“Noor”… An uneasy mix of a “serious” film that’s problematic and a rom-com that’s fun

Posted on April 22, 2017

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Spoilers ahead…

Sunhil Sippy’s Noor is a strange film, and not necessarily in a bad way. For a while, it goes for a Hollywood-rom-com vibe that’s derivative (a fun visual language, non-stop bounce on the soundtrack) and yet reasonably diverting. It’s that whole Bridget Jones thing about being an overweight klutz, worried about one’s “wobbly bits” – and though Sonakshi Sinha, who plays Noor, is framed up-and-centre of a glitzy dance number (if she were really the overweight klutz, she’d be positioned like an extra, if that), there’s something to be said about a Bollywood production featuring a scene where the leading lady steps on a weighing scale and obsesses about the 65-something kilos on her.

An assured, relaxed Purab Kohli plays the Hugh Grant character, a smooth-talking photo-journalist named Ayan Banerji. But here’s the twist. There’s no Darcy. Okay, maybe there is one in the wings, but the film isn’t about him. That’s because Noor slowly outgrows its rom-com roots and becomes something else, something… strange.

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But before we get to that, let’s take a long, hard look at Noor. She’s far from perfect. There’s a litany of small vices – an addiction to junk food, a pronounced tendency to whine, smoking and drinking (her poison is rum, but when there’s a man on the horizon, she mixes it with Diet Coke; it’s one of the film’s many telling little details).

But there are bigger issues. Noor is a journalist, and she reminds us of many people who end up in journalism with a profound sense of entitlement, kids who want to be a by-line star without working their way up. Noor resents the fluffy stories she’s handed by her boss Shekhar (Manish Chaudhary, playing a Manish Chaudhary role), and in a nasty little scene after he sends her to interview Sunny Leone, Noor calls the actress a tramp. Shekhar, rightly, puts her in her place. Leone is a woman who’s worked her way up. Noor, of all people, doesn’t have the right to judge her.

I don’t know how much of this comes from the book the script is based on – Karachi, You’re Killing Me! by Saba Imtiaz – but Noor touches, however glancingly, some uncomfortable truths about journalism. It is about the lust for fame that a good story can bring. (“It’s gold,” is how Noor describes a horrific instance of organ trafficking. Even as her heart bleeds for the victim, it’s quickening at the prospect of what this could mean to her career as a “serious” journalist.) It is about how, sometimes, this story can become more important than the people in it. And it’s about how this can result in lazily researched, ethically compromised, life-threatening journalism.

The story that Noor breaks has to do with her domestic help Malti (Smita Tambe, in the film’s most wrenching performance; even her chipped nail polish says something about her abjectness), and she finds out about it when Malti says she wants to leave to tend to her ailing brother. In that slightly callous (though not cruel) way we sometimes treat those who work for us, Noor asks Malti to clean her room before she leaves. Noor isn’t a bad person. She knows the name of Malti’s brother, she cares about them. But there’s still that divide, and we see it here. When Malti has to run away from it all, she locks her door and disappears among the many millions in Mumbai. When Noor faces a similar situation, a childhood friend (Saad, nicely played by Kanan Gill) whisks her off to his house in London. This isn’t just the distance between two continents. This is also the distance between many journalists and the people they write about.

But the film’s unrelenting glibness prevents it from realising its potential. No, let me reword that. I didn’t exactly expect it to turn, suddenly, into All the President’s Men, but this material is too much (and Sonakshi not enough of a dramatic presence) for a light-treading story about a self-absorbed twentysomething who gets a much-needed wake-up call. The closing portions have to do with bursts of conscience that go miraculously viral on social media, bringing bad guys to justice. (Another wrong-doer is left staring at his reflection on a glass surface,  as though he has to now face what he’s done.) I  wanted to return to scenes like the one where Noor’s friend Zara (a very fun Shibani Dandekar) commands her to slap an ex.

Because the rom-commy bits, Noor really nails. The fact that a significant other could cheat you and you could discover, to your horror, that some part of you still wants them. The fact that it’s really, really difficult to talk straight when you like someone and fear that this like may not be returned with the same intensity. Noor may want to be a Time magazine reporter, but her film is far more interesting when it orients itself towards People.

Copyright ©2017 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Posted in: Cinema: Hindi