Synopsis – Rumi is a free-spirited young woman. She lives with her extended family in Punjab state, doing her best to be a good daughter. But youthful desires have led her to Vicky. With his impulsive nature and shock of dyed-blue hair, he’s the excitement she wants right now. How long can they keep their trysts secret from her family?
My Take – Gone are the days when romantic films like Mohabbatein, Dhadkan, Devdas and Veer-Zara use to grace the silver screens with their epic love stories and soulful songs. Films which used to tug our hearts as well entertain us with its surreal treatment of their characters. Over the last decade, filmmakers have often found it difficult to re-create the same euphoria with the genre, and have instead preferred to just recycle old stuff with just chart-busting musical numbers to lure our simpleton audiences in, all in hopes for an excellent opening weekend. Though, last weekend’s release also contains a concept which at a high level seems beaten to death, the film looked fresh mainly because of the presence of meaty characters whom you can see and relate to in real life, and most importantly as the feature is helmed by Anurag Kashyap, a filmmaker who you would least expect to direct an amalgamation of romance, comedy and drama.
Though director Kashyap has made stellar romance based films like Dev D and Mukkabaaz earlier, this Anand L. Rai production see him going completely into the genre that too without a hint of bloodshed, drug use, crime and abuses, despite the presence of his realistic touch. Yet, in a step forward for the director, the film explores another kinds of violence, like the sort of verbal and emotional wounds dealt to each other by young people in love, while also looking at the healing power of forgiveness, an uncommon theme for a filmmaker like Kashyap. Yes, without a doubt, this is one of the best Bollywood romance to hit theaters in a very long time and I absolutely loved watching it.
Though as a director Kashyap seems to be new in this genre, he has done a good job by keeping a fine balance between comedy and drama. Sure, on occasion, the story may be excessively profound for the younger generation, yet the time to time punches and cool roller coaster ride of humor and drama in the film will leave everyone entertained. And the superlative performances make it even better. The script has all the elements that make an interesting blend to catch this one as soon as possible.
Set in the funky, dusty and colorful city of Amritsar, the story follows Rumi (Taapsee Pannu), an orphan ex-hockey player who has been raised by her grandfather and lives with her uncle’s family. For some time now, she has been in a whopping affair with Vicky Sandhu (Vicky Kaushal), a confused and irresponsible young man who is also a part-time DJ. However, when their affair is discovered, all hell breaks loose, as coming from a respected middle class family, the only solution they can come up with is to get her hitched via arranged marriage. But Rumi, being the perpetual hothead, doesn’t like being ordered to do anything, and manages to brazen her way to a compromise that Vicky will turn up the next day with his family to ask for her hand in marriage and if he doesn’t, she’ll marry the first suitable boy they choose.
However Vicky being the commitment fearing person decides just not to show up, but does agree to elope with her later, that too without any form of plan. Realizing that he is not someone mature enough to take responsibility for her and their relationship, she gets engaged to Robbie (Abhishek Bachchan), a London-based banker, who instantly fell for Rumi when he was offered her profile in the form of a matrimonial alliance. However, from the wedding night, Robbie realizes that it is going to be an uphill task to win Rumi over and eliminate Vicky from her life, as he just refuses to leave.
From humor to emotions and drama everything is treated brilliantly in the film. This film is a perfect example of how a film can be when its comprised of skilled writing and masterful direction. On one side we have writer Kanika Dhillon‘s intricate and sometimes poetic portrayal of the emotions, impulses, and on the other side there is director Kashyap‘s unique and raw execution of the proceedings. It is all presented with such maturity that it appears truly refreshing. With the characters constantly juggling between their complex emotions, the film appears realistic and so relatable that one can feel the pangs of love and compare it to modern relationships. The film starts off with a full-length song, or music video, if you may, with a pair of twins (a subtle motif that appears throughout), cracking it with their dance moves, setting the tone for what’s supposed to be a musical, after all.
The relentless drama that follows, by the minute, in the lives of the volatile lead couple in unhinged love, will make you feel thoroughly relieved about your own staid existence though. The chemistry between Rumi and Vicky is fantastic to watch and they set the screen on fire. Their relationship is reminiscent to modern relationships which is more about carnal needs. While the pace does drop considerably in the second half as it mostly showcases the conflict in Rumi’s mind about Vicky or Robbie, it holds on due to its strong characters even in the sullen silences. As mentioned before, Bollywood has struggled to depict app-age romantic relationships, with Befikre (2016) a particularly glaring example of how an older director is trying to guess what kids are like today.
Here, by showing how already complicated systems of young love in India are both simplified and made more complex by technology, the film feels closer to messy reality. The central couple hook up on Tinder and delete the app from each other’s phone, while the third wheel plays a waiting game on Facebook. At the core of its heart though the film is like Hum Dil Chuke Sanam and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, a cliché about why and how women inevitably fall for the bad boy, a someone who’s not, typically speaking, the sorted, sober ‘husband material’. Which, by the way, is also the film’s apt English title. Sure, the story isn’t unique, in fact, too many of his characters are always roaming around us, happy and unhappy, content and empty.
But what’s impressive here is how director Kashyap has bottled it up, because true love stories have their share of days without happiness and nights without lovemaking, so does this film and that’s precisely what makes all of them so very relatable. In fact, throughout the film, humane flaws have been celebrated. The wavering mind of Rumi, daring yet fearful Vicky, softspoken and sorted Robbie. The film give a tad more importance to the female lead as it revolves around who she ends up with, and how. Despite the barbs thrown at Vicky, we’re never asked to see him as a jerk, and there’s never any doubt about the depth of his feelings for Rumi (or hers for him; at one point, she tells him how grateful she is that he was her first love).
And despite all the hurt, sweetness suffuses the film, from the gentleness of Robbie’s drinking scenes with his dad to the rough poetry of the Amit Trivedi‘s songs, which stay with you long after the end credits have rolled in. In the hands of any other director, the film would have slipped into that cheesy zone of scenes, but with director Kashyap, you get the sense of his style of improvisation. The hyper tone we have seen in certain Anurag Kashyap films is there, making way for some hilarious conversational bits and at the same time the director respects the silences and uses them so skillfully. Which all leads to a remarkable final scene. No possibly fatal punch, no unveiling of a decomposed body, no bullet-riddled corpse – just an extended walk-and-talk. In a film with near-constant music, the soundtrack only registers ambient noise. Some issues are resolved, others wisely left alone. It’s so beautifully written and acted that when the music swells briefly at the end and there’s a slow motion shot, it just feels great.
Sure, with a run time of 156 minutes, it does get repetitive at times, and could have trimmed down by 10-15 minutes. Also, though the film is primarily about Rumi, Vicky and Robbie it wouldn’t have hurt to show the family’s reactions to the various embarrassments caused due to the frequent change of minds of the lead characters. That would have lent a lot of solidarity to the story as a whole.
The cast is the strongest pillar that ably supports the swell building the entire film is constructed on. Together the three actors add incredible zest, flesh, and energy to roles that compel you look at the world through each perspective, and probably even find oneself in it in some form. Taapsee Pannu is the powerhouse of the film ensuring she gets every note right. Here as the free-spirited Rumi she proves her mettle yet again. With each new film, she brings something fresh to the table and that’s a joy to watch. She gets each and every bit of her character right and leaves us awestruck with her riveting performance. Vicky Kaushal strikes yet again and is extremely likable as the hyper, confused yet goalless Vicky of the film. His hyper acts are terrific, but the places where he actually scores are those close-ups where he demonstrates his vulnerability, helplessness and the self-realization of his shortcomings, like in the elopement sequence.
But the surprise package of the film is Bachchan Jr. Abhishek Bachchan wonderfully underplays his role, and again, does not have to make any effort to stand out in what must be his most nuanced performance since 2007’s Guru. I have always maintained that he is the most underrated actor of his generation and a man of range, and this film is indubitable proof of that. The supporting cast led by Saurabh Sachdeva, Ashnoor Kaur, and Vikram Kocchar among others also do a great job. On the whole, ‘Manmarziyaan’ is a strikingly competent love triangle that is a treat to watch, thanks to its unusual direction, electrifying performances and superb music.
Directed – Anurag Kashyap
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 156 minutes