I am so glad I saw this movie! It meant driving for over an hour there and back and spending hideous amounts of money on the tickets (I do not understand the release strategy at all. Why only one theater, and only the most expensive theater?), but it was exciting and different and most of all, just plain GOOD.
I hate most Anurag Kashyap movies. Some I can recognize as high quality but don’t particularly like them myself because they are not to my taste (for instance, drug scenes make me nauseated, so Dev D involved a lot of pressing fingers to temples and holding of breath), but then there are others that I just plain don’t think are any good (Bombay Velvet).
(All credit to Aanand L. Rai as producer, managed to bring this in on time and on budget and on point, all three things Kashyap has been known to struggle with)
I also think he is terribly overrated because of the particular kind of film he makes. A movie about violent men doing violent things is going to trigger a kind of fantasy wishfulfillment urge in non-violent men who do non-violent things like write movie reviews, and therefore get a lot of positive feedback from reviewers. A movie about woman falling in love is going to trigger a fantasy wishfulfillment in woman who don’t always feel loved and get a lot of positive feedback from them, but unfortunately they don’t get to write movie reviews. That’s not Anurag’s fault, but I still resent his films for getting all the support and press and so on that they do while other films that are equally good but with different topics do not. Dear Zindagi, for instance, got a lot of critical acclaim but not half the budget that Bombay Velvet did. And Bombay Velvet was a recordbreaking flop, and yet Anurag has made 2 more movies and a short film since then, while Gauri Shinde is still trying to dreg up support for another movie despite a perfect record of two solid hits.
All of that is to explain that when I saw I liked this movie and I think it is a good movie, it is not because of my prejudices but in spite of them. I went into it with a mind reluctantly wedged up but ready to slam shut at any moment, and this film won me over. It’s good. It’s really good.
It’s not great. It’s not Dev D, that’s still the best thing I think Anurag has done (my constant urge to throw up was proof of that, he really captured the druggie vibe which is what the story required). And it doesn’t have ambitions to being great, it’s not “epic” or meaningful or a statement on society or any of that. It is simply a story about 3 people. A really really well-told story about 3 people.
(Anyone else want to sit very very still and pinch your lips together? No? Just me?)
The visuals of the film are very much a throwback to Dev D, Anurag’s brilliant breakdown of the Hindi film style. It has the same stripped down slightly surreal song numbers, the same bright colors but in everyday life (t-shirts and salwars, not dozens of saris), and the same sort of abrupt style, taking us from one point to another without giving us time to catch our breath, one scene hardly landing before the editing wrenches us on to the next.
And that’s because it’s the same kind of story, really. Messed up people and their messed up emotions around love. It’s surreal and abrupt and there is no time to catch your breath as your heart drags you from one place to another. A different director would have made this story “pretty”. Heck, plenty of directors from Raj Kapoor to Yash Chopra to Bhansali have told this exact same story and told it in a very pretty way. But Anurag doesn’t do pretty. He does strong instead.
Taapsee is the center of this movie and she isn’t pretty either. Her character, inside and out, isn’t pretty. She doesn’t wear saris and tons of make-up and relax her hair. She won’t smile just to make you like her. And she won’t be nice to her relatives or think of the other person before herself or think of tomorrow instead of today. She’s is angry and impulsive and thoughtless and ugly inside and out. But she drives the whole film, the two other leads (Abhishek and Vicky Kaushal) only exist in this plot because she brings them into it. It’s Taapsee’s story, not theirs.
That’s the big glaring obvious difference between this film and Dev D. Devdas, and all the many many variations on him in Indian film and literature history, is selfish and weak and flawed and everyone suffers because of him and everything happens because of him. The women are there to be a part of his story, not to have stories of their own. But this movie, it turns that around. This is Taapsee’s world and all the other characters are just living in it.
I wouldn’t have trusted Anurag to make an honest film from a female perspective. But this is the first movie he is directing from someone else’s script. Kanika Dhillon, who worked as an Assistant Director, then wrote the script for Ra.One, then Size Zero, and she has this one and Mental Hai Kya and Kedernath coming out next year. She’s on her way up and I can see why. This is a good story, original solid well-designed characters, and some great dialogue.
It’s the combination of Kanika’s script with Anurag’s style that really makes the film something different. Here we have some great characters clearly defined struggling through a difficult emotional period. With actors who dig in and bring out those characters, not through lazy tricks but through hard careful work. And it is all filmed in this kind of surreal and real at the same time way, supported by songs from Kashyap’s longtime collaborator Amit Trivedi, which just adds to the tension in the audience, the disorientation, forces us to feel what the characters are feeling.
It’s the tension that really carries the film through. I don’t want to oversell it, there are a fair number of problems in this movie. The biggest being that it gets pretty long and pretty repetitive. But because I was so stressed and worried over what would happen, I didn’t notice until thinking back on it later. While in the theater, I just wanted to know what would happen next, even if it was something I had already seen happen in a slightly different way just a few minutes earlier. If this had been made by a different director, it could have been a better movie, a tighter more focused film. Or it could have fallen flat, left us going “well, why bother watching that?” I don’t know, but I can say that the movie we ended up with, the one I saw, was the first Anurag Kashyap movie that I felt was actually made for me, actually made me feel something besides nausea.