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Every Friday, I go through a few film reviews. Most of the time, the ones by Indian writers set my teeth on edge. Occasionally, they’re hilarious, wittingly or unwittingly. This morning, I read a review of Raanjhanaa by one Subhash Jha, and it was almost enough to make me fall to my knees and holler, “We are not worthy!”

Because this review, it’s a class apart. It’s the kind of prose that makes you wonder how anyone ever imagined these words could be strung together and it’s given me so much joy, that I’m going to quote my favourite parts here. I would recommend you read the original at the link given earlier, lest you miss the flow of the review.

First, here’s Raanjhanaa‘s trailer.

I haven’t seen the film but this is what I’m told is the story. WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS. SKIP TWO PARAGRAPHS AND BEGIN READING FROM “Now, on to the review…” IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE PLOT OF RAANJHANAA.

RAANJHANAA_POSTER_201306051Kundan is a Hindu boy in Varanasi who sees Zoya, a Muslim girl, and it’s love at first sight. Literally. When they hit their teens, he’s become a pro at following her around. He finally finds the courage to tell her he loves her, but she’s not interested. She slaps him a few times, to get her point across. It doesn’t work. At one point, when she’s trying to emphasise she seriously does. not. love. him, he reacts with vintage Bollywood melodrama and slits his wrists. While blood gushes, so does love in her heart.

Unfortunately, her daddy doesn’t approve of inter-faith relationships and so packs her off to Aligarh. She then goes and studies in Delhi. When she returns to Varanasi, Kundan is older but still in love with her. She, however, has a new boyfriend. This new boyfriend is politically active, good looking, charming and Muslim. It’s now Kundan’s turn to not be amused. However, this boyfriend has a secret that Kundan discovers: he’s only pretending to be Muslim. Actually he’s Hindu. When Zoya and her boyfriend are to get married, Kundan exposes his religious identity at the wedding ceremony. Some serious violence follows, in which the boyfriend is badly hurt. He eventually dies, thus clearing the way for Kundan and Zoya to fall in love. Just when Kundan thinks all is well, there’s a plot to kill him. Who should be behind the plot but Zoya, who wants revenge for how Kundan got her boyfriend killed. Except when Kundan is hurtling towards death, Zoya realises, shucks, he’s the one she loved all along.

Now, on to the review. All the emphases are mine.

This enormously-enriching film about the pain of love has four heroes: Dhanush, Sonam Kapoor, A.R. Rahman’s music and the city of Varanasi. Not necessarily in that order. But then ‘orderly conduct’ is hardly a given in a film about raging unrequited love.

If you haven’t been rendered comatose by the wordplay and all the adjectives, then read on.

“Raanjhanaa” tells us it’s not so cool to fall in love. Unless you’re ready to slither on the ground for love, if the need arises.

I’m not sure what it means to metaphorically slither on the ground. To be a snake? Perhaps one has to physically and actually slither? It’s been suggested in the past that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but it appears that in Jha’s world, the way to someone’s heart is to be found when one is on one’s stomach. I wonder if yoga would be good preparation for falling in love.

Ever wondered why we FALL and not rise in love? Just looking at this unforgettable dazzling and non-derivative take on unrequited love set amidst the bustling river-bank politics of Varanasi, we know all over again that love can kill your spirit, soul, self esteem and finally, your physical presence as well.

Angry, aggressive, passionate, temperamental, moody and quite simply majestic, “Raanjhanaa” is an opulent, epic, seductive, raging and rippling ode to love.

[CAPS by Jha]

One could argue that rising to the occasion could be considered somewhat important to expressing one’s love, if we wanted to consider the phrase metaphorically. I don’t know how dazzling the film is, but these two sentences are quite something. Quite an achievement to present a “non-derivative take” on “unrequited love”, particularly since unrequited love is a cliché that’s been done and redone over centuries. And in case you thought it was just a love story, it’s also about “the bustling river-bank politics of Varanasi”. By which we may conclude that once you leave the river banks, there’s no politicking in Varanasi.

Also, for those who may have lost track of what Raanjhanaa is, allow me to refresh your memory:

  • enormously-enriching
  • unforgettable
  • dazzling
  • non-derivative
  • angry
  • aggressive
  • passionate 
  • temperamental
  • moody
  • majestic
  • opulent 
  • epic
  • raging 
  • rippling

We’ve only reached the fourth paragraph of the review, by the way.

In seductive spirals of song-filled rhapsody, we see Kundan pursuing his lady-love through the robust gallis and mohallahs of Varanasi.

I’ve now got an image of Dhanush following Sonam up an unending spiral staircase. Rhapsody, incidentally, is either a part of a poem or an “ecstatic expression of feeling”, according to the dictionary. So we can now add “ecstatic” to the list of adjectives that describe the film. Also, good on Jha to insert a comment on the quality of construction in the lanes and neighbourhoods (gallis and mohallas) where the film has been shot. Robust, after all, means “of sturdy construction”. Unless Jha was using “robust” for its alternative meaning — “strong and rich in flavour or smell” — commenting about the stench that often fills Varanasi’s dung-spotted lanes.

It’s a beautifully charted journey, much less foul-mouthed and belligerent than Habib Faisal’s “Ishaqzaade” and far more mature and relevant than Ayan Mukerji’s “Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani”.

Ah. So the film is a journey through Varanasi? Like a Bollywood version of Google Maps? Who knew journeys could be foul-mouthed? Anyway, good on Raanjhanaa for being aggressive but still less belligerent than Ishaqzaade. I’m no fan of YJHD but being more mature than that film isn’t particularly difficult. The hero of YJHD was called Bunny, for crying out loud. The heroine whipped off her glasses in order to transform herself into a beauty. So clearly, maturity wasn’t its strongest suit. As for Jha’s opinion that Raanjhanaa is more relevant than YJHD, it is (again) setting the bar pretty low. YJHD was about a young man who wants to see the world, who goes to journalism school and emerges as a gent who clicks photographs of drug addicts in foreign towns when he isn’t a cameraman for a travel show. So yeah, not wildly relevant to anyone in the real world. But Raanjhanaa is about a guy who effectively stalks a woman who is in love with someone else (because that’s what love is). And this woman does that immensely popular thing called street theatre. Yep. Reeking of relevance.

It is also made vastly enjoyable by the director’s confident and unhurried control over his lover’s uncontrollable passion.

How lovely that someone feels uncontrollable passion for director Aanand L Rai, but were these details of his love life necessary in a film review?

Throughout, Kundan’s self-destructive odyssey into the heart’s darkest regions, we are made privy into his agony and ecstacy.

Spare a thought for Joseph Conrad and Irving Stone while you ponder what precisely is a self-destructive odyssey and how one is made privy into anything.

We know exactly how his heart beats. Maybe partly because it beats to the sound of A.R. Rahman’s evocative songs. We see Zoya just the way Kundan does: tall, creamy-complexioned, warm, seductive and unattainable.

Well, if the chap in question is alive (which he is), then it wouldn’t take a film for us to know how a man’s heart beats. An ECG would be far more helpful. And if it really followed the beat of the songs, then he’s got what is known as an irregular heartbeat. Not good news. Almost as unsettling as the way he sees Zoya. My creep radar beeps manically every time I see “creamy-complexioned”. Ew.

Dhanush, as the worshipping loverboy, lets his face become the map of his heart.

Someone give this man Jha a photo of what a heart looks like. Dhanush isn’t good looking but he isn’t quite so ugly either.

This is not love as we see it in today’s day and age. It’s the kind of adoration that Radha had for Krishna. In many ways, “Raanjhanaa” is a gender-reversed take on the Radha-Krishna myth that takes the adoring heroine-worshipping Varanasi boy through some exceptional unacceptable circumstances.

I’m not sure where to begin. With the mysterious, exceptional and unacceptable circumstances? The fact that Radha’s devotion for Krishna is being likened to a stalker’s obsession? As for the Radha-Krishna myth, let’s take a look at it, shall we? Radha was an older, married woman who developed a fondness for a teenaged boy. She worshipped him, both spiritually and sexually. He favoured her over all his other lovers (and he had some 1600 of them). That’s the myth. Reverse genders and Sonam Kapoor’s Zoya is a woman with many lovers who favours Dhanush’s Kundan, who should forsake everything for her. Not stalk her and screw her happiness.

Bringing campus politics into a film about compulsive love may not seem like the easiest of marriages to implement.

Wow. Who knew that marriages can ‘brought in’ or ‘implemented’? Also, I thought politics and compulsive love were standard fare in colleges, given they’re full of hormonal teenagers on the verge of adulthood. Not in Jha’s college, clearly.

It is to Rai’s credit that he doesn’t lose hold of his characters’ collective and individual destiny even while moving out of their home turf.

Well, he is the director. If he loses “hold” over his characters, who’s supposed to tell the story? And why should leaving Varanasi make Rai lose his hold? What are these characters that behave like cattle straying from the grazing grounds? Or is it the director who’s leaving the characters’ turf? Either way, what’s physical distance got to do with the telling of the story.

There is scarcely a single false note in this love liaison.

What. A. Great. Line. There are more gems in this review, but sadly, I must to some real work so I’ll have to stop here. In conclusion, I will say though that I’m not sure if I’m ever going to be able write again. When there are wordsmiths like this one around and writing for a site like MTV, I should just retire. What is an imagination and style if it can’t fashion lines like these? Sigh.

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2 thoughts on “I give up

  1. I’m close to tears, I’m laughing that hard. I’m not sure I can believe that someone actually wondered why we FALL and not RISE in love… Actually that’s probably one of his more sensible lines. I don’t think I have it in me to read his entire review.

    • M, it’s the perfect pick-me-up in some ways. Few of us will ever have the wit to come up with that phraseology.

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