywood churns out. And much like its characters, Manmarziyaan is a movie that needs to be accepted with all its imperfections.
cast: Taapsee Pannu, Abhishek Bachchan, Vicky Kaushal
Music: Amit Trivedi
Directed by Anurag Kashyap