Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers so if you have not watched the film, be aware! 🙂
I started out watching Gehraiyaan with a lot of expectations. When I watched Kapoor & Sons, I loved the film. The way Shakun Batra treated the characters, the way he peeled back layers of issues – of trusts within families and betrayals- and how he got us to accept that families are, at the best, dysfunctional, even if there is love and bonding and other familial feelings among its members. And that love and bonding win in the end. The characters were well-formed and believable and need I say, superbly well acted by the ensemble cast.
Gehraiyaan had a few things working well for it – it had Deepika Padukone, an actor who brings out the trauma and angst of Alisha very well. It had well-crafted intimate scenes, ones where even the women are shown as taking the lead, rather than sitting back and enjoying the attention. Lust has come of age in Hindi films. Deepika is fabulous with her backstory of trauma chasing her through the film. You really end up feeling for her in the end as the past catches up with her again. One also wonders what she sees in the two men in her life.
However, disappointments were big as well. Especially with the way the female characters have been depicted. The male characters have purposes in life – one wants to be a business tycoon and succeed at everything he touches, the other wants to be a successful writer. The interests of the women revolve around making them succeed rather than taking charge of things and making things work for themselves. I guess the only place where Alisha takes charge is when she decides that she will not let Zain kill her. She seems caught up in her husband’s struggle for success too much than thinking about her own – she must have made a success from the yoga instruction business to be able to afford the wardrobe and the interiors of her house; in spite of her husband not contributing anything for the last 4 years.
The interests of the women revolve around making [the men] succeed rather than taking charge of things and making things work for themselves.
Yet she agrees to expand her yoga business to an online app only when Zain’s character brings in the funding rather than go looking for that funding herself. Where’s the agency? She also doesn’t seem to have any other friends outside of this small circle of husband-cousin-her boyfriend. Understandably, she has had a traumatic childhood, is estranged from her dad but could she have had other interests and friends in life? I think she could.
Tia’s life, quite well played by Ananya Pandey except for the constant look of worry on her face, revolves around making her boyfriend’s life a success. She has had a foreign degree and a business background – she can take a more informed interest in it, no? Instead of getting long-distance advice from her mother on a phone and thriving in the luxury that money can bring, why couldn’t her character be portrayed as someone taking more interest in something her money (or her Dad’s) is funding? Why are women always the ones shown as enjoying the life money can buy, but rarely making an attempt to earn it in our films? Or is it an anathema for women to talk about money? In real life they do both – earn, and spend money and sometimes earn a lot and spend a lot.
Why are women always the ones shown as enjoying the life money can buy, but rarely making an attempt to earn it in our films?
And why would both of them lose their minds over this Zain (played by Siddhant Chaturvedi)? He does not play this small-town-guy-wanting-to-blend-in-high-society-turned-business-tycoon-with-a-yatch character well – he feels one dimensional except till the end where he begins to lose it. The nuances of being a manipulative, conniving, sexy man is never fully brought out and you wonder why Tia bothers with him at all. The chemistry between Alisha and Zain seems forced – is she only attracted to him because he is successful, something that Karan is not? What do they have in common?
My disappointment also seems to rise from the storytelling – the use of a turbulent ocean as a cliched metaphor over and over again. The 2 hrs 30 minutes length of a story that could have been told in 90 minutes max, maybe even 60. We weren’t going to spend 500 bucks to watch this in a plush theatre. So the standard argument that the public must be compensated for the money they are spending by the length of the film does not work here. The ups and downs of Alisha and Zain deciding not to see each other and then getting together again seems unnecessary and drags on the storyline. It is evident that the Alibaug property has some mystery behind it – I was expecting it to legally belong to Naseeruddin Shah and therefore to Deepika all through – so that does not come as a surprise. There’s no appearance of the police after the murder – given its death under strange circumstances.
A comparison with Match Point is inevitable given how similar the plot is. But the tightness of that film comes entirely from the fact that it is a thriller. Its underlying philosophy on how much we are willing to set aside our moral qualms in order to indulge in greed and selfishness. Gehraiyaan doesn’t have the feel of a thriller, does not have the humour that’s the trademark of a Woody Allen film and doesn’t end up being that story which is very good because every single character in it is flawed.