“Simran”… A character so close to the actor, you wish the film around them was more than not-half-bad

Posted on September 19, 2017

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Spoilers ahead…

You’ve never seen a Hindi-film heroine like Praful Patel – and part of it is how closely she seems to be modelled on the actress playing her, Kangana Ranaut. It isn’t just that she does her own thing, defiantly so. (She’s a divorcee, a housekeeper in a hotel in Atlanta.) It’s also that she gives us the sense – as Ranaut so often does – of being so full of her own awesomeness. She rebuffs a man walking up to her and celebrates like she got another opportunity to snub Karan Johar.

A line goes, “Namumkin ko mumkin karana Praful Patel ka kaam hai,” that she makes the impossible possible. We get the sense with Praful the sense we get with Kangana sometimes, that we don’t need to celebrate her. She’s busy celebrating herself. The early scenes of Hansal Mehta’s Simran – written by Apurva Asrani and Ranaut – celebrate Praful/Kangana, and then the film sends her crashing down to earth. (Simran, in other words, gives Praful what Rangoon gave Kangana: a massive reality check.)

The crux of the plot is that Praful has to scrounge up $50,000 in a few days. I loved that this amount isn’t to pay for an ailing parent or to get a business going, but the result of too much booze at a Las Vegas casino. It’s exactly the kind of gloriously nutty thing you think Ranaut might do – no one else would have the balls. You must forgive me for being boxed into this meta reading, for I could see Simran no other way. Or maybe I should say it makes sense no other way.

Because the film, otherwise, is wildly inconsistent, with wild changes in tone. There are sweet scenes with a suitor named Sameer (Sohum Shah). Then, Praful is getting kicked in the stomach by a gangster named Mr. Bugs (Jason Louder). But don’t feel too bad for her. Praful does some (figurative) stomach-kicking herself every time she raises her voice at her hapless father. It’s a Hollywoody story (you can imagine the Coen Brothers taking a shot at this screwball premise with dark overtones), but with a character you aren’t meant to feel sorry for. It’s clear that Praful’s desperation is her own doing. You just wait for her to climb out of it. Kangana… sorry, Praful, needs neither our sympathy nor our help. She’ll figure it out.

Take away the underwhelming gangster scenes, and there’s a great movie in here somewhere. I really enjoyed the scenes between Praful and Sameer. Sohum Shah does something tricky. He takes a character whose only quality is niceness and doesn’t make him a saint or a bore. He’s the stable kind of man a woman like Praful laughs at – she’d rather be hitting on a hottie in Vegas – but he gradually mellows her. The film doesn’t try for a second to convince us that she deserves him. Rather, we’re made to feel he could be her salvation – only, she doesn’t want to be saved.

Praful is a fabulous fuckup, and Ranaut plays these scenes so beautifully, so unapologetically, you want to shake Praful’s shoulders and make her see sense – if you could summon up the guts to approach her. This is a hugely enjoyable performance. It’s vain, narcissistic, it oftens bleeds over the character and into real life (but then I already told you that) – it’s also filled with a singular kind of energy. Watching Praful win big at baccarat and blow up the money on a dress or a gift (earlier, we’ve been told she’s a “pukki Gujarati,” who’s careful with money) is among the most fun I’ve had at the movies this year.

I wished the film had matched up. It’s not half bad. This is one of the rare instances the US doesn’t look shiny and plasticky, like a Christmas-tree ornament. The music is similarly real, understated. With Ranaut practically accommodating the orchestra in her portrayal, playing every instrument and waving the baton, a more melodramatic score would have been overkill. But the whimsy doesn’t work. Praful takes to robbing banks and these scenes are so slapsticky (all that’s missing is the banjo score from Bonnie and Clyde) that it’s hard to tell whether we’re meant to take all of it literally or if there are other notes being hit here. I wasn’t convinced.

The closing scenes are a beauty, though. The glimpse of a happy ending we got earlier is long gone – but it isn’t a sad end either. Another heroine would have been handed a couple of life lessons by now, but not Praful/Kangana. This is why she is Simran. The name comes from the climax of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge where the father lets go of the daughter (named Simran), saying, “Jee le apni zindagi,” live your own life. The line is redundant. Praful/Kangana wouldn’t dream of living anyone else’s.

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