Floundering In Deep Waters: Gehraiyaan Is A Missed Opportunity

I wish we could’ve had more of the intelligent, provocative and realistic conversations between characters that Batra is known for
Floundering In Deep Waters: Gehraiyaan Is A Missed Opportunity

Shakun Batra's latest offering, Gehraiyaan (2022) couldn't have been more promising. The teasers and trailers promised a complex character study – the journey of a woman who is stuck. Her job is going nowhere, and neither is her relationship. A traumatic incident in her childhood has left her estranged from her father. "I can't breathe" is an oft-uttered refrain in the film. Enter charming and vaguely broody Zain (Siddhant Chaturvedi), with whom our protagonist instantly feels a connection. With whimsical indie music and the stunning seas of Alibaug in the backdrop, anything could happen. But then it all goes wrong.

I'll be honest, narratives in which infidelity is the main theme are not my favourite. It takes a skilled writer indeed to deliver a fresh, mature take on the trope, whilst ensuring that the involved characters are still somewhat likeable at the end. Gehraiyaan fails to do that. In the first few minutes, we are shown just how incompatible Alisha (a tragically wasted Deepika Padukone) is with her long-time boyfriend, Karan (Dhairya Karwa). They're clearly not on the same wavelength; Alisha teaches yoga to "Sobo aunties" (as Karan spits during an argument) and hopes her app that corrects users' yoga postures will take off. Karan, who recently quit a lucrative yet "soul-sucking" job, is a struggling author with a deadline coming up and nothing to show for it. She is fed up with having to pick up his slack at home, while he wishes she'd be more patient and supportive of his career. Their relationship has stagnated. However, Karan is by no means a bad guy, and his irresponsibility certainly does not warrant being cheated on and consistently lied to for months. It feels quite jarring when Alisha begins making eyes at Zain (who is her cousin's fiancé, but I'll get to that) within seconds of meeting him for the first time.

Alisha and Tia (Ananya Panday) are cousins who slowly drifted apart as they grew older. Tia and Karan, on the other hand, are thick as thieves, because they both went to the US for higher education. As she explains to Zain, Alisha "knows her cousin through her boyfriend." While Tia is set up as a vapid, frivolous heiress, she ultimately becomes the most sympathetic character in the film. It's not clear how much her fiancé Zain genuinely loves her (even before he met Alisha), but he clearly stands to gain by being in a relationship with her. Tia is a sleeping partner (and of course they leaned into the double entendre for this) in his business, and as the film goes on, is repeatedly manipulated by Zain to pump more money into his failing firm. What's more, he actively gaslights her by calling her crazy and delusional when she very legitimately suspects that he's having an affair.

Contrary to the title of the film, every character except for Alisha lacked depth, feeling more like cardboard cutouts than real people. Alisha's burgeoning affair with Zain felt thoroughly unconvincing; besides a couple of conversations about their tough family life, we never get to see them bond on a deeper level, and certainly not enough to root for them. The film tries to make up for the sheer lack of chemistry between them by shoehorning in gratuitous scenes of the two of them making out, sailing in a yacht, and making out in the yacht (there's an inordinate number of scenes in the aforementioned yacht, as if we needed any more evidence that these characters were abominably rich). A personal pet peeve of mine was the excessive use of the f-word. It was peppered into dialogue in what felt like every alternate sentence. After a point, it lost any impact it could've had, and just left me annoyed.

As the film trundles into the second half, it pivots sharply into a different genre altogether. We're thrown headfirst into a murder non-mystery, as characters make one questionable choice after another. The change of tone, while completely out of the blue, felt welcome after the dreary pace of the first half. We are hit with multiple consecutive twists, each more absurd than the last. I do hope they aren't gunning for a sequel with that final revelation.

On a positive note, Naseeruddin Shah impresses as the gruff but tender-hearted father, and it is in her scenes with him that we really get to understand, even sympathise with Alisha. I wish we could've had more of the intelligent, provocative and realistic conversations between characters that Batra is known for. I found myself subconsciously drawing parallels with his stellar Kapoor & Sons (2016) – which is, in my opinion, one of the best Hindi films of the decade – and the way it expertly dealt with its relationship dynamics. Similarly, I kept harking back to Deepika Padukone's phenomenal performance in Piku (2015), another film whose strongest points are its charming characters and compelling dialogue. It baffles me how such a talented group of artists came together to produce something as shoddy as Gehraiyaan. Obviously, they were out of their depth here (making Gehraiyaan puns is my way of coping with the fact that I'll never get back the two hours and twenty eight minutes I spent on this film). My favourite parts about it were the gorgeous, recurring shots of the waves and the casual representation of life in Mumbai, which made me more than a little homesick.

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