Director: Anurag Kashyap
Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu, Vicky Kaushal
Love, it is often said, is a many splendored thing. In Manmarziyaan, director Anurag Kashyap and writer and creative producer Kanika Dhillon offer us a deep-dive into this splendor. We see various shades of love – the volcanic relationship between Vicky and Rumi, a couple that has little control on their hormones, emotions or tongues. Their love hurtles like a wild horse, unmindful of the damage it is wrecking. We see the more expansive love that Robbie has for Rumi – a feeling so strong that he is willing to absorb the pain of her loving another man. And we have the relationship of Robbie and Rumi – slow and eventually simmering with depth and an understanding that comes from having your heart broken.
Anurag, Hindi cinema’s high priest of darkness, turns his ferocious gaze on relationships. Obviously then, this is not the routine Bollywood meet cute followed by first-world complications scenario. Vicky and Rumi are already in the throes of a grand passion when we meet them. She is headstrong, manipulative and as Robbie describes her, a dayan. Vicky is the local wastrel. Sandhu da puttar, whose life is propelled by his desire for Rumi. Our first visual of Vicky is him leaping across roofs to be with Rumi. We are told that they are the only two people in Amritsar with dyed hair – his is blue, hers is red. They look at each other with hunger and abandon. Their love is throbbing, destructive but also magnificently alive.
The first half of Manmarziyaan is absolute magic. Anurag and Kanika create a fully realized world that is fuelled by Amit Trivedi’s pulsating soundtrack. My favourites are ‘Dhayaanchand’ and ‘Daryaa’. The songs are woven into scenes. They underline emotions and remind us that even though the material is sunnier, we are still in an Anurag Kashyap universe – twin sisters, who function as stylized, silent witnesses become a recurring trope.
But the style would be hollow without the brilliant performances of Taapsee Pannu and Vicky Kaushal. She is mercurial and mysterious and maddening. With her cloud of red hair enveloping her, Rumi seems, continually to be a woman on a warpath. And Vicky – both the actor and character – matches her every beat. Watch his expressions in scenes where Rumi is trying to scream sense into him. He says nothing but his eyes register his confusion, hurt and longing. You feel that you’ve glimpsed into his soul.
But the magic takes a hit post-interval. Robbie, by design, is silent and sacrificing. He is the mature, wise foil to the follies of Rumi and Vicky. It’s a complex, unflashy character who descends from a line of sacrificing partners in Hindi cinema – Dr. Anand in Woh Saat Din, Vanraj in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and to some extent, Vijay Khanna in Kabhi Kabhie. This is a man so understanding that his wife asks him – tum insaan ke roop mein devtaa ho ya devta ke roop mein insaan. Rumi also calls Robbie ‘Ram ji types’. Their relationship naturally is staid but the trouble is that here the film also becomes less adventurous. It’s nice to see Abhishek Bachchan on screen after two years. He has a wise weariness in his eyes that befits Robbie. But the scenes become repetitive and drawn-out. For years, I’ve exited Anurag’s films raging with frustration and wondering why he inevitably becomes indulgent. Manmarizyaan is no different. He’s so damn talented but he doesn’t know when to stop.
Like love, this film is messy and flawed and glorious. You have to sign up for all of it. I’m going with three and a half stars.