“Raabta”… A dreadful love story that fails at just about every level

Posted on June 12, 2017

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Spoilers ahead…

Dinesh Vijan’s Raabta begins with Shiv (Sushant Singh Rajput), an Amritsar lad, leaving for London. His entire clan comes to see him off, all but breaking into the title song of Rang De Basanti. The tiniest shiver ran through my spine. At the airport, Shiv hears of a celestial object about to pass by earth: it’s called Love Joy. No one involved with the film seems to have realised that it sounds more like a condom than a comet. My forehead broke into a sweat. In London, Shiv takes his British girlfriend into a chocolate shop, promising to treat her to “sweet balls of love.” My hands turned cold, clammy. Then we  meet Saira (Kriti Sanon), who looks into the mirror and calls herself a firecracker. By this time, I was on my knees, praying fervently to the god of hair to work his magic on my scalp, so I’d have something to pull out.

I see bad movies all the time, so it took me a while to realise why this bad movie was badder than most. It’s not the general badness of, say, the Sunny Leone starrer One Night Stand. This is an artisanal awfulness, a carefully curated selection of bad choices from every filmmaking department. First, Sushant’s performance. He tries to act twinkly and cute. He comes off like a flamboyantly gay pixie. Sample scene: He walks towards Saira in slo-mo, because he wants to take it “dheere dheere, baby.”

And there’s a second role, where we see his character in a past life, wearing Reena Roy’s ponytail from 1977 and hanging around a pruny old man who looks like a Voldemort who fell asleep in the bathtub. This, apparently, is Rajkummar Rao in prosthetic makeup. The story is about reincarnation. The subtext is about watching promising young actors commit career suicide.

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The Saira-Shiv relationship is a series of scenes that go like this. At a point they barely know each other, he plucks a lollipop out of her mouth and sticks it into his. She plucks it back and sticks it into hers. I don’t mean to be judgmental here, but a woman who doesn’t know the basics of lollipop hygiene deserves what she gets.

Maybe this behaviour can be explained by the fact that she feels a strange pull towards Shiv. She lets him into her house and has sex with him (without even asking if he’s got a Love Joy in his wallet). Then we discover she has a steady boyfriend, who gets dumped over a dinner. Then, she begins flirting with Zak (Jim Sarbh, who affects the worst accent ever; he doesn’t seem to be speaking his lines so much as gargling with them). Meanwhile, Shiv, the light of her life (and her past life) is a few metres away, splashing around delightedly in a pool, surrounded by semi-naked women. I began to look back fondly at my past life, where I wasn’t a film critic, forced to make sense of films like Raabta.

The interval point arrives when Zak carries an unconscious Saira to his helicopter — it looks like an image from a virgin sacrifice. There’s a Bhansali-esque touch to this character: he seems to be able to summon rain at will. But this conceit dries up soon. Instead, we see him painting red lips over the portrait of a Chinese man. (None of this is being made up. I am merely reporting from the war front.) Saira is now his captive. He hands her a dress to wear for dinner. It’s a perfect fit. How does he know her dress size? Dear reader, surely you must have guessed that his character, too, shared a past life with her. And if you know your Indian reincarnation movie, you should know that people, when reborn, stay the same weight. More bad news for me, I guess.

If this review appears little more than a listing of bad moments, then it’s an accurate reflection of the film. The censors don’t help. When Saira jumps into the water, she sees fish. We get a caption that says: CG FISH. Back on land, she sees a tiger. The caption still says: CG FISH. Did the captioner just throw up his hands and leave? Or is the tiger, in the spirit of the film’s other characters, a reincarnation of the CG FISH from earlier? Still, this flashback is better than the present-day portions, in the same way “CG FISH” on screen is preferable to “SMOKING CAUSES CANCER, SMOKING KILLS, ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION IS INJURIOUS TO HEALTH. ”

A bored Deepika Padukone turns up in an item number. We get a remix of Ek ladki bheegi bhaagi si, which means that whenever I hear that song in the future, I’m going to recall Madhubala as well as… Kriti Sanon. Varun Sharma from Fukrey grabs a machine gun and begins spraying bullets. It was the one time I laughed. How did the director allow this? You get the feeling he was paid off by Ashutosh Gowariker, who, after Mohenjo Daro, was feeling lonely in the Worst Big-Budget Debacle of Recent Times club.

Before the film’s release, there were allegations of plagiarism from Magadheera. I suppose there are similarities. In both films, the hero’s entry in the reincarnation flashback occurs from behind a waterfall. And in both films, memories of this past life are triggered as someone plunges into water. (Psychics the world over must be quaking at the prospect of being replaced by swimming pools.) But the SS Rajamouli film is coherent. The only interesting angle here is that Shiv does not remember the past. Saira does, though. She remembers running through a forest, with Shiv giving chase. They splash across a shallow stream. The editors cut to a frog in the water. I don’t blame them. I began to wonder if the frog had a love story, and if I could watch that instead.

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