Direction: Nagesh Kukunoor
Actors: Rannvijay Singh, Ayesha Takia
Rating: * 1/2
Women hesitate when they talk (“hitchkichate hain”), only if they’re confused about someone. Or very confused,” says the aunt (the warm Tanvi Azmi), nabbing on to the fact that her niece might be in love. The girl Aranya (Ayesha Takia, charming, refreshingly different, no doubt) is 25, I guess. Why she’s remained single forever, never met anyone of the opposite gender is something the aunt wonders aloud. So may the audience. That she has, for the first time, fallen for someone, she reasons, is because he “made me feel special, as if I am the only one in his life. No one’s done this before.”
This fellow Andy, a man of very few words (Rannvijay Singh) is special for sure. You’ll soon learn why. What has he done to get her all gooey with puppy love? Well. He stands outside her door every day, with a watch that he wants her to repair, sleeps on the steps of her house, brings her flowers, follows her around, observes her from street corners. In most cultures, he’d be the kind of stalker who’d creep women out. In this case, it’s hard to tell which one’s the bigger psycho: the girl, or the boy. Theirs is a mysterious world of its own.
We’re at a place called Khushpur, with Tamil Nadu number plates on scooters and buses, Ganga being the nearest rail junction to this quiet town. It seems quaintly European, or at least an Indian hill station set up by the imperial Brits. “Sound bell for service,” says the board outside the chic shop that the heroine owns, runs. She repairs watches for a living.
What draws her lover to him on the other hand? Okay, she was the girl who sat on the second row in his tenth standard at school. This Andy man’s been gawking at her ever since. He wants to know why she used to play the harmonica only when the train passed by. That’s because she didn’t want anyone to hear her. After that many years, he finally feels reassured: “Main tumhara boyfriend hoon? Jab chahe tumhara haath pakad sakta hoon? (Am I your boyfriend, I can hold your hand whenever I want?)” How sweet.
Except, as it turns, this ‘Andy man’ before us is mentally challenged, suffers from some sort of age regression, and dissociative identity disorder. He’s basically an underdeveloped man-child. This is pivotal to the plot, and may be the reason, you will, or you won’t, go out to watch this movie. I’ve but only revealed bare essentials, hardly given the movie away; don’t you worry, there’s a whole lot more to come. The ‘psychoness’ has merely begun.
Nagesh Kukunoor’s last film was a John Abraham bore set in a sanitarium among the terminally ill (Aashayein). That was also a romance of morbid sorts, which may have left many terribly under-whelmed. As has the direction the filmmaker’s career has taken since the wonderful Dor (2006). Most still recall Kukunoor for Hyderabad Blues (1998), a game-changer in low-budget Indian films, which could instruct and delight at the same time.
He has since become a pure genre filmmaker. Which is truly what separates the so-called “indie” from the supposed hard-core mainstream. Traditional Bollywood directors pack in every genre into one movie, alternating action with romance, comedy, drama etc. “Cutting edge”, “independent”, “Hindie”, potentially global “crossovers” would be too flatulent an epithet for those who don’t do that. But they don’t produce anything extraordinarily personal, astonishingly moving, or real either.
This one’s a strange romance, admittedly based on a Taiwanese film Keeping Watch. You’d ideally imagine a film like this to be dark and dramatic. It seem light and breezy instead, with songs to break the monotony. One ‘Tu Hi Tu’, half-picturised on the wasted talent Raghuveer Yadav stands out.
An extreme engagement, empathy with the characters may be essential. Unintended moments are the ultimate audience barometer to gauge such slippage. You just know it when that happens. Two sets of bumbling parents land up: “Yeh hi woh Aranya hai? (Is this the same Aranya?),” they ask. I hear folks at my preview theatre laugh out loud. The doctor prescribes mental shocks on the heroic patient. The side effect of this is a short-term memory loss, he suggests. Fellows at my theatre go: “Ghajini, Ghajini!” Funny! Sad.