Director: Hansal Mehta
Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Sohum Shah, Kishori Shahane, Hiten Kumar
Simran is a brilliant performance trapped in a sloppy screenplay – ironical given the headline-hogging, fall-out between writer Apurva Asrani and Kangana Ranaut over writing credits. Actually, the writing is the weakest part of the film.
Kangana towers over every frame as Praful Patel, also known as Praf – a thirty-year-old, divorced hotel maid. Firstly, how many heroines would be willing to play that? When we first meet her, Praf is cleaning toilets and vacuuming floors. And I wondered if any other leading lady in Hindi cinema had been introduced like this?
Kangana’s lack of vanity onscreen is among her many strengths. She isn’t afraid to look unattractive or behave badly. Praf is goofy and spirited but also shrill and difficult – in one scene, in a fit of rage, she picks up a chair to hit her father.
Praf is also unapologetic about enjoying sex. She has no qualms about casual encounters and cheerfully describes one boyfriend as last season. She’s a complicated woman with a self-destructive streak and Kangana plays her to perfection.
The story and milieu is also unique. For a change, we are immersed in the world of working class non-resident Indians. These are the folks who didn’t make it to the Karan Johar version of the Indian abroad. There are no grand mansions or snazzy club nights. Instead, they sell fafda and watch DDLJ on a loop and struggle to pay home loans.
Praf’s parents, played by Kishori Shahane and Hiten Kumar, are warm and ordinary in the best sense of the word. They are exasperated by their tempestuous daughter. Her relationship with her father has moments of genuine heartache. Praf breaks all the rules of this nice, Gujarati family but then she also breaks the law. She starts robbing banks to pay off a bad debt and it’s all downhill from there – for Praf and the film.
The scenario becomes patently absurd. It turns out that American cops in Indian films are as low IQ as Indian cops in Indian films. An unarmed Praf walks into half a dozen banks and robs them without any problem. At one point, she is actually watching a YouTube video on how to rob banks. There is also an unintentionally comical baddie called Mr. Bugs. He refers to himself in third person with lines like – Bugs will go anywhere for the money.
The story is entirely set in the US but the American characters are all caricatures. The second half of Simran veers between silly and tedious. Sohum Shah plays a love interest but their fleeting friendship doesn’t have enough heft. Despite Kangana’s strenuous work, the narrative doesn’t grip you. There are stray flashes of life and then it collapses again.
Director Hansal Mehta is attempting here to create a new type of Hindi film heroine but he isn’t able to build a sustained interest. Which is a real shame because a character like Praf is rare. There is such a refreshing rebelliousness about her.
And just why is a film about Praful Patel called Simran? You will have to see it to find out. I just wish Praf was in a better story.