The last time we saw Vidya Balan, she was everyone’s favourite example of a powerful female protagonist in contemporary cinema. We watched as she ripped her fake belly apart, a potent symbol of her motherhood, and killed her nemesis with a hairpin in her memorable role as Vidya Venkatesan Bagchi in Kahaani. She was bursting with raw energy even as Monjolika in Bhool Bhulaiyya, commanding attention as she unleashed the goddess within.
It is cruel, then, to have her reduced to this writhing, torn creature on her knees in Mohit Suri’s latest — with self respect as wilted as damp tissue-paper (remember Parineeta?). Mohit Suri’s sobfest seems to have picked up the trope of-poor-girl-loves-rich-man-selflessly from Balan’s first film. At the very least, Balan has been re-cast in this film for a similar damsel-in-distress role.
We are told at the beginning of the film that Aarav Ruparel (Emraan Hashmi) is a self-made man, now heading an empire of hotels, and Vasudha (Balan) works as a florist in one of them. What transpires when he sees her (and is reminded of his poverty stricken youth) is love. Scratch that, it is a cat-and-mouse game of a boss stalking a junior employee, doing her special favours that her economic situation binds her to accept — in return (even if it is not implicit), she indulges his requests to send him photographs of herself. Vasudha’s servility towards her love belongs to previous decades, and her quiet, unquestioning acceptance of some very questionable behaviour is established early in the film, as she agrees to get her husband’s name tattooed on her arm despite not wanting it. It’s unsettling to see her not just express this supine attitude throughout the film, but also be glorified for it — at one point, she is likened to Sita, the Giver, and asked to accept love when it comes to her and become like Radha (not much better, in my opinion).
It is not Balan’s character alone that remains archaic. Her abusive husband, Hari (Rajkummar Rao), whom she refuses to leave, is not much better. Aggression showed in romantic relationships on screen is why most millenials in India grew up with the idea that if a man was tearing your shirt off and shoving you on to the bed/floor, he must really be in love with you. Hashmi’s character is as bad — dictating terms throughout about how he should love her.
The dialogues, borne out of the archaic attitudes of the filmmakers, seem farcical. No one can keep a straight face when Balan tries to draw a line between Hashmi and herself and says, “Tumhe pyaar nahi, hawas hai.” Nor am I able to imagine anyone tolerate her latching on to her mangal sutra, an irritating leitmotif, a symbol of her binding marriage. Or her trying to touch Ruparel’s feet. Or them canoodling in sets that look like the art direction team drew inspiration from Hallmark cards.
Perhaps the biggest failure here is Suri’s ability as a director, where he takes three stars, all with reasonable acting chops, and makes them reiterate awkward sentences in strange positions, scene after scene. The film shows no respect for the mental agility of its audience, or we wouldn’t be presented with such bad CGI. We never see Aarav Ruparel doing any work as a business magnate, other than catching flights that he is always late for, stepping out of cars and waving to a bunch of media people waiting for a byte for no reason at all (doesn’t happen in reality unless you are a Bollywood star, a political figure or an infamous goon). A field of orchids (found in cooler climates) that is central to this story appears in the middle of Bastar in Chattisgarh.
It could take me a long time to list all that is ridiculous in this film. I will save my breath and just say that if you must watch something prehistoric this weekend, do yourself a favour and buy tickets for Jurassic World instead.