I did it! I saw a new movie, in theaters, with friends! And it was a Bhansali movie too, the WORST kind of movie.
After we watched it, one of my friends said “it felt like the whole thing was a trailer, I kept waiting for the movie to start” and another friend said “you know, it would have been a GREAT Netflix miniseries”. And that basically sums up the major issue. It was a series of things that happened, and they were all interesting things, but I was never quite clear on what the overall meaning of those things was. They were tied together by a setting and main character and a kind of general topic, which would be GREAT for a TV show. Or to tease a movie. But it’s not really enough for a whole movie with a beginning and end and stuff.
I have enjoyed movies where a bunch of stuff just sort of happens, but that’s usually down to the performances. There’s a certain kind of performer (Irrfan Khan, Shahrukh Khan, Vidya Balan, etc. etc.) where you would watch them do basically anything and not care about the larger story because they are just so FUN. Alia is not that performer and, unfortunately, she is the only consistent through line in the film.
I’m not saying Alia is bad in this movie, or bad in general. Just that she does a sort of emotional performance that doesn’t allow for the subtle amusement I can find in a Jim Sarbh or a Vijay Raaz or even an Ajay Devgan. All the people who surround her and, tragically, are not onscreen as much as I wish they were.
Oh, and there’s the Bhansali effect! He’s all big emotions and big images and very very precise and stylized performances. Works great when you’ve got a sort of clockwork story that plays out, sort of an odd way to tell a series of things that happen to a person. I guess the best way to describe this film, to people who are familiar with Indian film, is if you picture Guru but directed by Bhansali. That’s what this is, it’s a meandering biopic directed by a director who should not be doing meandering biopics.
It’s just not a good film. It’s not a bad film either. It’s a medium film. Alia gets a bit out of her comfort zone but not really, Vijay Raaz and Jim Sarbh and Ajay Devgan are as good as usual. Well, as good as Ajay is when he is good (versus those other times when he is bad). It’s an interesting unusual take on the familiar Tawaif story. Not totally original, the first half is essentially identical to Pakeezah/Umrao Jaan/etc. etc (innocent girl, brothel friend, evil madam, blah blah blah). Goes to an interesting different place in the second half, but it also feels like that is where Bhansali starts to lose a bit of focus on what he is doing with this story.
I guess it’s almost like an origin story for a hero and we never get to see the hero stuff? And that’s the part that possibly ties into Bhansali’s general tendencies. Lots of heroine suffering, lots of tragedy, lots and lots and LOTS of advice from men and worshipping men and blah blah blah. Not so much the bit where she is a power to be reckoned with and goes to battle against men. Just the rise to that point and then BOOM! Movie OVER!