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Mayank Shekhar’s Review: Raanjhanaa

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Posted June 21, 2013 by

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Uh oh, why this Kolaveri di?


Director: Anand L Rai

Actors: Dhanush, Sonam Kapoor

By Mayank Shekhar

It might make more sense to see why this film got made than what it is about. Firstly, there is immense commercial logic in aiming for a movie that audiences relate to as a wide-screen romantic, relationship saga. The prime patrons are predominantly women, often in groups, but more likely than not, with their husbands or dates in the theatres. There is repeat audience at home on television. Action films can be limiting in that sense. Their hardcore connoisseurs are mostly male. Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995) is still playing at Maratha Mandir in Mumbai; Bodyguard (2011) is long forgotten.  

This is a romance. The girl is Muslim. The boy is Hindu. The only thing worse than death is them even considering getting married to each other. But that isn’t the point. The girl isn’t interested in him anyway. She has a boyfriend (Abhay Deol, credited as a special appearance). The boy (Dhanush) is a harmless stalker, if that is ever possible, and he possesses extreme masochistic tendencies. She (Sonam Kapoor) should ideally stay miles away from him. She encourages his second-rate moves instead, seeing him briefly, then forgetting what he even looks like, slapping him, or casually entertaining his marriage proposals over as many years as it probably took her to say hello to Shahid Kapoor’s character in Mausam.

Religion still is at the core of this film. As it is for so many lives in India in general. The actor playing the hero’s part is from the South, and son-in-law of Rajnikanth, no less. The feather-weight heroine with a wide smile and glint in her eyes is the daughter of Anil Kapoor, a Mumbaikar of Punjabi origin. The film is for the most part set and shot in Banaras in Uttar Pradesh, and for a fair portion in Delhi. If you were looking for an audience base, it’s hard to traverse further than all the way from Chandigarh to Chennai. The crores in the film, as you can tell, have been spent keeping a lot of mathematics in mind.

Therein lies the trouble with a lot of people’s crores. It encourages blockbuster filmmaking by consensus, where everybody has a stake and therefore an idea, or at least that’s what it seems like over here. When a film has nothing in particular to say, it ends up saying so much that nothing makes sense.

Eventually you’re not sure if this is a movie about the dangerous nature of unrequited love (Darr). I think I counted at least five suicide attempts between three characters in under three hours. Or is this regular romance between a couple from two different classes (Raja Hindustani), the heroine is educated, the hero is not; or from separate religions (Gadar). Were we watching instead a drama on the mechanics of Indian politics and the concept of equality and the Left (Shanghai, Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola). For almost half the duration it did seem so (the heroine and her boyfriend are popular student activists knocking on the doors of mainstream politics). Or, well, is this basically an expensive form of projecting the Chennai man before us as an unconventional super-star for the North?

The latter sounds most likely. Dhanush is already a popular leading man in Tamil Nadu. Most others would know him from the YouTube “Kolaveri Di” video that went viral nationwide. It couldn’t have been easy for him to get his Hindi right – to dive deeper into perfecting a peculiar Banarsi or UP accent might be asking for too much. Once in a while his Tamil intonations show up. Just for the way he looks in the film, right mix of a mild hooligan and an innocent sadak chhaap, he seems to have been cast correctly, for the promos anyway.

His character is supposed to be gifted with great inter-personal skills. It doesn’t quite show. His story is that he’s followed the same girl in his neighbourhood for over a decade. He believes there are two ways to land the girl you like: through mehnat (hardwork, or persistence) or darr (scaring her, by slitting his wrist, for instance). There is nothing especially likeable about this loser guy Kundan. But you could say the same about Devdas. The filmmakers hope there would be many like him inside a single-screen theatre, identifying with his rustic, insane aashiqui. They have in the past.

The locations look richly authentic. The wide canvas seems stunning still. As they do quite often now, since more and more mainstream filmmakers have begun to shoot outside the fake confines of studios and inside their own country. Mani Ratnam was the only director who would regularly exhibit this sort of movie magic with stories reflecting our times in the ‘90s. AR Rahman would heighten excitement levels with his divine score.

Rahman’s composed the music here. The influences range from jazz to qawali, background score is more or less western/classical. As with many great Rahman soundtracks, you may need to play it on a loop a few times before arriving at favourite tracks or rejecting everything altogether. At this point, I’m ready to go with the soft, mushy “Aise Na Dekho”. It sounds a bit like “Rehna Tu” from Delhi 6 – speaking of which, is there a case for making a whole film only because the music composer may be in good form? I am sure there is. Can that be a compelling enough excuse to sit through close to three hours of complete gibberish? Unlike this Kundan fellow on the screen, I really hope you have things to do in life. If not, sure, get in.



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