Marjaavaan Review sidharth malhota milap zaveri

Cast: Sidharth Malhotra, Tara Sutaria, Riteish Deshmukh
Director: Milap Zaveri
Music: Tanishk Bagchi, Meet Bros, Payal Dev
Producer: Bhushan Kumar, Divya Khosla Kumar, Krishan Kumar, Monisha Advani, Madhu Bhojwani, Nikkhil Advani

It took me approximately 45 minutes to realise that this film had already begun. Marjaavaan plays out like an assembly line of NG takes from unreleased Sanjay Gupta shorts. The sequences unravel like genre-rap battles – a love-at-first-sight shot is abruptly interrupted by a 70s-villain entry, which immediately morphs into a communal-harmony monologue, which is peppered by a violent shootout, which is suddenly cut short by a wailing widow (?) dragging the corpse of her son through a village (?). Director Milap Zaveri doesn’t bother with mundane filmmaking elements like transitions, cuts, continuity and beats. In fact, there is no such thing as a scene – the background score changes while the camera simply pans to another set of actions starting in the corner of the same frame. At one point, I could swear I saw the sun shining in half the frame and rain pouring in the other half. At times I believe Zaveri operates on a level so evolved that none of us are in a position to understand the purpose of his films’ anti-brilliance. Like those high-frequency dog whistles.

READ: Anupama Chopra’s review of Marjaavaan

In the words of an angry tennis legend, Marjaavaan cannot be serious. It cannot be possible that I was sitting in a preview show with sane-minded human beings who didn’t want to do something less painful with their life for 137 minutes. At best, it has the IQ of a blind pigeon. At worst, it makes Satyamev Jayate – Zaveri’s previous film – look like Schindler’s List in which Oskar Schindler thinks he is a German Academy Award. And that’s possibly the only compliment I can afford to a Milap Zaveri movie. He may have a point when he says that critics aren’t the audience he makes films for. But he would also have a point if he said that sharks or crocodiles aren’t his target audience either. 

In his films, for instance, nature is incidental: Sand exists so that strong men can leave indentations in it with their footsteps, rain exists so that it can drench the bodies of item girls and grieving lovers, walls exist so that they can crack when heroes get angry, air exists so that bullets have a medium to fly through, sound exists so that it can fill the void between inane one-liners, and women exist so that they can either be mute, dead, sex workers or dancers (or sometimes all at once).

In Marjaavaan, Sidharth Malhotra has a last throw of the Bollywood dice by playing a Devgn-meets-Tiger mutant named Raghu – a man of all action, no reaction. Given the exaggerated Mumbai gangster-tapori milieu and the tortured hero’s name, the makers would like to have you believe that this is a tribute to Vaastav. But given that Raghu is a star hitman of a don (who lives on a high floor of an unfinished building), who goes rogue and then thirsts for revenge against said don’s son, I’m surprised Zaveri didn’t name the film John Wickrekar or Reddy Redemption. The villain is this son, a devilish dwarf called Vishnu (Deshmukh) who travels in a car with the logo “Hero” on its doors (petty nod to Zero). He’s also a dwarf so that he can crack height jokes and make them seem self-reverential.

In his films, for instance, nature is incidental: Sand exists so that strong men can leave indentations in it with their footsteps, rain exists so that it can drench the bodies of item girls and grieving lovers, walls exist so that they can crack when heroes get angry, air exists so that bullets have a medium to fly through, sound exists so that it can fill the void between inane one-liners, and women exist so that they can either be mute, dead, sex workers or dancers (or sometimes all at once).  

Vishnu has daddy issues and wants to eliminate Raghu for being the blue-eyed boy. Meanwhile, Raghu falls for a mute Muslim girl (I say Muslim because it is repeatedly drummed into our senses that she lives in a locality that has a mosque, church and temple in the same yard) named Zoya, whose translator’s voice acquires dramatic reverberations when Zoya’s sign language reeks of cheap slam-poetry dialogue like the other characters of the movie. Everyone converses in rhymes and metaphors. “Uska dil ka speaker loud hai,” a nincompoop kid reminds Raghu. None of them have any business not dying.

And Zoya believes – not originally, like, say, the boy from August Rush – that music is the sound of traffic, water, bees, horns, chuckles and farts. She gifts him a harmonica, to which vicious Vishnu reacts: “Har-monicaaa, oh my darling”. And she’s from Kashmir, because what is silence if not a Valley metaphor? You get the gist. Somebody gonna die and somebody gonna get hurt real bad in the name of badla. Tara Sutaria’s Zoya is most expressive when Raghu is talking to her grave.

There’s also Rakul Preet Singh but she’s about as consequential to the film as subtlety or taste or logic or storytelling is. Raghu’s friend Mazhar (Shaad Randhawa in peak Mohit Suri form) breaks a leg, no pun intended. He spends most of his screen-time lifting coffins, brides or singing tearful “Allah” songs when he is attacked. At one point Vishnu cuts his limbs off so that they can speak ‘face to face’ in the future. Which is admittedly so tone-deaf that it’s funny. I’d pay to watch him do a Sholay spoof. Which brings me to my point about Zaveri’s movies – written or directed. I long for the day he realizes that his dead-serious action melodramas are funnier than his crass comedies. The lack of self-awareness in these films is so baffling that it’s sad – everything is a defiant “mass” tool meant to spite the elite and trigger the worst primal instincts of Indian men. Everything is a reaction. But to call him a provocateur would be to acknowledge that these films are legitimate – even if terrible – works of art. For me, they don’t even qualify.

This isn’t his voice; this isn’t a voice at all. This is an algorithm in search of the highest bidder. And hence, the final result is the same. Marjaavaan is just another brick in the unbreakable box-office wall. And a tragic reminder that we, as a nation, are the movies we watch.

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