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In this weekly series, Rahul Desai lists 50 of Hindi cinema’s favourite “third wheels” – that is, memorable characters whose roles are little more than fleeting cameos and little less than supporting turns – since 1990. There will be no particular order: just a colourful recollection of emblematic faces who’ve left us craving for more.

There is always a villain in small-town love stories – either the parents, religious differences or a jilted man that does everything in his power to keep the lead pair from uniting. Raanjhanaa is essentially a film about that villain: a Brahmin lad named Kundan (an electric Dhanush) obsessed with a Muslim girl called Zoya (Sonam Kapoor), amidst the spiritual contradictions of Varanasi. He spends much of the first half stalking her, chasing her, amusing her, impressing her, scaring away potential grooms and letting her use him to fight her battles. Zoya doesn’t totally recognize how “gone” he is – until she completely breaks his heart and falls for someone else. The love story is hers and Jasjeet’s (Abhay Deol), and Kundan is the villain that decides to break her because he can’t have her.

Similarly, Bindiya, played by the perpetually terrific Swara Bhasker, who is Kundan’s best friend’s (a superb Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, as Murari) sister, falls short of being the villain of Kundan’s story. She is to Kundan what Kundan is to Zoya – a one-sided love triangle that doesn’t end well for anyone. Bindiya, too, shadows Kundan, amuses him, expresses her affection by quarrelling with him and lets him use her to fight his (and Zoya’s) battles. Bhasker infuses in her the kind of energy that makes us root for her despite her naivety and juvenile dreams.

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She becomes increasingly conflicted while she watches Kundan as he, no doubt inspired by Bollywood movies like Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, attempts to infiltrate Zoya’s household to win them over. She is literally a “third wheel,” and tragically senses that the only way to have him would be to just hope for Zoya to forsake him. The story shot from her perspective might have been equally intriguing – because she is exactly the sort of blinded character that would be OK with him letting her down multiple times.

What’s interesting is the way Bhasker lends her a kind of misguided child-like attitude – the kind in which she overlooks Kundan’s toxic masculinity and derives satisfaction (and the closest thing to intimacy) from his physical manhandling of her. They may just be playing around, but Kundan’s arm-twisting, manipulation and “gentle” slaps are what stops her from being the sort of quasi-psychopath that Kundan is in Zoya’s life. In the end, she is simply a victim of his storm. Bindiya could have very well threatened to slit her wrists at the drop of a hat, but her desire to see him happy trumps her desperation to be loved by him.

Best Scene

The song Banarasiya – beautiful voices, frisky lyrics – takes place over what is actually a devious plan. We see Kundan and Murari talk Bindiya into helping them “honey-trap” a doctor who is slated to marry Zoya. This happens on Zoya’s behest, so that her path is cleared to marry the man she loves. Kundan forces Bindiya into being a hospital patient so that he can click photographs of them in a compromising position. This may have been problematic, if not for her performance. One of the best things about Bhasker – a trait that has come to the fore all the more since Raanjhanaa – is the way she uses her body to lend physicality to her character’s emotions. There’s almost something vaudevillian about many of her Hindi film turns. Bindiya is reluctant here, but she gives in to Kundan’s bullying and turns the song into a light-hearted comedy by “over-acting” in her role as the damsel in distress.

But perhaps a more memorable moment is her reaction when Kundan, in a vengeful huff, curtly informs her that he is ready to marry her. She is in the middle of having her nose pierced and is already in tears before he arrives. His words lend purpose to those tears – she knows her dreams have miraculously come true, but she also suspects his sudden change of heart is too good to be true. That’s the mishmash of turmoil Bhasker manages to express, with her face alone.

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