Manmarziyaan

Manmarziyaan

The performances from the three main actors are the reason to watch this romantic love triangle written by Kanika Dhillon and directed by Anurag Kashyap. Taapsee Pannu and Vicky Kaushal are the carefree couple indulging in their lovemaking whenever and wherever they can, while Abhishek Bachchan plays ‘the most patient man ever’ as Taapsee’s potential husband. The story doesn’t break new ground but the ever-present music and stunning locations make this a more watchable film than expected, even with its clichéd finale. And it’s good to have another female-centric film from Bollywood that doesn’t portray Rumi as a bad girl just because she indulges in pre-marital sex.

Taapsee Pannu’s Rumi initially appears manically impulsive which makes her rather more irritating than I suspect was intended. She’s also incredibly selfish, but then that applies to all the characters in this story, so her absorption with her own affairs sits easily beside the rest. But as the story unfolds, the complexities of her character become more apparent and Rumi’s ‘no apologies’ approach to life starts to make sense as her circumstances are revealed. She lives with her grandfather, aunt, uncle and cousin as her parents are dead, and she helps to run the family sports store. She used to play hockey at state level and still runs – for exercise, for enjoyment and also when she’s sad, upset or just plain angry.

Rumi is in love with Vicky (Vicky Kaushal), a free-wheeling DJ with spiky dyed hair and a collection of The Doors t-shirts. Vicky hops over balconies to have sex with Rumi behind her family’s back, although it’s pretty much an open secret in the neighbourhood since the lovers take a haphazard approach to concealing their activity. This is an entirely new side to Vicky Kaushal and he nails the man-child aspect of his irresponsible character with complete enthusiasm. He’s totally into Rumi and the two have an intensely passionate affair that all comes crashing down when Rumi’s aunt finds them together in the bedroom. Naturally the only solution is marriage, and rather surprisingly Rumi agrees. Perhaps she too has had enough of the sneaking around and she wants Vicky to finally ‘put a ring on it’. What moves the film forward here is Rumi’s family’s acceptance of Vicky as a husband if that’s what she wants. They may not totally approve, but there are refreshingly no demands to only marry the man of their choice. Rumi also takes a pragmatic view of the entire idea although her immaturity is on show when she declares that she will marry anyone the family chooses if Vicky fails to appear.

Although Rumi has absolute faith that her lover will agree to getting married, for Vicky that’s a step too far. He’s not ready for marriage, but he does at least admit his reluctance to an astonished and devastated Rumi. At this point the family contacts Kakaji (Saurabh Sachdeva), a marriage broker who has also been contracted to find a bride for Robbie (Abhishek Bachchan ), an NRI living in London who is back in India to search for a wife. Robbie might tie his turban on arrival in the airport to appease his rather traditional family, but is determined follow his own path as he searches for his life-partner. He falls in love almost immediately with Rumi’s picture despite the best efforts of Kakaji to provide a range of options. With Vicky’s refusal to commit, Rumi agrees to marry her family’s choice, but despite the wedding preparations, Vicky still isn’t able to let Rumi go and continually makes promises he just cannot seem to keep.

One of the areas that works well in the film is the depiction of Vicky’s commitment issues. There’s never any doubt that he is head over heels in love with Rumi, but his irresponsible nature doesn’t allow him any thought for the future. There’s an excellent scene where the two lovers run away together, only for Rumi to stop the car and ask Vicky where are they going and how will they survive. When he can’t answer, she knows that for all his passion in the bedroom, Vicky really isn’t husband material. Vicky’s father also has some harsh words for his son that ring true, telling him that he sees Rumi as a possession that he cannot bear to lose leading Vicky to make countless promises and break them over and over again. When we were discussing the film, a friend asked me why Rumi believed Vicky when it was so obvious that he wasn’t going to follow through? And that is the other part of the film that works for me. Rumi obviously loves Vicky and doesn’t want to lose him. So, she is prepared to do anything, say anything and believe him yet again when he says he will come and marry her. It’s a common scenario for women who believe they can change the men they fall in love with, and it takes maturity and experience to know that it’s simply not true. I could very much relate to Rumi’s attempts to hold on to the love she desperately wants to keep, despite being let down time after time after time.

Taapsee Pannu really is excellent here and after the initial overdone manic enthusiasm she settles down into a wonderful performance of a woman who is torn between her heart and her head. Her best scene for me was when she runs down to the river on her honeymoon and simply sobs, heartbroken and mourning the love she has lost. It’s a very powerful moment that’s followed up beautifully by her indifference to Robbie and her need to get drunk to sleep with him. Even when the story lags and the dialogue becomes repetitive, Taapsee is always engaging and convincing in her role.

What doesn’t work is Robbie’s insistence on marrying Rumi when he knows all about her relationship with Vicky. For all his talk about finding a life partner, his actions don’t appear to follow his words and his willingness to put up with Rumi’s bitchiness and indifference seems unlikely. Abhishek plays the sensible, sober and responsible Robbie well, but his character is simply too patient and understanding until towards the end of the film where he finally loses his calm façade.

The first half of the film has plenty of energy and sparkle that’s driven by Taapsee Pannu and Vicky Kaushal. Much also comes from Amit Trivedi’s fantastic soundtrack which is embedded in the very heart of the film and is used to good effect. Anurag Kashyap has added in twins who dance behind Rumi in a few of the songs and they are absolutely brilliant, adding yet more colour and vibrancy to the first half. Amritsar too is becomes part of the story as the city is beautifully filmed, and technically the film is excellent. Look out too for the gorgeous tea cups used by Rumi throughout the film and the thought that has gone into dressing Rumi and Vicky’s respective rooms.

Unfortunately, Manmarziyan loses steam in the second half and becomes rather repetitive although scenes between Vicky and Rumi still have an impact. The ending too is rather disappointing and tame after all the fireworks and energy at the beginning, and also much too predictable. This is a film to watch for the characterisations and the clever staging of a number of scenes rather than for the screenplay, which does tend to drag at times. But with such outstanding performances from the three leads Manmarziyan is still a step up from an average love story and definitely worth a watch.

Raman Raghav 2.0

Anurag Kashyap’s Raman Raghav 2.0 takes us into a cat and mouse game between coked up cop Raghavan (Vicky Kaushal) and self-possessed serial killer Ramana. There are no heroes here, in a Mumbai that is more like a jungle peopled by predators and those who so easily become their prey.

Anurag Kashyap has never struck me as a wallflower, and his style is as much a feature of the film as his actors. There is a lot of technique out on display and the stylised effects actually do work pretty well with the action and narrative. When Ramana describes his thinking there are often sound effects like rain, or static, that make it seem like a genuine recollection but also that his imagination is his reality.  Kashyap supposedly employed guerrilla filming tactics to shoot his story out in the city, and very occasionally you see an extra execute a nice double take. The colours, the lighting, the ambient noise, it all says Mumbai and reminded me that every mega-city is a collection of villages. There is a real tension in some of the chase scenes that is as much “will they make it down that street in one piece” as it is about the story. I get why he used the chapter structure to string together disparate scenes and save on explanation, but they are a bit annoying and really don’t add anything other than exposition. I was more invested in following the characters than being hit over the head with the intent of the next section.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui is that terrifying movie bogeyman – a mild mannered, unremarkable, serial killer. His performance gives Ramana a menace and intelligence that helps gloss over some of the less plausible moments. Scenes that appear to be him reacting to something can later be seen as a rehearsal or test for how to get the desired reaction. He has a casual brutality driven by a rigorous inner logic, with a touch of religious mania. He seems to be guided by cats more than is good for a sane man. Ramana’s Mumbai is part forest and little shacks, not many people around him at times, and part concrete jungle. He is matter of fact and almost seems to expect people to agree with him that they must be punished. When he tracks down his sister and finds her recollection of events not to his liking, he cannot let that go by. His scenes with Raghavan are particularly mesmerising as Nawaz the actor and Ramana the character each play with the onlookers emotions and logic. His final scene with Raghavan was sick and creepy and yet held a sweetness that implied redemption had once been possible, perhaps. Kashyap should be thanking his lucky stars he got Siddiqui to star as I can’t imagine another contemporary actor being so prepared to show such unapologetic darkness, and making it look exquisite.

Vicky Kaushal is the coked up cop Raghavan. He disregards Ramana’s hints that they have seen each other before and leaves him as a harmless nut job to be scared off. He is on his own downward spiral, and there is no end in sight. Raghavan doesn’t seem to have a single honest or healthy relationship in his life. Like Ramana he believes he knows best and that whatever he does is somehow sanctioned. Raghavan is a nasty piece of work but I never felt drawn into his inner world the way I was with Ramana. Vicky Kaushal relied more on external expression of his turmoil – the sniffing and irritability that went with his habit – than showing the demons driving him. I rarely felt much connection with Raghavan as a person. I could easily detest him but I couldn’t really invest in his fairly predictable journey.

His sort of girlfriend Simmy (Sobhita Dhulipala) tolerates his behaviour although I really don’t know why. He makes it clear she is there for sex not forever, and he certainly doesn’t care about any consequences of their relationship, but she doesn’t seem to take his aggression and threats seriously. Sobhita is convincing with her party girl ennui and casual acceptance of Raghavan’s violent side. If only Simmy also had better attention to self-preservation. Some of the women in the film exhibit what could be called non-traditional values, and I couldn’t help but notice that none of them comes through unscathed. It’s a high body count film so that is not inconsistent, but I wondered why female sexuality had to be the trigger for punishment so often. I spent a fair amount of my viewing time urging the women in it to RUN.

The rest of the supporting cast play the friends, family, cops and robbers of this world. They’re all good but very much pushed aside by the two lead characters. I particularly liked Amruta Subhash as Ramana’s sister Lakshmi, and Mukesh Chhabra as the wishy washy loan shark.

Raj Sampath’s score is driving and percussive for the most, underpinning the tempo of the city and the chase. The songs are obligatory rather than necessary but do speak to the characters inner state. And there are some nice touches as when the romantic music wells as Ramana explains to Raghavan that he is his soulmate. It’s a twisted but seemingly genuine love at first sight.

Whenever Nawazuddin is on screen I felt a chill. Unfortunately too much directorial faffing around to try and look cool drained the film of tension, and Vicky Kaushal wasn’t able to overcome either a compelling co-star or an underwritten role. 3 stars.