One cannot fathom the vastness and the unpredictable nature of the ocean. On some days, it is calm and peaceful but on others, it is turbulent. Just like the ocean, the human mind, too is complex because it is surrounded by our memories of our past and our aspirations for our future, both of which guide the decisions we take for ourselves in the present. Depending on how these decisions turn out to be and the circumstances we are faced with, we either feel at peace with ourselves and with the relationships we share and have the strength to face any obstacle that threatens that peace or we are restless, vulnerable and do not have the emotional courage to empathise and be compassionate to ourselves and everyone around us. This forms the crux of Shakun Batra's Gehraiyaan which means depths, and rightly so because the film acknowledges the fact that just like the ocean, the human mind carries so many different feelings and emotions, most of which are often conflicting, and this constant tension makes the human mind unfathomable.
Alisha (Deepika Padukone) is a yoga instructor, who is struggling to raise funds for her work-in-progress application and has been in a relationship with her boyfriend, Karan (Dhairya Karwa) for the last six years. But she feels dissatisfied with both, her career and her partner. Having come from a humble background and having seen her mother commit suicide, Alisha takes life seriously. She does not want to settle for mediocrity. She wants to live well, move forward in her career and come back home to a man who also wants the same. She knows she deserves better and is willing to strive for it. She is also the more responsible one in their relationship.
On the other hand, Karan comes from a financially well-off family and therefore, does not feel the pressure to be financially stable and is perfectly okay with quitting a stable job and trying to write a novel while being financially dependent on Alisha and his own parents. He is a regular, happy go-lucky person, who is often goofing around. Having grown up in an emotionally stable and secure environment, he is incapable of understanding Alisha's fears and insecurities. When Alisha breaks up with him, he is sad and wants her back but he has the emotional stability to go into another relationship. The heartbreak does not break him in a way that it makes him vulnerable and fragile.
Tia (Ananya Panday) is Alisha's first cousin and her life seems somewhere between Alisha's and Karan's. She is financially well-off like Karan, but she did not have the emotionally stable environment that he did as a child. Tia is financially secure but emotionally insecure and fragile, just like Alisha. The shadow of her father's extramarital affair looms large over her present relationships. Her strained relationship with Alisha is an example of that. She cannot relate to Alisha's memories of the happier times they shared as children. She is so afraid of abandonment that she wants to do anything and everything for her boyfriend, Zain (Siddhant Chaturvedi). She is also too naive to suspect if he is having an affair until her mother asks her, and does not have the emotional strength and courage to believe her own instincts when he gaslights her. The only time she feels safe, happy and comfortable is when she is with Karan, who is also her best friend. They confide in each other and can be their silly and goofy selves with each other.
Like Tia and Karan, Alisha and Zain seem to be their vulnerable and insecure selves with each other. Like Alisha, Zain also comes from humble background and works his way up to establish his own business but despite that he is often reminded of the investment that Tia's father made in his business. This makes him want to work hard even more and build a large enough business so that his achievements are validated by Tia's family, amidst whom he feels like an outsider. The only person with whom he can can actually open up about his childhood trauma and struggles, is Alisha. The only person he thinks about and takes seriously, is Alisha. The only person he really loves, apart from himself, is Alisha. Having grown up with an abusive father, seen him inflict violence on his mother and get away with it, seen his mother quietly suffer and not oppose his father's violence, he learns to protect himself at a very young age. The fact that one is alone and one must protect oneself at any cost, because no one else will, is ingrained in his mind. This is what attracts him to Alisha as he feels emotionally secure and protected in her company. Struggling with these issues herself, she is capable of acknowledging and empathising with his childhood trauma, his professional struggles and his decisions.
Alisha and Zain's relationship, which is at a nascent stage, begins to strain when they are faced with challenging circumstances, both in their personal and professional lives. Having not been able to get over their past and their aspirations for their future, they crack under the pressure. Alisha does not have the emotional courage to empathise with his professional crisis as she is not ready to cope up with his changing priorities and to let him go. She does not have the emotional strength to face another heartbreak. On the other hand, Zain also does not have the emotional courage to understand her fears of abandonment and deal with her outbursts. He wants to be with her but his professional crisis threatens him and therefore, he wants to protect himself, before anyone else. He is willing to do whatever it takes, be it going miles to convince Tia about his love for her so that she can invest in his company and gaslighting her when she confronts him about having an affair. While he is doing all of this, he is not guilty. The only time he feels guilty is when he wants to hurt Alisha intentionally, since she is the only person he actually loves apart from himself. Everything that draws them towards each other eventually draws them apart – a past they cannot get over and a future they want to build.
Amidst all the chaos and turbulence, it is Alisha's father, Vinod (Naseeruddin Shah), who seems to bring a ray of sunshine in her daughter's life. Having grown up blaming her father for her mother's suicide, Alisha cared for him but never empathised with his loneliness. The chaos turns her life upside down but draws her closer to her father. As someone who has been broken himself, driven himself to substance abuse and forgiven himself, he not only empathises with his daughter's choices, decisions and mistakes but also empowers her by telling her that she is more than her mistakes. It is he who encourages her to forgive herself and others around her and to find the strength in herself.
Gehraiyaan acknowledges the fact that one can be both, a victim and a perpetrator and empathises with that moral tension. The film also acknowledges the vastness and depth of the human mind, which makes it capable of holding on to the past while living in the present and also planning for the future. The film also empathises with the complexities that comes with this vastness and depth and how it affects our relationship with ourselves and everyone around us.