An jo on Raanjhanaa

** Mild-spoilers that don’t come in the way of movie-viewing experience**

Dis-claimer: I am not anti-south/anti-Tamil or anti-any region; I am just a little anti-myself..

‘Raanjhana’ connects with utmost honesty when the situations are Benares-centric. If there is one thing that can be unequivocally said about this outing from Anand Rai, it is the fine encapsulation of Benares in its hues and colors – saffron, green, and all the other remaining colors of human life untainted by the aforementioned primary religious colors. It is only when these colors shift to the political streets of New Delhi that the films starts to mildly lose its bearing, steam, and of course, the colors. ‘Raanjahana’ has its trump cards in Benares, Sonam Kapoor, Mohammad Zeeshan Ayub, Dhanush, Anand Rai, and A. R. Rahman – positively in that order. This is not sumptuous cinema, but one that is almost fulfilling. The story, in fact, harks back to the re-emergence of love in Hindi cinema via Aamir Khan in 1988, followed by Salman Khan in 1989, and later hijacked as a career-stamping move by Shah Rukh Khan in the 1990s post-liberalized environs of India. And Rai leaves no mile-stones of 1990s cinema guessing by using SAAJAN as one of the indicators of the film’s positing in time and also in its progress. This is actually 1990s cinema, albeit well-polished and better honed in terms of the craft of cinema. The situations are identical, but the clichés are minimized and the narrative more in sync with the supposed regressive nature of small towns (Benares and the Benares Hindu University (BHU)) as opposed to the ‘modernized’ views of big cities (New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Lal University (JNU)). So the Professor in BHU playing Zoya’s (Sonam) father is still hung up on getting his daughter married to a doctor who has a bungalow and two cars –they don’t specify whether the cars are Tata Nano or Toyota Corolla though—and of course always underscored by the fact that he needs to be Muslim. The Pundit’s (Dhanush’s Kundan) father only comes in either to perform Puja at the temple with his son gyrating Lord Shiva’s dumru or when he is banging his son’s legs with a bucket for having failed to turn up for his own marriage. Then there is the not-so-silently loving child-woman/friend in Kundan’s environs played with glee by the supremely talented Swara Bhaskar (Bindiya) who doesn’t raise any stink even when Kundan and his friend resort to border-line abuse – both physical and mental. Finally, there is the loyal-to-the-last-drop-of-blood friend (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub) who voluntarily or involuntarily supports – remember Laxmikant Berde’s embodiment of such character/characteristics in Maine Pyar Kiya and numerous other outings? – Kundan in every adventure/mis-adventure that Kundan drags himself into. As I said before, this is simply 1990s reloaded, with better ironing out of narrative and some contemporization along with a toning down of clichés.

One doesn’t need to know more about the story-line except that this is a love-triangle amongst the characters of Sonam, Dhanush, and Abhay Deol with an obvious religious angle. There is not really much in terms of a ‘plot’: The emphasis is really on the ‘impermanence’ and foolishness of human emotions with passage of age and time. There is also the age-old dichotomy of the inverse proportion of purity of emotions to ‘evolvement’ of a human along the societal ladders of human progress. There is an underlining of the fact that as a human gets better educated, moves up in ‘society’, his or her emotions get proportionally diluted. The ‘uncouth’ guy played by Dhanush, hence, displays the most honest emotions of love, fidelity, longing uncorrupted by societal metrics of advancement while Sonam devolves from an unadulterated 9th grader to a manipulative and emotionally scorned being in a political arena. Dhanush is happy fixing plumbing leaks in homes, decorating mandaps and lighting houses for functions while never losing the one currency that he has held onto in his life; that of uncorrupted and incorruptible love – effectively highlighting that emotional purity is inversely proportional to rise in societal status.

Anand Rai has a firm control on the proceedings while the film stays in Benares. When it shifts to New Delhi, however, the editing and proceedings go a bit hay-wire as though reflecting the uncontrolled emotions of Sonam and Dhanush. ‘Tanu Weds Manu’ did display that the director knows the Hindi heart/hinter-land almost like the back of his palm and Raanjhana’s Benaras outing endorses the fact further. The small-town eagerness of catching up to the big city’s English-fixated metric of ‘upward mobility’ is finely captured in scenes showing tailor-shop stickers of ‘Raymond’ suiting and shirting and the mis-spelling of ‘books’ as ‘boocks.’ English, at any cost and spelling, is the motto of the small-timer dreaming big. There is also a fine reference to the North Indian obsession with civil services career when Kundan’s Pundit friend equates Kundan’s one-sided love affair as being more difficult than clearing a UPSC exam paper; as opposed to the South Indian obsession with computers. Also, in pitching Abhay Deol as the competitor to Dhanush in the love affair, Anand Rai smartly throws away the erstwhile narrative of the girl having two polar opposites as the two points of the triangle; one conventionally good-looking, fair-skinned, 12-packed or whatever as against the rustic, earthy, ‘uncouth’ but incorrigibly in-love contender. While he succeeds in this endeavor, he strikes a bland note when it comes to Abhay Deol’s actual characterization. The attempts at mimicking Safdar Hashmi’s street-plays’ messaging fall flat on its face (there is even a ridiculous attempt at taking on the December 2012 heinous rape case of Nirbhaya). Indian politics has failed India, and true to its nature, fails in this movie too. Abhay Deol and his troupe’s attempts at bringing ‘equality’ in India are simplistic to the level of being idiotic. It is just a notch below rave parties of Pune what with everybody enjoying beer and tea and samosas at the drop of everyone’s hats. That is one of the main problems with the movie; the attempt to transport what is basically a simple love-story – a love-story that is rendered complex thanks to the parental culture of educating children to the highest degree so that they can never be trusted with a seemingly simple task of choosing a life-partner for themselves— to the muddy environs of power-politics. There is also a completely laughable, totally unnecessary scene of Dhanush speaking in Tamil to a conveniently placed collector of Tamil origins  in Delhi and controlling a potential riot just to elicit some wolf-whistles in theaters of Tamil Nadu; and to ensure a few lakhs/crores maybe. Also, from right at the outset— (“My face is already so beautiful; what is the need to destroy it further by beating it up?”)— to subsequent scenes, the stress on implying that Dhanush does not fit the ‘non-south’ conditioning of the multiplex audience north of the Vindhyas of the x-packed, fair-skinned body-beautiful mannequins of the film industry grates on the nerves. The constant harping that Dhanush is no SRK further beats to pulp the ‘warning’ that the story-teller feels audiences should be privy to.

It is Sonam Kapoor who comes into her own in this outing. She is first-rate as a riotous 9th grader in salwar-kameez and also after her transformation as a jeans-wearing anglicized JNU student. While her transformation from a hinter-land girl to an English-spewing ‘social-activist’ is not convincing plot-wise, she still essays it with remarkable zeal and smile. This is a superlative performance that captures the myriad shades of love, regret, and zest. As the ‘choti’ adorned Brahmin friend of Kundan, Mohammed is outstanding and simply creams the juicy lines given to him with the hunger of a famished lion. He literally borders on over-powering Dhanush what with his obviously better control of the lingo and the dialect and earthy but devastatingly effective expressions and delivery. His lines are a hoot and his delivery the icing on a finely baked cake. The songs are finely cut in that they appear as ‘singles’ when Dhanush is in love-mode and more as narrative progressions when the film takes a somber turn. And Rahman’s score is suitably in tune with the movie’s pitch and turns. One has to be blind to not notice that Dhanush is highly fluent in front of the camera. He doesn’t succeed completely in communicating via the language, but he does so definitely in communicating his emotions with the characters on screen and thus to the audience. He has managed to get rid of the Tamil twang; but there is a lot of inconsistency to his Hindi; he sometimes manages it very well but very blatantly fails at other times. His Hindi is hardly the Hindi of the hinterland, but there is no doubt that he has worked hard on it; very hard. The only actors who have successfully managed to speak Hindi without the native twang are Anant Nag, Kamal Haasan, Shankar Nag, Arundhati Nag, and Girish Karnad. Rest, ranging from Rajnikanth to Rana Daggubati, have failed royally at the diction and enunciation.

This does call for at least a one-time watch, and what a glad function it would serve as a success as against the vulgar success of the plastic, first-world issues of the ilk of Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani.

28 Responses to “An jo on Raanjhanaa”

  1. Thanx annjo for the review….
    For me, the primary appeal for this movie is ar rahmans music though….Good to see earthy honesty back on screen

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  2. sanjana Says:

    Nice review as usual from you.

    I think the director was clever in making the story benaras and also delhi based. Commercially speaking.

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  3. Wow, a comprehensive piece. Look forward to it but will wait till I watch the film. Thanks much.

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  4. Thanks, An Jo.
    Interesting reading.
    Will watch it at some point.
    As an aside, why beat up unfairly on ‘the first world” ?
    The First World is screaming – Aap ka khoon khoon aur hamaara khoon paani? 🙂

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  5. Rang my wedding anniversary with this film, though was very unconvinced with the promos. But for the first time probably I took a reviewer seriously enough to check it out. More often than not, my own views concur with Anupama Chopra’s and since she’d given it 3 and a half I was sure it would be a decent watch. So after a gorgeous lake side visit and a delicious but hurriedly taken Italian dinner, we rushed to see the 10:30 show in one of Toronto’s downtown multiplexes.
    The first half is engaging enough, though Dhanush has never struck me as a very convincing actor. He is of course below average looking (a fact Dhanush keeps referring to more than a few times in the film) and in a 7 G Rainbow Colony-like character, he seemed downright creepy to me. This is a run down Devdas, a sadak-chaap episode not worthy to be told, but not at all uncommon in Tamil cinema. There is nothing remotely appealing about the story, unless you find it cute that the hero accepts slap after slap from the girl he creepily follows. The film goes into a bizarre zone that gets progressively difficult to watch. Many things happen in life that are stranger than fiction, but they have no place in art unless it speaks of a general truth, or something worthy. Dhanush plays a character so exasperating and delusional, so foolish and pedestrian in thought.

    Devdas still has a complexity which even if ambiguous is always intriguing. This film has none of that.

    Sonam is not actress material, period. And how the astute Abhay Deol agreed to this part and film I will never understand. He is one of the reasons that prompted me to see this. His character is meant to be intellectual and dynamic, but the writers of the film cannot come up with one intelligent line to give his character whatever stature they intended him to have.

    Overall, a very disappointing film, and no, Dhanush need to not sweat over balancing a Bollywood and Tamil film career. Not going to happen.

    And we so wish we had stayed longer and enjoyed that heavenly Italian dinner.

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    • *Many things happen in life that are stranger than fiction, but they have no place in art unless it speaks of a general truth, or something worthy.*

      That is definitely a controversial but nonetheless interesting point. But didn’t you feel the film did convey the general truth of how parental hard-headed interference in one long-lasting/life-altering decision of the kids of choosing a life-partner in most cases, if not all, leads to disaster all around?

      Thanks for the 7-G Rainbow colony reminder. I was wondering where I had seen Dhanush enact a similar character but couldn’t lay my hands on it..

      *Spoilers*
      If Sonam’s parents were encompassing enough to allow her to marry Abhay, whatever be his identity, she wouldn’t have had to fake it and hence wouldn’t have had to drag Dhanush into the trickery plot? It is one of the more flabbergasting ironies of our culture that one is good or wise enough to travel the world and learn new things but simply not smart enough to figure out one’s life-partner in life?

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    • Happy bedding anniversary sandy
      Thanx 4 the interesting review..
      “This is a run down Devdas, a sadak-chaap episode not worthy to be told, but not at all uncommon in Tamil cinema”– hahaha rofl

      Anyhow u dissuaded me from trying to watch ranjhana in a slightly out of the way cinema!!anyhow difficult to get company for this …

      Ps: watching ‘man of steel’ shortly
      Lemme check out Amy Adams &
      Henry Cavill…

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    • Happy Anniversary Sandy!

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    • Happy Anniversary Sandy.. and great seeing you here..

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  6. sanjana Says:

    Sadakchap is tapori for bw. Sonam’s father played tapori in films with great success.Aamir did it in Rangeela. Even Bachchan played tapori in AAA. So I have some respect for taporis of the film world. In films it is either a regular hero, a tapori or a hero trying to find meanings through travel. There is little choice. Or an Yash Chopra romance where love is fashion rather than passion.

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  7. Thinking back on the film I realize how much the film semms inspired by Chetan Bhagat’s Revolution 2020. The Kunadn-Zoya-Jasjit equation has a strong parallel with Gopla-Arati-Raghav threesome. And the background is Banaras. But then, it could be a coincidence. And if Rai indeed has been inspired by Revolution 2020, he has worked on it enough to transform it to a fairly different story, though the core sentiments are from the book.

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  8. This is a thorough write-up AnJo, and while I don’t agree with everything here I definitely think the third-last paragraph (the one beginning “Anand Rai has a firm control on the proceedings while the film stays in Benares…”) is spot on. Also liked the way you read the “Saajan” moment into this film…

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    • Thanks Q.

      However, I am a little befuddled by this effusive praise for Dhanush. As Sandy pointed out, this is actually 7G rainbow colony transported to the Hindi terrain – and I am talking of Dhanush’s turn here. He is definitely good in the movie, but if you look at his filmic- genelogy in Tamil, this role is not something new for him. He has made a remarkable career down south doing the ‘good-at-heart but a loser in society’ role. I can understand the likes of Rajeev Masand equating his Aadukalam performance to this turn in Raanjhana -but because that something under Masand’s gelled hair has either failed to recognize his performances in Tamil or he is blissfully unaware of Dhaunsh’s Tamil history. This is not an earth-shattering performance by any turn – albeit there is no denying the fact that he has done quite a fine job of connecting the dots of the unfamiliar language, terrain, and the emotions. He has still not been able to rid himself of some ‘patterns’ or reflexes acquired over the years in Tamil cinemadom. When he shouts at that guy getting his colony cleaned of shit overflowing in front of his house, he resorts back to the classic mannerism of a Tamil hero raising his right thumb up in your face to stamp his angry point. His dance moves still carry the hangover of having country liquor and dancing in the bylanes of Rameshwaram. And his slip-ups in the Hindi accent is inexcusable because it is his fore-fathers who came to Benares, not his father. So having been born in Benares and slipping into the Tamil twang is not really convincing. (Just as Abhishek’s American-English accent mysteriously disappeared and reappeared in Delhi-6.) We have a proof of that with Madhavan’s superb command on the language because of his Ranchi background.

      Now I for one have ben accused of bing the vice-captain if not the captain of the so-called, vitriolic, ‘anti-good looking brigade.’ But elevating Dhanush to the skies just because he can break the gym-body narcissim of the Bombay film industry is mixing up things.Have we already forgotten Nawazuddin Siddiquie here? Yes he is never a lead in Hindi movies but performance-wise, he definitely can take Dhanush to school. As a stand-alone performance in Raanjhana, this is a confident debut and a good act. That’s about it for me.

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  9. Sandyi: You should see the film through the filter of a folk tale rather than urban soap opera To paraphrase Minghella , exercise your emotional muscle. This is in Rockstar territory., located in the heartland of raw passion, lobsession, guilt and redemption,…beyond the good and evil , with no use for conventional morality or political correctness.

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  10. “Yes he is never a lead in Hindi movies but performance-wise, he definitely can take Dhanush to school.” Really? let Nawajuddin doa Aadukulam or Raanjhanaa, then I will believe it.

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  11. “His dance moves still carry the hangover of having country liquor and dancing in the bylanes of Rameshwaram. ” What;’s the problem with that? No sane person is going to break into a dance on the street after being besotten bya gorl, whether in Banaras or Rameswaram. It is stylized gesture to reveal your inner mindscape. As long as you can let an audience buy into what you are doing, that’s great performance. At least the country liquor movements have some poetic justification. In the words of Amir Khusru:

    Prem bhatee ka madhva pilaikay
    Matvali kar leeni ray mosay naina milaikay

    It is that state of intoxication that Dhanush is portraying here.
    The same goes for the accent. Who cares? We are not making a film ruled by Stanislavskian grammar here. It is the language of Kathaklai, of Indian folk tales, of alienation, where we know Dhanush is a Tamilian so his accent will be a little off. We warm up to him as long as he gets the inner essence of the character across. Just as we do not care about the authenticity of Aamir Khan’s Punjabi accent in RDB, as long as he can present the essence of DK to us.

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  12. “Prem bhatee ka madhva pilaikay
    Matvali kar leeni ray mosay naina milaikay
    It is that state of intoxication that Dhanush is portraying here.”– wow utkal uncle….

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