Sixteen years after making Rangeela, a film centered on a struggling actress and her fairytale rise to stardom, Ramgopal Varma gives us Not a Love Story, whose protagonist is also a wannabe star, but one who doesn’t get a fairytale ending. Barring a few cosmetic changes, Varma’s new film is inspired by the heinous real-life story of Neeraj Grover’s murder by Emile Jerome, assisted by his actress-girlfriend Maria Susairaj. It’s an incident that shocked the country when it happened three years ago, and Varma exploits whatever’s left of it.
Dev D’s Mahie Gill plays a starry-eyed hopeful from Chandigarh, so grateful to a friend for helping her land a film role that she takes him to her bed. When her obsessive boyfriend Deepak Dobriyal lands up unexpectedly at her doorstep the next morning to find a naked man in her home, a gruesome murder takes place. Mahie helps her boyfriend hack the body into pieces and dispose it in a faraway jungle. But that’s not even the most disturbing part of this film.
Zooming in and caressing his leading lady’s every curve, Varma’s camera seems to take a life of its own as it darts around her bosom and looks up at her legs from under her skirt. Far from going inside the minds of the protagonists who committed this crime of passion, Varma seems more interested in going inside their pants.
Not a Love Story is voyeuristic and exploitative, and shamelessly borders on soft-porn. It’s saved to some extent by a credible performance from Mahie Gill, who succeeds in humanizing her character despite the odds that are stacked against her. If Varma succeeds at anything at all, it’s the uncharacteristically romantic note he strikes between his protagonists, making the point that you can love someone deeply, and still do things to hurt them. In a strange sort of way, the film’s bizarre climax makes complete sense. And maybe, just maybe, this sex-and-murder saga could be Ramgopal Varma’s most romantic film yet.
I’m going with two out of five for Not a Love Story. It’s far from Varma’s best work, but it’s not entirely unwatchable.