Movies are pretty much built on love. Love stories have been the staple diet for movie goers since the silent films era and even in the era of talkies beginning with Gone In The Wind in 1939 or even if I look back even earlier, I would find something fo sure. We Indians have had love stories that have largely been tragedies and if not they’ve usually been reduced to boring, formulaic with heroes fighting 20 baddies in every other scene. Of late there has been an attempt at reworking this genre or rather reworking the classic tale of Heer- Ranjha , Laila – Majnu in Bollywood and we have seen stories like Rockstar and movies like Love Aaj Kal dealing with love in a modern, mature . Though I am not a fan of the many reworked movies because I’ve failed to see them as merely old wine in new bottle, there have been takes where the blurring lines of friendship and love are seen in the reworking and Raanjhanaa is a film that goes that fascinating route.
Set in Banaras, the film begins with a young Kundan (Naman Jain), a Tamilian, son of a priest, running around with his gang of friends collecting “funds” to burn Ravana. In that first few scenes, we have Banaras in all its local colour and flavour looking at us in the eye. Anand L Rai brings the right look for the film and we have colours shooting off the screen right from the first minute of the film. Kundan’s life changes when he sets his eyes on Zoya, a girl from a Muslim family. This happens when he is about 10-12 years old. Thus begins love at first sight from the boy’s side. It is a one sided love affair. Cue back to all the movies you’ve watched as a kid and you are reminded of the movies that used to come on TV where a girl and guy fall in love at first sight and how you scoffed at that notion when you grew up. Anand L Rai brings that that moment when you see it but there’s a smile brought out by nostalgia playing on your lips and when Kundan runs back home, you smile joyously at the innocence of it all.
The story requires you to suspend reality and go for a ride and you’d have found romance if for a few nagging things with the script and characterisation. Raanjhanaa despite being labelled a love story, isn’t a simple one. Yes, it has love in it, romance in it but it aspires to be much more than merely a love story and it is this aspiration without proper supporting characters to the lead that makes it difficult to appreciate Raanjhanaa fully.
Kundan finds himself in love with Zoya from his childhood days and when teenage is in its bloom, he decides to let Zoya know of his feelings. What follows is classic Tamil cinema reel show, pardon me, stalk show. Kundan stalks Zoya all the way. He gets slapped whenever he comes near her. Fifteen times and then she relents to meet him and talk to him. It is isn’t because she loves him but because she likes his consistency. Zoya is a beautiful character that makes the reworking of the Heer – Ranjha story plausible and watch worthy. She is the girl of the present age, the kind of girl who’ll wear an anklet the guy gives her because she likes the anklet and not because she loves him. She will hug him not because she loves him but because she felt like hugging him. She is casual, her actions are not premeditated and she is as we see her, an open book. Had we be allowed to see Zoya(Sonam Kapoor) as just this, the movie would have been infinitely better but like almost everything that has come in the industry before, we are made to see the heroine as a hard cold bitch. How do you do that? Make Kundan so lovable that you can never fault him, no matter what wrong he does. In our eyes, Kundan is forgivable and Zoya is relegated to being despised when she hasn’t done anything wrong. It is this treatment that makes even the love story lesser than what it could have been and the tendency to make the hero too cute also doesn’t leave a great taste in the end.
The first half of the film is a stalk show. Kundan stalks Zoya and Bindiya(Swara Bhaskar) stalks Kundan. It is enjoyable because it has some very enjoyable moments, there’s a lot of colour in the film and Dhanush holds everything together. The films most enjoyable moments come in this portion. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub as Murari, Kundan’s friend is stellar. He is a rock by his side, the sidekick we all dream about.
The second half of the film shifts to JNU, Delhi and you have Che Guevara posters, political influxes into the film and the film derails. The director wants to treat the movie seriously and not merely as a love story but in his attempt to keep it for a family audience or rather give is a feel good treatment, the bigger picture is lost. I was agonised to see such a wonderful premise put to waste.
It is not merely the texture of the script that pegs down the film but some of the characters in it as well. Swara Bhaskar’s characters actions hardly make sense even though there is one particular scene which is hilarious, her character’s actions are never clear. The biggest waste here is the usage of Abhay Deol. He is good in what he has to do but it is his character that doesn’t make sense with his actions. In the pivotal moment where the film’s texture changes, the monumental decision that he takes is so far removed from his character that you are left wondering if you are watching two films instead of one.
After a long time, I found Rahman‘s music working well in a film. Raanjhanaa‘s music fits very well with the movie and it adds to the narrative. Anand L Rai has made good use of the maestro’s music. Dhanush is a class above the rest and he makes the movie his own. He doesn’t have to put much effort, this is easy for a guy of his caliber. You only have to take one close up to see how good an actor Dhanush is and Anand L Rai uses it very well to give his lead actor ample scope. Be it in the climax when he goes to the rally or when he tries to convince Zoya’s dad, the creepiness of his stalking or the village guy in the big town when he is in Delhi, Dhanush is effortlessly good. This should give him a nice platform for a Bollywood career. Raanjhanaa has many good things in it and has an enjoyable first half with traces of Mani Ratnam’s films and old classic Tamil films finding their way into the movie.
Raanjhanaa lands itself in a mess by trying to be fun loving and in that process it doesn’t explore the either story it wants, the political nexus or the love story with the necessary style and texture they deserve. It isn’t a bad movie, it is something that can charm you but intentions alone never make a film; execution plays an important role as well and Raanjhanaa, sadly, isn’t that well executed. It takes the nice things from a Mani Ratnam film and mixes too many things for its own good and when Mani’s style is not there to help you, the texture isn’t going to be silky and smooth. This is Dhanush’s film and no matter how you see it, Raanjhanaa feels like two different films separated by an interval thanks to some poor character actions.
Language : Hindi | Running Time : 140 Minutes | Director : Anand L Rai