Anurag Kashyap’s new release Manmarziyaan explores love in the age of evolving social mores and morality. The first voice in the film sings: Kaala na safed hai, Ishq da rang yaara, Grey wala shade. And this sets the tone for the next 2.4 hours.
Rumi Bagga (Taapsee Pannu) is a headstrong hockey player who is in love. She has been orphaned and has been brought up by her relatives in a joint family. Having given up playing hockey, she helps in running the family’s sports shop. The object of her love is a “neela kukkad“- Vicky Sandhu (Vicky Kaushal)- who is a flamboyant DJ with a punk hair-do. Rumi and Vicky can’t seem to keep their hands off each other and their secret escapades are caught by the family. In an attempt to marry her off, before the disrepute of this passionate romance spreads all over town, a marriage bureau is engaged to find her a groom. Rumi’s matrimonial profile catches the fancy of Robbie Bhatia (Abhishek Bachchan), an NRI banker who has come to India to find a bride. And although he learns of the romance between Rumi and Vicky from her Facebook profile, he is intent on trying his luck with her. The rest of the film deals with the conflict that the three protagonists go through before and after the wedding, trying to discover what they actually want out of life.
The story is set in cramped Amritsar. The film’s cinematography exploits this setting to the fullest. The narrow gallis, the houses built in close proximity, where you can easily jump off to the next terrace, people peeping into neighbouring houses, the tangled dangling electric wires- all captured beautifully. As are the quiet moments of reflection, where the serenity of Amrit Sarovar in the Golden Temple enhances the depth of the moment. In a far cry from Karan Johar’s perfect aesthetic world, Kashyap’s romance occurs amidst unpainted doors, ugly electric meters, cramped barsaati style rooms, and itchy sugarcane fields. One recurring feature which I loved was the use of a dancing pair of twins (The Youtube stars Priyanka and Poonam Shah), completely unconnected to the story, but appearing randomly to beats with meaningful lyrics to convey a particular emotion.
Taapsee Pannu does well as the firebrand who isn’t scared of expressing her thoughts or hurting her loved ones, until she is sure of which way to go. But she isn’t as convincing as she was in Pink. Vicky Kaushal is such a chameleon that if you have just watched Raazi or Sanju, his makeover as the boyfriend with tattoos and weird hair is stunning. He plays the commitment-phobic boyfriend who is ready to elope, but doesn’t understand the meaning of responsibility. Somehow, the sparks didn’t fly for me when Taapsee and Vicky were together on screen. Unlike Anurag Kashyap’s usual fare of in-your-face lust, verbal abuse and gore, romance in this film is tempered down for family audiences. Abhishek Bachchan plays the ‘Ramji’ type introvertish husband who believes in not asking anything, much to Rumi’s chagrin. He does most of his emoting through his very expressive eyes. Something which caught my eye, was how he uses his hands to caress a woman- very much reminiscent of Amitabh.
A lot has been written about Kanika Dhillon’s screenplay. There are some beautiful nuggets of writing which give you a perspective about the evolving notion of love in today’s society- such as those where the guy from the marriage bureau describes eligible girls, or the intrusive aunt who calls to find out if the honeymoon is going well. Personally, I liked the way the last scene was written. But overall, the writing is patchy. While scenes were written to convey the conflict in the protagonists’ minds, the resultant repetitiveness and dilly-dallying translates into moments of tedious viewing for the audience. Amit Trivedi’s music is great as individual pieces. But there is an overdose of almost a dozen tracks stuffed into the movie, and I didn’t quite understand most of the pure Punjabi lyrics.
Anurag Kashyap dedicates the film to Amrita Pritam – presumably as a tribute to her romance with commitment-phobic Sahir Ludhianvi, and to her partner Imroz who let her be. However I didn’t find the movie engaging enough. There are bits and pieces of memorable dialogue, but this not a romance where the characters will linger on after you leave the theatre. If anything, the film is a chronicle of how the limits of ‘acceptability’ and ‘morality’ are constantly changing in small town India. And how gradually people are finally being given the space to be themselves and discover what gives them happiness.