Director Luv Ranjan’s follow-up to the cult comedy Pyaar Ka Punchnama is a film that needs to be viewed in the context of what Hindi cinema has taught you over the years. That marriage is sacred. And that a girl no matter how truly, deeply, madly in love with her boyfriend will ultimately learn to love the understanding husband. Whether it was Woh Saat Din or Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, the husband has always been the hero.
Of course, there have been the many Sleeping With The Enemy rip-offs where the husband has been the villain but those were never within the realm of mainstream Bollywood romance — what Yash Chopra, Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar and Imtiaz Ali have explored in great detail with unabashed sentimentality and sappiness which exists at the core of every great love story. There will be tears.
Pretty much like in Pyaar Ka Punchnama, Luv Ranjan keeps it light and frothy for the first half till he brings in the bitter pill in the second. If PKP was about the male angst of coping with the unreasonable demands of a relationship, Akaash Vani is the tragic love story of our times. The part that Bollywood forgot after Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.
When Amrish Puri let go of his daughter's hand in the climax of DDLJ, making it one of the most watched films in the history of Indian cinema, parents in Bollywood turned understanding for good. That was probably the last time the previous generation ever wanted to control the young. It became unfashionable to show parents who disapproved of love because India was changing.
But the truth is also that while India may have changed quite a bit, not all of it has. There are still many young girls who become the “tyaag ki murti” (symbol of sacrifice) just out of love for the parents. There may be very few of them left in the cities but there's no denying that there is an India with domestic equations that are far removed from Bollywood. While even the most modern of Bollywood romances in recent times, Imtiaz Ali's Rockstar left it ambiguous on whether or not Heer consummated her marriage owing to her physical and mental condition to maintain the virgin image of the Indian heroine, Luv Ranjan is not scared to show his virgin heroine ravaged by the husband. It makes for uncomfortable viewing, but there's a reason why we are uncomfortable with this. Because, we know it happens. Only that Bollywood never showed us how it happens.
The husband here is not the usual wife-beater stereotype. He's the archetypical hypocritical, two-faced, passive aggressive Indian male chauvinist husband. The problem with archetypes is they always need an extra layer of humaneness that makes them more real. While Luv ensures that the husband, the villain of the piece, stops just short of hitting his wife, we wish we also saw his softer side. There's always a nicer side to every archetype. The Indian husband also buys his wife stuff, gives her money to buy things... all out of chauvinism, of course, but also... out of love. The fact that Luv completely omits the nicer side weakens an otherwise fantastic but indulgent film.
There's so much to like about Akaash Vani, not just in the everyday casual banter between the lovers in the first half but also how the filmmaker has used silence in every key scene of the film — whether it's the moment the boy wants to say ‘I Love You’ (he doesn’t), or the scene the father comes to talk to his daughter but leaves by just pulling over a blanket over her, the reconciliation between the lovers (again, not a single word exchanged).
The leads Kartik Tiwari and Nushrat Bharucha share a terrific chemistry that you can tell how much they are in love, even when they don't have any lines. They carry this film that plays out through the eyes of Vani, the heroine. How often have we seen that happen in Hindi cinema?
Director: Luv Ranjan
Cast: Kartik Tiwari, Nushrat Bharucha, Kiran Kumar
Storyline: College sweethearts Akaash and Vani part and need to find their way back to each other
Bottomline: A serious, sentimental, sappy romance drama that is not afraid to go into morbidly dark territory that Bollywood has been uncomfortable exploring