Synopsis – In 2017, Shiv and Saira fall for each other and form an inseparable connection. Until, Saira crosses paths with a reincarnated lover from a previous lifetime who is determined to make her his lover again.
My Take – Is it just me who felt a sense of déjà vu from the trailers of this film? In sense how much it resembled last year’s Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra directed dud Mirzya, which also dealt with a warrior past life situation, well kind of. Actually, it’s no one’s fault, mainly as films based on reincarnations rarely look different, hence it’s not surprising know that Telugu producer Allu Aravind sent a legal notice to the makers of this film alleging plagiarism & taking inspirations from his 2009 Tollywood hit Magadheera directed by S.S. Rajamouli, starring Ram Charan and Kajal Aggarwal. The idea of reincarnation isn’t new, in fact it has existed for thousands of years, and explored multiple times in Bollywood, while many continue to consider that the concept is imaginary – just because it conflicts with their individual beliefs – it is still not a valid evidence, so while many insists that it’s unreal, there are those who still feel the concept of reincarnation exists, much like the common perception of reincarnation, Love Aaj Kal, Cocktail, Badlapur & Hindi Medium producer turned director Dinesh Vijan’s film is also expected to dive into character deaths, drowning, hydrophobia, a fickle woman, two warring tribes, some heavy-duty make up and prosthetics. Personally, I don’t mind the watching two souls united by destiny meeting in another life, but making a film on rebirth does not mean grabbing a bunch of ingredients already used in a bunch of Indian films across languages, chucking them into a wok and tossing them around to create what you think you could fool people into believing is your imagination. From its opening scenes right till the closing song ‘n’ dance routine accompanying the end credits, from its basic plotline to its writing and directorial treatment, this film clearly defines itself as one of the most unoriginal Hindi films I have seen all year.
The story follows Shiv Kakkar (Sushant Singh Rajput), a banker newly arrived in Budapest who meets & instantly falls in love with Saira Singh (Kriti Sanon), a beautiful Indian chocolatier. Also magnetically attracted to Shiv, despite being in a relationship Saira descides to take a leap with their romance growing with every passing day. Even though she suffers from occasional nightmares and hydrophobia, Shiv’s casual, flippant attitude towards life keeps her afloat, mainly because the two share a past-life connection. However, with the arrival of a suave, but strange, liquor baron Zakir Merchant (Jim Sarbh), things begin to complicate, especially when he momentarily sweeps Saira off her feet & tries to convince her that he knows them both for centuries. Based on a script by Garima & Siddharth, the story unfolds in two timelines. For the first hour is focused mainly on showing a couple of playful scenes revolving around Shiv and Saira’s courtship, which follows the certain clichéd concept of ‘modern’, ‘youthful’ romance that has plagued commercial Indian cinema in recent years, epitomized by Shaad Ali’s OK Jaanu and Aditya Chopra’s Befikre last year. In all these films, the road to falling in love is lined with the same old milestones packaged in gloss: contrived conflicts, youngsters brimming with artificially scaled up energy while a frothy song plays in the background, doing stuff the filmmakers clearly consider cute (such as giving each other stupid, dangerous dares, kissing on parapets where they could end up tipping over and falling into a river, and more). It is natural to wonder: do these people ever talk like normal people? When do they get to know each other, to really fall in love? Their ‘liberalism’, by the way, ends at having pre-marital sex. Before Shiv’s icky persistence with Saira here, we witness him trivializing white women much like Ranveer Singh’s character in Befikre and so many other Hindi film men before them. The whole thing is stretched to a breaking point to create suspense over the explanation for Saira’s dreams and within just about 30 minutes that is allotted to him before the first half ends, he sets the tone for the film, i.e. the slow pace and intensity with which he speaks is expected to catch your attention instantly. He has both emotions and intellectual aptitude to plot against the protagonist. If hero Shiv can become a bit heroic that’s solely because he sees a worthy opponent in Zakir. Although the chemistry between the good-looking leads boosts the pre-interval bits, the film begins to sag under the weight of its expectations as soon as Zakir’s chopper has touched Budapest. Director Vijan fails to chip away at the calcified reincarnation theme, suggesting that choices and mistakes from the previous birth neatly carry over to the next one. Still its hard to forgive how the plot takes too long to get to the kooky Zakir & once it does so, the back story (shown only post-interval) involving his past life with Saira and Shiv’s earlier avatars has little flesh, mainly as the mystery that bonded these characters held interest up to a point but the modern-day resolution to an age-old rivalry wears thin. The only thing slightly different in this mix – if you have not seen other reincarnation films – is that she feels an inexplicable connection to him going beyond chemistry and compatibility, and related to the nightmares she has been seeing revolving around drowning and hazy human figures. We naturally guess that their bond is linked to those dreams. It’s just one of the conveniences in the script.
Like the sidekick best friend (Varun Sharma) who appears and disappears and serves no real purpose except perhaps to add some Punjabi bromance, it’s a diversion. The second half, including the explanation of the past birth, is downright weird in its aspiration and inspiration. The lovers are Saira’s and Zak’s earlier incarnations, while the villain, who suddenly turns hero, is Shiv’s earlier avatar! The movie indeed is a rip-off from every other incarnation based film, where there is a departed pair and a greedy villain who reappears. The costumes and getups are nondescript, a mix of many Hollywood films, and the region unknown. Based on the saga of a comet that hits the world after 800 years, we are made to believe that the trio was reborn that many years later! Now, what were their souls doing in-between? As the absurdities pile up, we have Zak asking Saira whether she does not want an explanation of her dreams or not (she had never told him about them!), their engagement announced in a local publication and Shiv thus turning up there to reclaim Saira. Thankfully, the silliness of reincarnation is something that eventually becomes a long standing joke. Shiv makes fun of it repeatedly, his character giving the film that much needed jolt of reality. Jim Sarbh‘s character lacks meat, it’s a miracle how the actor manages to perform despite the poorly etched part, you never know much about him or the cause of his menace, his pain never becomes palpable. As the film moves between two time zones, Zakir’s pain never becomes an entity by itself. His love for Saira, then and now, never hits hard enough. The 30 minute of the movie that dedicates itself to a world set 800 years ago is cinematographically fantastic. The makeup, look, styling everything works except the story itself. Betrayal, deceit, love and trust which form the core of the film are never explored fully; they remain concepts scratched on the surface. The film itself is a breezy fare, never quite being the deep heart tugging drama it sought out to be. Towards the end, the film seems a little dragging and easily a few minutes could have been chopped for better engaging. The film no doubt is technically rich. Rich locales, good amount spent in promotions, and so on; however the very content is unoriginal that nothing can actually save the film. Even the music, considering this is a romantic film, is just passable. As mentioned above, the only saving parts of the film come in the form of its production values & performances. Sushant and Kriti‘s chemistry is undoubtedly scorching. After a long time, there is an on screen pair with such evidently vivacious and vibrant rapport. They look perfect, their bond is almost magical from the word go & the film rides on this. Sushant Singh Rajput looks perfectly sculpt, acts adequately cheesy and is quite the lover boy you can never imagine him as. It’s good to see him in such an avatar & director Dinesh Vijan knows which energy to extract from him. Kriti Sanon, who was first seen in Heropanti three years ago, is also very convincing. Saira has assertive, naughty and vulnerable sides to her personality, and Sanon brings them out beautifully, scoring most on the vulnerable side. Effectively, she shows that she is (much) more than just a decorative doll like she was in her last release, Dilwale. Jim Sarbh who made his debut as a Palestinian terrorist in Neerja (2016), makes his 1970s eye-rolling and dialogue-munching villain a delight to watch. It is disappointing that Rajkummar Rao couldn’t contribute much to the film, considering the potential that he has; Rao undoubtedly deserved more screen time. Varun Sharma‘s act isn’t different from his previous roles. Deepika Padukone looks stunning in her small appearance. On the whole, ‘Raabta’ has sizzling chemistry & pretty visuals, which are ultimately drowned out by its weak script & mundane screenplay.
Directed – Dinesh Vijan
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 147 minutes