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Sunday, December 3, 2023

Gehraiyaan Review: Dysfunctional Characters Ride Cinematic Wave

Gehraiyaan joins a legacy of Hindi movies that with ‘taboo’ romance – be it Vinod Pande’s Yeh Nazdeekiyan or Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. But as seen in Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu and Kapoor & Sons, director Shakun Batra is not one to follow conventions. After the immense wait, the movie streams on Amazon Prime Video.

The film revolves around 30-year-old ambitious yoga-teacher Alisha Khanna (Deepika Padukone) finding herself at a crossroads in life. Her six-year-long relationship has grown monotonous. Her career seems to be hitting a lot of roadblocks. Just when she had begun to accept this reality as unchangeable, her life is usurped by the arrival of her cousin, Tia (Ananya Panday) and her fiancé, Zain (Siddhant Chaturvedi), with whom she bonds over a troubled past and a common wish to break from its confines. The story charts the journey of Alisha and Zain, as they confront the ghost of their past on the path they take to avoid it.

Having recently seen Paulo Sorrentino’s The Hand Of God, I was absolutely mesmerised by the beach and Italian villas are silent characters. Many such places and objects present dysfunctionality. And at times, the dream to escape monotony. Shakun Batra also brings settings and objects to life. Scenes on the yacht and Goa beach house are stunning.

Metaphorically, these locations are eye-catching yet isolated. Both these aspects highlight the principal characters of Alisha and Zain. They are beautiful yet sequestered by their past traumas. In fact, the conversation on sexual representation has always been discussed widely. However, it seems that even physical intimacy is an instrumental role.

Sex is the means of escapism and the realisation of how broken the characters are. It is not ‘bold’ for the purpose of titillation. Moreover, rain and thunder help in enhancing the drama during pivotal cruxes within the movie. The camera shots on Mumbai streets, humble and palatial apartments highlight class differences within the city, as well as provide a glimpse into the complex lives of India’s upper-class society. Kudos goes to Kabeer Kathpalia (OAFF) and Savera Mehta for their soul-stirring background score. In addition, Kaushal Shah’s stunning cinematography helps to enrich the visual appeal.

Like the film’s title (which means ‘depths’), the premise is candid when it comes to characters and certain revelations. Batra cleverly foreshadows circumstances through home videos in found-footage format. One sequence is when a young Alisha’s mother helps her to take off her jumper. She says “I’m stuck.” This one line, whilst said in jest, reflects the elder Alisha’s life predicament. Within this murky romantic drama, the coming-of-age theme is weaved effortlessly into the narrative. Especially the concept of mental health.

I must say, the film’s casting is relevant and apt. Deepika Padukone hits the ball out of the park by playing such a convoluted and complex role. Her nuances of silence followed by outbursts make her so effective as an artist. It is challenging to play such an emotionally-challenged role but Padukone naturally adapts it. This certainly is another milestone for her career after powerful presentations like Cocktail and Chhapaak.

Ananya Panday exhibits growth as an actor too. She displays gullibility and sensitivity in such a compelling manner. Even during the emotional quotients, she remains solid. Dhairya Karwa is very impressive. His light-hearted yet loveable persona brightens up the screen. Even in times of hardship, we still empathise with him. Truly, a very promising talent.

Now, on to Siddhant Chaturvedi. He is compellingly suave, handsome and desirable. There could not have been a better Zain. In comparison to his other film roles, we see him explore more shades and he leaves a solid impression. Rajat Kapoor does well playing Zain’s fixer. The Naseeruddin Shah as Alisha’s father is endearing. He delivers arguably the movie’s most reliable dialogue. The synergy between Padukone and Shah is poignant.

Whilst Gehraiyaan to a major extent fairs well, there are certain gaps that needed filling. For instance, even though there is a mention as to what will happen following a turn of events, I feel that a visual representation would’ve depicted a better resolution. Also, it is worth advising that the film’s pace is quite slow. The story develops gradually so be patient. It’s worth it.

All in all, Gehraiyaan is not solely a movie about infidelity and sex. It is much deeper than that and the premise is a lot darker than expected. The visual and cinematic appeal is powerful and so are the performances. The picture is a reminder that flawed human beings and dark secrets can be perilous if buried at sea.

⭐⭐⭐.5 (3.5/5 stars)

Watch our interview with Shakun Batra and Dhairya Karwa here:

Gehraiyaan streams on Amazon Prime Video.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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