MANMARZIYAAN : Grey Shades of Complex Love

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“Ae logic na samajh paandi.. Tasalli na aenu aandi..
Ae gash khaandi ghazab dhaandi.. Siyaappe nitt nave paandi…”

Its exactly this grey shade of love that Anurag Kashyap’s Manmarziyaan is interested in exploring, and quite naturally so. Nothing is as complicated and convoluted as love, nothing is as illogical and whimsical as love, nothing is as treacherous and devastating as love, and yet nothing is as pacifying and inspiring as love. It surprises me hence that someone like Kashyap actually took so long to make a full-fledged feature on matters of the heart and the dark complexities of relationships; but when he does it finally, he does it like no one else.

When we talk about love triangles, we are often limited in our mind-scape thinking about the beautifully colorful world of Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, or the romantic comical world of Rai’s Tanu weds Manu. But Kashyap is not interested in making those films. Him along with writer Kanika Dhillon create a world of Rumi, Vicky and Robbie that is disturbingly real, agonizingly conflicting and heart wrenchingly painful. You can question its morality, you can question its logic, you can question the trials and motivations of these characters who are in constant denial of even their own emotions. But it is a world brilliantly relatable in every way – it is loud, reckless, selfish, confusing, irresponsible and completely whimsical, and all the three characters will fit into these adjectives through their complexities as the story unfolds.

You can see these conflicting emotions and shades of grey de-layered in a plethora of sequences – whether it is when Rumi plans to elope (yet again) with Vicky on the night before the wedding but wants to do that after informing Robbie so that he is not humiliated in a larger setup the next day; or whether it is when Robbie does a Rumi in his anger and his broken heart pushes him to meet any next person down the line least bothering that he is repeating exactly what he went through! You also see it when you see the shattered Vicky literally go back on a reverse gear leaving a devastated Rumi on the crossroads of her life while they still have an opportunity, but the same guy goes and confesses all his emotions to Robbie later in a desperate attempt to get her back. They are all living their dualities (expressed brilliantly by the recurring motif of twin sisters and brothers), they are all getting pulled from multiple directions and getting fried up in their heads all the time (like the constantly featuring simmering pakodas, samosas and jalebis), and they are all intoxicated in their own selfish passion, anxiety and hormones (doesn’t matter if they get frequently drunk or not, or literally watch animal love to address their unquenched fantasies). The film addresses them head on dodging all inhibitions of morality or rectitude.

To Kashyap and Kanika’s credit and courtesy the fantastic camera work by Sylvester Fonseca and smart editing of Aarti Bajaj, the backdrop of Amritsar is brilliantly blended in to the ongoing proceedings (as good as what Sujoy Ghosh achieved with Kolkata in Kahaani), and becomes a very important character to accentuate the depth of the prime characters. The city and its daily life is beautifully shot and you can almost smell and feel the place. The color palette of the place and its surroundings brilliantly changes as the focus shifts from Vicky to Robbie in Rumi’s life.

Also it’s the small details that create an impact in the story like a two second top shot of two trains running parallel to each other, or of Rumi moving from the back seat to the front seat in a journey, or of Robbie struggling with earphones because he is not comfortable with his turban. I also loved how Kashyap pays a subtle tribute to a host of landmark commercial hindi films through various gestures from Sholay to Lamhe to DDLJ to Queen to even Kaalia, and yet again reminds us that he is here with his version of most commercial film till date. And to me, that is a brilliant thing to celebrate.

His great ally to materialize this vision comes in the form of Amit Trivedi whose soundtrack is exactly what the film needed. Yes, a couple of songs here and there could have been skipped or a shorter version could have been used, but Manmarziyaan is possibly one of the finest examples to blending in the soundtrack with the narrative of the film and really helps to bring out the very raw emotions of its characters. Daryaa, Bijli Giregi, Sacchi Mohabbat, and Chonch Ladiya are most beautifully used in the film. The songs lend as much support to the screenplay as the splendid ensemble cast and the characters of the house-help and the match-maker especially stand out.

What does not stand out as much though is the maker’s decision to release the film without subtitles pan-India, because frankly there is a lot a heavy Punjabi at places especially by the side characters and without the subtitles, the pan India audience is bound to struggle with some finer exchanges between them (Edit – seems like a theater specific problem which is even more frustrating). A few plot points are also a little stretched out and tend to get repetitive while there are a few where you question the sudden resolution of a certain conflict or a sudden change in stand to aid the story. If Kashyap could have reigned a bit of this indulgence and edited out about good fifteen minutes, he would have had a winner all the way.

That brings me to the part where Kashyap actually hits the bull’s-eye and gets it all correct – casting the most perfect actors for the rolls of Rumi, Vicky and Robbie. It’s a masterstroke that is the highest point of the film.

Rumi is the foundational character of the film, her character is the most fleshed out and Taapsee Pannu does complete justice to it. Right from frame one you know that Tapsee is Rumi and Rumi is Tapsee. She is spot on with her aggression, fearlessness, vulnerabilities, whimsicalities and conflicts. For any moment you don’t question the turbulence that Rumi goes through in the entire film, because Tapsee ensures through her performance that love and its decisions are no boolean switches and they will keep tearing you apart till the havoc ruins everything. Many of us have lived Rumi, and many girls are going to live Rumi for years to come. Other than one breakdown scene, they will find no false note in her career-best performance to date.

Vicky Kaushal is a magician, and he proves it yet again as Vicky Sandhu. Unless you watch the film, its impossible to comprehend what he has done with Vicky especially pre-interval. His swagger is unmatched as the reckless DJ , his irresponsibility is frustrating and his agony is deafening. He doesn’t get it why Rumi gets mad at him and feels like a wreck why she can’t understand him, and one has to look at his eyes to see how he portrays that. It was so easy to go over-pitched in the flamboyance of the Sandhu boy, but Vicky knows what to calibrate where and delivers a flawless character. It is not his fault that a couple of plot points of his story post interval are weak, but he rises above those and ensure that the writing there does not hamper the sheer experience of the film. At times, it is mind boggling to think that the same boy can do a Raazi and a Manmarziyaan with such finesse and perfection in the same year.

Of the three, Robbie’s character arc is most sketchily written and definitely the least flashy and exciting. But what a terrific nuanced Robbie does Abhishek Bachchan deliver. He is in breathtaking form here, and conveys a world of unsaid through those deep and sparkling eyes. You fall in love with Robbie right from the frame where he is looking at Rumi’s profile on a computer screen and the way Abhishek looks at her can melt a thousand hearts. His silences speak volumes and his expressions are multi-layered and heavily textured – they evoke peace, stability and high-handish ego at the same time. Its not easy to stand up to the flamboyance of Vicky and Rumi in this story, but Robbie stands so tall only because Abhishek’s gravitas, persona and a wonderfully understated act overwhelms you in an underwhelming role. The scenes between him and Rumi are some of the best that the film has to offer, and are absolutely heartwarming. It reaches the absolute crescendo in a superbly written and a long shot climax through which Kashyap and Kanika pay yet another heartfelt tribute to Linklater’s Before Sunrise, brilliantly bringing it all together to a closure.

Thank you Anurag Kashyap for this brilliantly flavorful and delicious take on love, doesn’t matter if it is Pyaar or Fyaar. With Manmarziyaan, you have made one of your most well-orchestrated and adequately crafted films to date, making it very organic in its complexities without going overboard on any of the cinematic tropes. I know for sure that of your entire filmography, I am going to repeat watch this film of yours for the most number of times over years, and discover a new shade of love, a new complexity of emotion, and a new answer to the question of “Pyaar sawaal kyon hoya ji” each time, and continue to get amazed every single time.

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