For a while now, pathetic fallacy hasn’t been a popular technique. In Hamari Adhuri Kahani, Mohit Suri brings it back with a vengeance. The heroine is named after the earth (Vasudha, played by Vidya Balan) and she’s a florist. But these flowers don’t always bring happiness. Vasudha speaks of her profession as a necessary evil – all this beauty has to be nipped from branches so that humans can express love and congratulations and regret. When taken to a stunning topiary by the tycoon hotelier Aarav (Emraan Hashmi), Vasudha says it’s beautiful but in a sterile way. Because there are no dead leaves. “Har khoobsoorat cheez mein daag hota hai. Chand mein bhi daag hai.” Aarav, too, is defined by flowers. “Mera dil kya kehta hai… phoolon ne jawab de diya.” Actually, in his very first scene – and you hopefully read the spoiler alert above – he looks at Vasudha arranging flowers and says, “Main inke liye jaan de sakta hoon.” You know what? He gets his wish. He dies in a field filled with these very flowers. This is that kind of movie.
There’s more pathetic fallacy with thunder, which is heard in scenes with each of the three main characters – when Vasudha is with her young son; when Aarav is in his hotel in Dubai (and we get ready for his flashback); and when Hari (Rajkummar Rao, as Vasudha’s husband who’s gone missing) is imprisoned by Naxals. Yes, I said Naxals. Thirty years ago, such a development would have been routine – our cinema, after all, was a boiling pot of outrageous contrivances. But then the multiplexes happened and things cooled down. We got more sophisticated. We got the Akhtar siblings. Farah Khan taught us that the only way to look at thirty-year-old cinema was to laugh at it, affectionately or otherwise. All of which is to wonder how Suri thought he could pull this movie off in the first place.
Because at times, he seems to be doing in all earnestness what Farah Khan does with a wink and a nudge. He’s built a movie around a series of seriously melodramatic tropes. The lamp-flame getting snuffed out when a loved one shuffles off his mortal coil. The insaan-ke-roop-mein-bhagwan line. An impoverished kid straying into a plush hotel and, upon being discovered, being dragged off by the scruff of his collar and thrown on the street. A flashback in the form of a diary entry. A woman who’s lost, facing a road lined with forlorn trees on either side, the way a lost Rajesh Khanna did during the Zindagi ke safar mein number in Aap Ki Kasam. Dialogues about Sita and Radha, parampara and the mangalsutra. A woman making a rangoli and, later, destroying it as she runs across it in distress. A man being asked to sing in a gathering, and settling down to do so… in front of a piano. Forget pathetic fallacy, when was the last time you saw a piano song in our cinema?
Rajesh Khanna… road lined with forlorn trees…
Can all this work today? I honestly don’t know. I know it worked some nine years ago in Gangster, which was also from the house of Mahesh Bhatt. But nine years, in today’s terms, could well be ninety. Then again, maybe you also need a certain kind of director, a certain kind of cast. Suri is certainly capable of quality melodrama. He’s a fine filmmaker too – though you wouldn’t know that based on Hamari Adhuri Kahani, which is filled with flat staging from start to finish. Only at the end do we get a Suri moment, when, during Durga Puja, the face of the goddess is seen around Vidya Balan – it’s a totally bogus scene, but a gorgeous-looking one.
But the actress is all wrong. She’s too polished. She looks like she’s trying really, really hard to dumb herself down for the part. I’m thinking of Gangster again, but maybe Kangana Ranaut is the only actress today who has the brazenness necessary for kitchen-sink melodrama. Emraan Hashmi stands around in natty suits. I can’t recall the last time he gave anything resembling a performance. Rajkummar Rao, on the other hand, digs deep. He does actorly things – he limps, he stammers. The performance isn’t wrong. It’s just in the wrong movie. The only actor who fits in is Narendra Jha, who plays a cop. He has a great voice, great stature. He delivers a spectacular line about god’s justice. It appears late in the movie, and you see what’s been missing all along.
A handful of lines have the juice you just don’t find in the fashionably dry writing these days. I loved one that went, Ek kamzor insaan ko sharm se marte hue dekha. There’s another one when Hari re-enters Vasudha’s life. She tells her young son, “Inke pair chhoo-o aur baahar jaao.” Part of the line speaks of her traditional side; the other part hints at how she’s changed. She doesn’t want the child to see what she’s about to say to her husband. But the other lines are so overwrought, they’re laughable. As are many of the developments. Get this. Vasudha decides she’s had enough of life in Dubai (Aarav has invited her to work for him there), so she sets out on the road, dragging a suitcase behind her. Ahead lie endless sand dunes. Did she hope to flag down a dune buggy? This one’s funnier. When she decides to accept Aarav’s proposal, she says she knows nothing about love. “Pyaar sikha sakte ho?” Doesn’t she know she’s talking to Emraan Hashmi? He promptly takes her to bed.
Yes. Apparently, she’s old enough to play Emraan Hashmi’s mom now…
Bhatt has rarely written such weak drama around events mined from his life. (This one’s supposedly based on the story of his parents and his stepmother.) There’s a lot of material to work with. The woman torn between a man who doesn’t really love her but treats her like chattel, and one who loves her so much he’s willing to let her go. The man who falls for a single mother because she reminds him of his own mother (Amala; yes, that Amala), who sang in a hotel and stole bottles of liquor for her lover. This is explosive stuff. We keep waiting for someone to light the fuse.
- “Har khoobsoorat cheez mein daag hota hai. Chand mein bhi daag hai.” = Every thing of beauty, even the moon, has a blemish.)
- “Mera dil kya kehta hai… phoolon ne jawab de diya.” = These flowers have said what my heart wants to say.
- “Main inke liye jaan de sakta hoon.” = I could die for them
- insaan-ke-roop-mein-bhagwan = a man whose acts are those of a god
- Zindagi ke safar mein number in Aap Ki Kasam = see here
- parampara = tradition
- mangalsutra = if you don’t know this, you shouldn’t be watching Hindi movies
- Ek kamzor insaan ko sharm se marte hue dekha. = I saw a weak man die of shame.
- “Inke pair chhoo-o aur baahar jaao.” = Pay him your respects and step outside.
- “Pyaar sikha sakte ho?” = Can you teach me [about] love?
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