Director: Anurag Kashyap
A love story isn’t typically the genre that comes to mind when you think of Anurag Kashyap, who has, over the years, revealed an unrelenting fascination for themes of greed, revenge, and crime while exploring the dark hearts and minds of society’s bottom-feeders. But when you consider how niftily he upended an early 20th century
literary classic to give us Dev D, a love triangle on acid (literally), or the deftness with which he executed the romance at the core of his boxing drama Mukkabaaz, it becomes clear that he’s been all primped up and ready to tackle a full-blown romantic film for a while now.
With Manmarziyaan, which is cut from the same cloth as films like Woh Saat Din and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Kashyap and writer Kanika Dhillon take the shopworn premise of a woman having to choose between two suitors, and they inject a shot of adrenaline in it.
The setting is a relatively middle-class neighborhood in Amritsar. Vicky (Vicky Kaushal) and Rumi (Tapsee Pannu) are a pair of passionate lovers who can barely keep their hands off each other. They romance and bicker with equal intensity. Their relationship is volatile and heady. There is love, but there’s also immaturity, impulsiveness, pride, and ego. They’re young, they’re reckless; they’re a car crash waiting to happen.
Robbie (Abhishek Bachchan) is the third wheel in this scenario. Robbie represents stability. You can’t imagine he’d pose any real threat to Rumi and Vicky’s relationship, until you realize he brings what neither of them can – a willingness to put himself second.
Kanika Dhillon’s script, which packs some crackling dialogue, ruminates on the complexity and the messiness of modern romance. In one of the film’s best scenes, Rumi, and Vicky who’re eloping in his jeep, get into an argument about what exactly they’re escaping to. The film explores what we’re seeking in a romantic relationship, and what we’re willing to settle for. It contemplates the concept of arranged marriage in the present day, and questions the notion of eternal love. On the surface it’s about that familiar dilemma that women are frequently confronted with – to choose between a man who offers excitement and one who guarantees security.
Manmarziyaan’s thoughtful reflection on love and companionship is powered by an inventive use of music. Amit Trivedi’s terrific songs (hands down the best film album this year) are the secret sauce of the film, cleverly woven into the narrative to wondrous effect. The film also benefits enormously from alert, winning performances by its leads.
As an indecisive slacker navigating the choppy waters of love, Vicky Kaushal is in excellent form. Despite his character’s many follies the actor never reduces him to a cad, never once making you doubt the depth of his feelings for Rumi. Abhishek Bachchan, playing the strong, silent one, is mindful not to reduce Robbie to a stereotype. Much of his performance is through his eyes, and the actor does a good job of conveying bottled-up angst. Watch how he holds it in during a scene in which he eavesdrops on a conversation that leads to a heartbreaking discovery.
The film though belongs unquestionably to Tapsee Pannu, entirely convincing as the fiery, headstrong Rumi who knows what she wants…or thinks that she does anyway. Sharp-tongued, selfish, yet vulnerable, she gives us a flesh and blood, complex woman who feels instantly real.
But it’s also true that a lot of the film’s best bits rest in its first half. Post intermission the drama becomes repetitive and unwieldy. Robbie is never as flashy as Vicky, and his relationship with Rumi never as charged. As a result there’s a definite change of pace that feels abrupt. That’s not to say there aren’t some lovely moments here. A scene between Rumi and Robbie in which he’s trying to have a conversation with her while she’s watching a wildlife documentary on television is especially charming. But clocking in at a little over two hours and thirty minutes there’s no question the film is way too long.
Manmarziyaan may not be perfect but it gets some things perfectly right. I left the theatre in appreciation of the sheer craft on display. This is a film where virtually every technical department seamlessly delivers, enabling and empowering Kashyap to have made what may well be his most popular film since Gangs of Wasseypur.
It’s also his big ‘f**k you’ to every naysayer who dismissed his work as inaccessible and ‘not commercial’. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five.
Review: 3.5 / 5