There is a scene early on in Kapoor and Sons – Shakun Batra’s last directorial venture before Gehraiyaan – that perfectly brings forth the underpinnings of a dysfunctional family. The Kapoors are locked in a verbal contest about their unravelling finances as a plumber tries to repair their leaking bathroom.
On the surface, there is nothing extraordinary about a family arguing, but the scene shines because of the nuanced depiction of expectations, betrayals and rivalries that co-exist within the family alongside love, warmth and care. The writing is also elevated by the cast, which internalised the complex history of their characters to give us a relatable family onscreen – a much needed departure from the Sooraj Barjatya-style sanitised Indian family set-up.
Gehraiyaan, on the other hand, never allows the tension to bubble to the surface, perhaps because of an inexperienced cast – except Deepika Padukone, who is given ample material to work with. As for the rest, it felt like they were merely following Batra’s instructions without actually getting under the skin of their characters.
The film starts on a promising note when it takes the audience into the world of Alisha (Deepika Padukone), a yoga teacher who is haunted by her traumatic past. She is living with Karan (Dhairya Karva), her boyfriend of six years and an aspiring novelist who is struggling to finish his first book. They go on a vacation with Alisha’s cousin Tia (Ananya Pandey) and her fiance Zain (Siddhant Chaturvedi) to Alibaug where Alisha, whose relationship with Karan feels monotonous, and Zain whose motives of being with Tia are never clearly mentioned, are instantly drawn to each other.
As Alisha and Zain fall for each other away from the eyes of their respective partners, the film stays with the theme of exploring the messy and grey nature of modern relationships where moral stances don’t define the callings of the heart. However, the film ditches this premise midway and becomes a thriller with Alisha at its centre. The thriller-like quality which the film acquires later is not essentially bad but it trades off the depth from the narrative which it offered the viewers in the first 20 minutes. The focus shifts instantly from the ‘why’ of the complicated human condition in modern romantic relationships to ‘what happens when human beings get caught in their own web of lies and deceit’.
However, this tonal and narrative shift is not the biggest flaw of Gehraiyaan. Its biggest flaw is that it is only invested in Alisha – her grief, her traumatic past and her vulnerabilities. It doesn’t extend the same courtesy to other characters, who in the hands of young inexperienced actors feel like stick figures drawn with sketch pen alongside an oil portrait of Alisha.
Siddhant Chaturvedi, who showed a lot of promise in Gully Boy, looks opaque and confused as Zain. His character is supposed to be the most multi-dimensional one as he goes from being completely smitten in love to a conniving businessman. But he plays none with conviction – thus, as a viewer, I neither felt like rooting for his love nor did I feel repulsed by his questionable tactics.
There is a particular scene where Zain and his business partner Jitesh are locked in intense discussions over an unravelling financial crisis in their company, which reveals Chaturvedi’s inexperience. Rajat Kapoor plays Jitesh, a character as half heartedly written as the others, with so much conviction that Chaturvedi pales in comparison. I was left wondering how the scene even made it to the final edit. I wish the film had more of Rajat Kapoor and Naseeruddin Shah, who plays Alisha’s aggrieved father.
Ananya Pandey and Dhairya Karwa try with whatever little they are given to play with but the film never stays with them enough to reveal more of them. Pandey’s naive and trusting Tia has a few secrets of her own, which she lets out in the end but her dialogue delivery is so weak that a secret of such weight seemed like a discussion about last night’s dinner. Karwa’s Karan doesn’t even get that. His character is so forgettable that he could have been just another character – like Tia’s mother who appears only through phone calls.
Batra had impeccably shown his understanding of layered and complicated human relationships with his last film Kapoor and Sons. The result was an unforgettable tale of pain and joy. It balanced the heaviness of the past with the lightness of everyday rhythms that exist in every family.
Gehraiyaan on the other hand, takes itself too seriously from the start but doesn’t have the required depth to carry the seriousness through the two and a half hours of its run time. When Gehraiyaan starts, one feels transported to the middle of the ocean with the promise of the majestic depths and currents but it leaves you on shore towards the end, completely dry.
Bhawna Jaimini is a writer and urban practitioner based in Mumbai, India.
Featured image: Amazon Prime