Romantic tragedy is back in theatres as Mohit Suri offers a true blue love story amidst the flood of romantic comedies. A mature offshoot of Aashiqui-2, Suri tries to restore the gravitas, the pathos that we associate with romance and takes on the deep-seated patriarchy along the way.It is an old school romance with all the garnishing of poetic dialogues and moral moorings and the good thing is the pain seeps through the surface of this modern-day fable.A florist who doesn’t like life to be plucked out of flowers, Vasudha (Vidya Balan) is caught between two men. One sees love as a matter of entitlement and woman as a property. Perhaps that explains the writer’s choice to name the female protagonist as Vasudha. The other believes that love doesn’t bind you, it sets you free. If Aarav (Emraan) had come into her life first, we would not have had this story. The problem is Vasudha is married off to Hari by her ritualistic father. She comes from a tradition where marriage is the Kaaba of a woman and her place is at her lover’s feet. And for her that lover has to be her husband. So when Hari (Rajkumar) vanishes from the scene, she lives with memories and mangalsutra even when her mother ask her to throw it away. In comes Aarav who sees a reflection of his mother’s painful past in Vasudha’s present. As he tries to replenish Vasudha’s barren life, her ‘values’ come in the way.To many, Vasudha might appear like a relic from the past, those good old Jayaprada days where a man could hit his wife and then say sorry. And she would turn back to say that it is his right. Such women had vanished from the scene but here writers Mahesh Bhatt and Shagufta Rafique have tried to discover what happened to that woman. How far has she come in the days of Rani and Tanu? Has she discovered her mojo?It is a complex take on relationships in times when marriage is increasingly becoming a revolving door. Here all three have their truths but the film sides with the kind of love that makes one selfless. And in a way the climax in Kolkata provides an interesting link between the Vasudhas of the world and the Bidyas of Kahani. It is a painful process but Suri almost succeeds in painting it and the soundtrack adds to the sorrow.Once again digging into his bottomless source, writer Mahesh Bhatt bares his heart here, conjuring up unadulterated melancholy that seeps into the conscience and leaves a lump in the throat. Drawing from mythology and ecology, the dialogues establish potent linkages between man and nature. From the scene where Vasudha tells her son that god talks to us through storms to the one in Aarav’s gleaming Dubai hotel where she points out the missing wilting leaves in an otherwise blooming garden, reminding that scars are as important in life as shine, Bhatt constantly draws from nature to comment on human behaviour.However, in an attempt to turn it into an epic romance, some of the scenes in the second half are overwritten. Some of the scenes with Aarav’s sidekick are dispensable and the terror angle is clumsily written and executed. There is an attempt to manufacture balance. But Vidya and Emraan ensure that the all pervading gloom does not sound hollow. He is known to excel in reaching out for the unattainable and forbidden but this time Emraan also brings grace to the table as the hotelier looking for a permanent address and Vidya complements him with those deep eyes that betray desire and diffidence at the same time. It is a difficult choice for an actor who broke free from the sacrificing types to return and realise that it takes all types of people to make this world and their kahani, howsoever incomplete, is no less important.
THE ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY’S “THE EMPRESS” TRANSFERS TO THE LYRIC HAMMERSMITH THEATRE from 4 Oct-28 Oct.
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