Director: Rajesh Ram Singh
Cast: Piaa Bajpai, Darshan Kumar, Priyanshu Chatterjee
When I heard of the title, I thought the time had finally come. Now that Indian cinema had squeezed every drop out of every famous doomed love story ever written, it was time to cross-pollinate. A Romeo-Juliet adaptation surfaces almost every year in some modern form or the other, while Rakeysh Mehra’s Mirzya only recently over-poetized the Mirza-Sahiban legend. We were running out of literary tragedies to explore.
Naturally, Mirza Juuliet had to be the next stage of unoriginal evolution – perhaps it’d be a desi-kattey Hindu-Muslim tale set in the hinterland, where the climax would be a mutant combination of the two infamous scenarios. Maybe she empties his gun, uses a fake bullet on herself to appear dead, he escapes her brothers and thinks she is dead, lets them shoot him, after which she wakes up and feels like an idiot. And then kills herself, too, maybe by watching Issaq (2013).
But no, Mirza Juliet is only a disjointed, quasi-feminist take on the Punjabi folktale, not the Shakespearean drama. It’s just that Juliet (though her name is Julie Shukla) sounds more contemporary and gimmicky than Sahiban in the title – nothing to do with warring families and star-crossed fates.
The setting is, of course, lawless Uttar Pradesh. Again. The elections. Politicians. Communal tension. And chiseled Mirza (Darshan Kumar) returning to the fold after years of criminal wilderness, only to fall for his childhood friend, the feisty, sexed-up Julie (Piaa Bajpai) – the spark of rebellion in a horribly patriarchal family.
Hers is the deal-changing presence here. At times, the otherwise-talented Bajpai makes her an extremely annoying character – someone who is too obviously spunky and unconventional because the makers want to subvert the gender dynamics of the story. She adores her three misogynist brothers, but can’t understand their strange ways. They mock their wives, and sweet-talk her into agreeing to marry the horny, abusive scion (Chandan Roy Sanyal) of a powerful political family. When she sees a sister-in-law proudly showcasing her bruised face every morning (“his marks of love on me”), she is visibly confused by the concept of sex. Are women supposed to be beaten up for more pleasure?
The setting is, of course, lawless Uttar Pradesh. And chiseled Mirza (Darshan Kumar) returning to the fold after years of criminal wilderness, only to fall for his childhood friend, the feisty, sexed-up Julie (Piaa Bajpai)
Her curiosity about the act is what forms the cornerstone of her abrupt attraction to Mirza. It’s certainly not ‘eternal’ and ‘immortal’; in fact, a reluctant phone-sex session with her fiancé has her thinking about Mirza instead, and she sits up all sweaty and flushed, presumably reeling from her first orgasm. This is a smart scene. It fits well within her flaky persona, and lends Mirza enough conflict and rage to be angered about her attitude – he doesn’t want to be “practice” for her, but the real thing.
This is when things begin to go a bit B-movie on us. Pre-interval, he declares to the air, like a typical Bollywood hero who believes in letting the audience know about his machismo intentions, that he has her all figured out. But as we know, there is no such thing for a man. He’d sooner reach the moon in a helicopter than figure out the lady.
The plot suffers similarly, too. It can’t figure her out at all. It contrives, huffs and puffs to make Julie seem vulnerable, while simultaneously aggressive enough to remind us that she isn’t some withering rose to be ping-ponged between all these men. It doesn’t quite work. On one hand, it seems like she is constantly being limited by the ancient source material. Every time she threatens to reverse the essence into that of a Juliet-Mirza film instead, she is pulled back. It almost seems like she turns to him because he is less of a monster than the others in her life.
Despite the tiny tweaks and occasional moments of visual bravado, I kept thinking – stop saying the same thing. Tell me something new
We know that she has to eventually elope with Mirza, and we know exactly how it ends. The filmmakers clearly struggle to paraphrase the story’s final act in context of the texture they’ve chosen. Someone becomes comic relief, the others just drop out, while the brothers become utterly predictable, and even the chosen location in Nepal – that of an abandoned fort – doesn’t really leave much to our adapted imaginations. It doesn’t help that Darshan Kumar behaves like he is in a version of Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak starring Salman Khan instead.
Despite the tiny tweaks and occasional moments of visual bravado, I kept thinking – stop saying the same thing. Tell me something new. Create something bigger. The film seems quite unnecessary. I’ve seen just about every possible permutation and combination of this story, across eras and environments. I know where the next bullet will come from. I can even predict where the adaptation will stray from the original. And by that, I even mean Juliet being a frisky firebrand determined to show you the barrel of her gun. That’s not even a pun.
Watch the trailer here: