Hansal Mehta's cleverly titled new film Simran, starring Kangana Ranaut, has that rarest of things that’s practically gone missing from the movies lately – a compelling story at its core. Inspired by true events, the film is a fascinating account of an NRI woman who comes undone by her addiction to gambling. It’s an interesting premise, and the film delivers despite glaring contrivances.
Praful Patel is thirty, divorced, and lives in Atlanta with her parents, although it’s clear they don’t agree on anything. The scenes at home are some of the film’s best and most authentic; a Gujarati family routinely at each other’s throats. Praful works in housekeeping at an upscale hotel, scrubbing toilets and dusting surfaces while trying desperately to cobble together the funds she needs to buy her own place so she can get out of their hair.
Kangana sinks her teeth into the part, and makes a meal of it. Praful is a flawed, complex woman, and Kangana plays her as alternately childlike and selfish, all the while walking a tightrope to ensure that the character never comes off as entirely unlikeable…even when she’s robbing banks to pay off a Vegas loan shark for a gambling debt.
The apparent ease with which she holds up banks – by slipping a piece of paper on which a bomb threat has been scribbled with lipstick – is intended as a comment on post-9/11 paranoia and racial prejudices, but these scenes look way too convenient, depicting both bank staff and the cops as complete idiots. Mehta explores some dark themes but adopts a bittersweet approach in doing so. Through the character of Praful’s father, a desperate, impatient man constantly complaining about money or his stubborn daughter, the film holds a mirror to what is often the harsh reality of immigrants and the hollowness of the American Dream.
But it’s also true that the film has very little interest in anything other than celebrating its leading lady. Frankly Simran is the Kangana Ranaut show, and boy, what a show she puts on. The first hour coasts along nicely, giving the actress every opportunity to flex her comic chops. She befriends a bartender, flirts with a handsome fella, and mimics being shocked at the price of a dress. It’s breezy stuff, and deliberately evocative of her goofy character Rani from Queen.
Except that Praful is no Rani. And this is not a breezy, lighthearted ride. Sandeep Kaur, aka the Bombshell Bandit, from whose true story this film is inspired, was arrested after a long car chase and sentenced to imprisonment for 66 months. The makers of Simran make the bold decision to ‘sunny up’ this decidedly dark tale, employing broad humor to blunt the edges. The result is hit and miss.
Another problem with Simran, and a problem with focusing so heavily on a single character, is that the rest of the parts often end up being underdeveloped. None of the supporting players – except perhaps Sohum Shah as Praful’s determined suitor Sameer – get the scope to register their presence.
There’s ample meat in the story, yet the writing itself is weak. The film’s second half feels particularly sloppy, and don’t even get me started on the caricaturish villains. But it’s a testament to Kangana’s full-blooded performance that Simran works despite these complaints. She’s in excellent form, an artiste at the top of her game, as she gives us another indelible character in the perplexing Praful Patel.
Come to think of it, the movie’s no slog. Mehta keeps the pace going, and delivers some terrific moments that’ll make you smile. I’m going with three out of five for Simran.
Rating: 3 / 5