I feel bad using two Western references instead of desi. I suppose I could have said Vijay Anand crossed with Mahesh Bhatt. But this is a Shakun Batra movie, he’s alllllllllll about the Western style filmmaking and it really is more tied to Cassavetes and Hitchcock than anything in Hindi cinema.
I’ll warn you right now, I found this film SO stressful to watch that I had to set a timer for half hours and watch it in increments with breaks. There are two things I find super stressful, people hurting other people, and plots where I can’t see how it’s going to end. And this is BOTH!!!! Messy mess emotional ugly relationships, combined with a sense of mounting complication and doom as I can’t see where it is going. If you are like me, watch it with a timer going and lots of moral support. Preferably with someone else around that you can text going “what the heck? What’s happening???”
Obviously, the other part of this is that it is stressful because it is GOOD. These aren’t simple cardboard people that you can ignore when they feel things, these are people who feel real and have real emotions. The performances are overall excellent, but it also has a lot to do with the directing. Shakun Batra gets his camera right up in their faces, so you can see the little micro-expressions, instead of the perfect performance-y kind of expressions. He likes lots of retakes until the dialogue feels natural and normal. With his camera helping, the difference between the Great actors in the cast and the Good actors in the cast is almost invisible. Almost.
Gonna come right out and say that I have been an Ananya fan since SOTY 2. She has something, she really does. Some sort of naked emotion that comes through on camera. She is perfectly cast in this film, playing the troubled sweet innocent, the one who feels things but not as complicated or deep or strange as other people do. Siddhant Chaturvedi I would put at the same level as her. Sexy, charismatic, draws you in and makes you see how he can be such a charmer and a salesman, and makes you feel his struggles.
On the Great side of things, we have Naseerji who is as amazing as always. And Rajat Kapoor, ditto. And then there’s Dips. We already know that she can be amazing in the right role, and this is both the right role and the right style of film for her. Dips’ face has an amazing ability to make you feel for her and with her. And she has an innate maturity that makes her a far better fit for this dissatisfied 30 something woman than she ever is as a perfect little innocent heroine.
The characters build the feelings, and we get fully sucked in to them. And the directing builds a mood. It’s sunny, and then progressively more shadowed, we feel the slow advance of something bad coming. We don’t know what it is, but it’s something. We keep getting bits of details of what is happening and why, but we don’t really need more than the details, it’s just that the tension is being pulled tighter and tighter. The people speak faster and louder and hold themselves tighter, something baaaaaaaaaaad is coming.
Oh, except for Rajat Kapoor! Gotta call him out again. What I love about his performance is how relaxed he is. While everyone else is freaking out all the time, he keeps his body slightly more at ease. We don’t know who he is or where he came from, but he clearly is more in control than anyone else.
Beyond the acting, the plotting is also excellent. It’s a clear homage to a frequently remade novel, but with a twist. Think Don The Remake sort of twist, it actually works better if you know how the story is SUPPOSED to end and then get the shock when it doesn’t go there. There’s a meaning to the twist too, it takes the purpose of the original story, the focus of the original story, and shifts it to the side, makes us go “wait, let’s focus on these other stories instead of that one, let’s think about what that means”.
I really want to talk about the twist and the whole historical perspective of these remakes of the same story again and again, but that has to be saved for the SPOILER review.