‘Hindu Brahmin boy falls in love with a Muslim girl.’ Sound like the same old love story with a communal quarrel in order, doesn’t it? But Raanjhanaa is anything but the same old love story. Love seems to be in the air this year with Blockbusters like Aashiqui and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani winning the audiences’ hearts. There couldn’t be a better time for a film like Raanjhanaa. Set in the banks of Ganga, in the city of Banaras, the film is nothing like our usual Bollywood love stories. Breaking all the rules of conventional storytelling and character building, director Anand L Rai presents a film that looks larger than life but is still oh so real!
Here are few things that have been making headlines and a few things I find fascinating, and I’m sure you will agree with my sentiments.
The biggest buzz around is Dhanush today. The south star and son-in-law of South Indian Superstar & God Rajnikant, created quite a hype with his song, ‘Kolavari Di’ last year. The singer-actor made his debut in Bollywood with Raanjhanaa opposite Sonam Kapoor in the last Friday of June this year. Talking of unconventional, Dhanush is as unconventional as it gets for a Bollywood hero. He is short, he is dark; he doesn’t have six pack abs, in fact he is what we call ‘a lanky fellow’ and he is not the good looking charmers we have as the leading men we have today. But can the guy act! He is surprisingly adorable and not annoying as the 13years old lafanga roadside Romeo in the first part of Raanjhanaa. In the second half he comes with a bigger surprise package as a mature Kundan who gives a rocking performance playing the gamut of emotion Kundan goes through flawlessly. This film might just prove to him what Ek Duuje Ke Liye did for Kamal Hassan and Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa proved for Shah Rukh Khan: make this common looking guy the next superstar of Bollywood!
Talking of actors in the film, Sonam Kapoor astonished everyone with her acting skills as Zoya. Finally she got a director who put her in the right path and knows how to bring out the best in her. She is no more ‘just a pretty face’ in the film. She acts the part of a leading lady. Sonam is quite convincing as the shy teenager who experiences her first excitement of being wooed. As for her part as a university educated activist who doesn’t shy of speaking her mind, well, she adapts the character credibly. In fact in the highly emotional scenes, she comes through better than ever, she is good enough to stand with an actor like Dhanush and be the part of it all. Abhay Deol is his usual brilliant self even in the small cameo he makes and looks dashing in his entry as the student union leader. Supporting actors Swara Bhaskar as Bindiya and Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub as Murari, are praiseworthy and add charm to the film with their perfect timing and great sense of humor.
Shot in the city of Banaras, the film has ha quintessential desi touch and feel to it. The use of Hindi with a dab of local dialect and sprinkled with pure Urdu words, makes the dialogues believable and more real. The characters use Indian accented English words in their conversations, which most of us do (Thank God for that! Else imagine Zoya speaking in Sonam fake accent English! Shiver!). Ayyub has been given witty comments and jokes which he delivers faultlessly. Teenage Kundan’s ‘sadakchaap’ one-liners and antiques are amusing and in fact do exist in small towns in India (I know for sure as I have been at the receiving end as a teenager from a small town once). In short, the film has captured the earthy essence of a small town beautifully through its language and dialogues.
Direction & Script
It’s easy to get caught up in the splendor of a place and directors make the rookie mistake of trying to capture everything, only to lose track of the story. But not Anand L Rai; set in the city of Banaras, there is a million possibility to exploit the locations and show the beauty of the city. But Rai cleverly used what was needed. He used the city as a backdrop and even for symbolism sometimes, but he let Kundan and the story be the hero of the film. The crowded roads, narrow lanes, cycle rickshaws and riverside lovers’ rendezvous are classic and are perfectly used by Rai in the film.
Director Anand L Rai and screenplay writer Himanshu Sharma have already showed us their caliber in Tanu Weds Manu. The duo has waved their magic wand in Raanjhanaa as well. Himanshu Sharma has taken the character of a Brahmin boy well beyond the stereotypes and boundaries. In fact he has taken the story itself beyond the set norms. The excellent writing is matched by Rai’s excellence. Rai’s characters are feisty and full of emotions. They are not perfect because they are human. Rai’s Raanjhanaa is anything but a simple love story. He has filled the film with sub-texts, be it political, intellectual or social, he is not afraid of making his point, but he does so skillfully. Nothing shouts out and seems out of place. The songs are placed cleverly and aptly in the film. Rai has simply outdone himself in Raanjhanaa as a director as compared to his last (first) film Tanu Weds Manu which was a hit and an entertaining one.
Rai and Sharma’s characters in the film are anything but perfect. They are full of emotions, love, hate, pain, jealousy; they take on life as the situation and their heart dictates, just like we do in the real world. For example Kundan is not the perfect selfless lover usually shown in our Hindi films. He agrees to unite Zoya with the love of her life. But in a surge of pain he betrays her and sets to ruin her life. The grown up Zoya is a woman sure of herself in the world. But when it comes to the matters of heart, she is as vulnerable as any other girl out there. The characters are flawed, but that’s what makes them perfectly real and believable. Their complication makes them stand out and makes us want to see what destiny has in store for them.
Tale of Two Cultures & Cities
As I have already mentioned that the film is filled with sub-texts. The social dilemma of a Hindu-Muslim love story is handled carefully but with effectiveness in the film. The intellectual gap that arises between the university educated Zoya and Kundan who remains the small town chap is distinct. In a scene Zoya says that she can’t marry a ‘ganwar’ like Kundan and settle down in a small town now that she has been educated and has lived in a city like Delhi. The difference between Delhi and Banaras is stark in the film. Rai says a lot through his depiction of several portions of the second half, without putting words to his thought, which makes the film complicated yet enticing.
The film is cleverly divided into two distinct halves. The first part is funny childish, endearing, full of life and dreams. Rai could have kept it like that for the entire length, but where is the sense of adventure in that? The second half takes a sharp dive into complicated relations, politics and twists that leave us at the edge of our seat. The characters of Kundan and Zoya transform and become complicated. The second half is charged with emotional turmoil the protagonists go through. This is what sets Raanjhanaa apart from other religion based love stories. Kudos to Rai and Sharma for taking the path unfrequented instead of opting for a easier more popular way out.
History is a witness that we have a taste for complicated love stories. Every love story, say Romeo-Juliet or Heer-Raanjha or Soni-Mahiwaal or even Devdas-Paro; they are legends because they were complicated tragic. This is our way of obtaining catharsis. Raanjhanaa is complicated, tragic tale of Kundan’s love for Zoya. This uncommon element sets this film apart from all those thousands of love stories our Indian cinema has projected on the silver screen for a whole century now.
I just cannot wrap up without mention the music of this film. The soul rendering, heartwarming songs are created by none other than our very own Academy winner A.R. Rehman. Rehman once again life to the film with his fresh tunes and makes our hearts light and heavy at the same time. Simply genius!
Raanjhanaa is a must watch for all Bollywood addicts, who love a twist in tale. The story is good and direction is brilliant. The actors have put their best foot forward, but Dhanush is the one to watch out for.