Director: Ribhu Dasgupta
Writers: Gaurav Shukla, Ribhu Dasgupta, Abhijeet Khuman, Viddesh Malandkar
Cast: Parineeti Chopra, Avinash Tiwary, Kirti Kulhari, Aditi Rao Hydari
Cinematographer: Tribhuvan Babu Sadineni
Editor: Sangeeth Varghese
Streaming on: Netflix
The Girl on the Train is a thought-provoking film. The only catch is that the thought it provokes has absolutely nothing to do with the vapid, vacant film itself. It’s a good movie if you want to think of other things. For instance, I was so disinterested in the thriller that I used the time to reflect on life a little – Was the Ahmedabad test match pitch bad or good for cricket? Should the pink ball be replaced by a yellow ball? What will become of the Indian film and streaming landscape now that the government is directly involved in content regulation? Will any script dare to be political again? Why are we so humourless? Does the vaccine smell of chocolate? By the time I pondered about the last question, Mira Kapoor (Parineeti Chopra) – who suffers from both alcoholism and amnesia so that the unreliable-narrator template can manipulate memories and timelines as conveniently as possible – was still discovering the consequences of being the real-life version of an unhinged Twitter stalker.
Divorced from her husband Shekhar (Avinash Tiwary) after having a miscarriage, Mira is now the jobless lawyer who sees his perfect new life with his perfect wife from a passing train every morning. But she also sees his neighbour, a 90s-shampoo-level radiant girl called Nusrat (Aditi Rao Hydari) whose happy family life Mira wishes she had. She loves Nusrat’s sunny profile, her doll-like cheeks. It soothes her. So when she finds out that all is not well in Nusrat-land – and when I emerge from my deep contemplation on urban Indian life – Mira melts down in a washroom in a scene that will be taught in film schools as a how-not-to module. There’s ‘bitch’ written in lipstick on the mirror, and Mira’s smudged eyeliner becomes all-out zombie dark circles, and the moment shocks me out of my passive stupor. I can’t pinpoint what it is about post-2015 Parineeti Chopra, but this isn’t the first time her face interprets internal emotions as external adjectives. She feels betrayed by Nusrat in the washroom, so she smashes everything in sight, scrunches up her face, mumbles to herself like a lunatic and makes out with her vodka bottle. When she thinks, her eyes actually narrow and her fingers rub her chin. When she suspects, her face makes it seem like Jack the Ripper has been nabbed. When she is triumphant or confident, her face tilts upward as though a motivational song were echoing in her head. When she sways and slurs, she becomes 70s-drunk. What I can say is that Chopra’s acting is oddly derivative and reverential – she performs as though she were a Bollywood fan imitating her favourite stars instead of being an artist who truly inhabits or understands a character. That can be said for many others in the Hindi film industry, but Chopra, especially when she has to headline a film about psychological instability, epitomizes the shortcoming more than most.
That’s not to say The Girl on the Train is her fault (only). The best-selling Paula Hawkins novel it’s based on had already been adapted into a mediocre Hollywood thriller starring a suitably fragile Emily Blunt. The premise itself is horribly predictable, and culturally appropriates everything under the sun – physical abuse, gaslighting, mental trauma, memories, toxic marriage – in order to be an entertaining thriller. The whole thing depends on the protagonist’s ability to remember – which, as we know, is hampered by booze, amnesia, logic, probably the air in general. And the amnesia is perverse: she remembers most things, just not the stuff that may immediately resolve the story. Of course it all comes to her in spurts, only in the third act, by the time she’s already a suspect for a girl’s murder. The little ‘adaptations’ don’t help: Mira plays a lawyer who puts away a corrupt Sikh businessman in the beginning, so expect the extra Indian-favourite track of retribution. This gives rise to a final twist that may frankly give author Paula Hawkins a heart palpitation for creating something that lends itself so easily to the Bollywoodization of suspense.
As for the rest of the cast, everyone at some point exclaims – either in flashback or otherwise – that they want to kill poor Aditi Rao Hydari. Chopra’s melodrama aside, Avinash Tiwary seems like he’s still in Laila Majnu, while Kirti Kulhari as the detective looks a bit bothered with the notorious English weather. The already-fragile plot is, needless to mention, punctured by the compulsive sprinkling of songs – a wedding montage in the beginning, a sad-drunk anthem with Mira crumbling in central London, a shock-and-heartbreak song of her walking the first-world streets when she discovers the truth. As I said, it’s all very thought-provoking. Which brings me back to the central question: Does Axar Patel bowl better from the Reliance end or the Adani end at Ahmedabad’s Narendra Modi stadium?