There are some love stories that need to be rewritten for the times we live in. Like Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar that reinterpreted the romance of Heer Raanjha in the modern context of the blurring of lines between love and friendship, Anand L Rai’s Raanjhanaa is another fascinating reworking of the classic, except for a few plot deviations.
The villain here is not just the class or the communal divide between the couple but largely, the intellectual divide between the youth of modern India.
Zoya (Sonam Kapoor) points out to an idealistic student leader (Abhay Deol) that not everyone is equal and some are privileged, given the socio-political complexities of India and later tells her parents that she just cannot get married to any villager like Kundan (Dhanush), her childhood sweetheart because she was now too educated to relate to small-town ideals.
Zoya represents the conflict in the film — big-city intellect versus small-town values. Or of the head and the heart. Anand’s story is complex because India is complex and the makers (screenplay by Himanshu Sharma) refuse to take sides. They make both Zoya and Kundan real by making them as vulnerable and flawed as we are.
As much as he loves Zoya, Kundan refuses to be a doormat. He calls her bluff and ruins her life, defying stereotypes of selfless love. Yet, Kundan is as selfless a lover we can realistically find today, maybe if we looked in simple small towns uncorrupted by the ideals of intellect, progress and politics.
As much as Zoya hates Kundan’s ‘gawaar’ (villager) notions of romance and pulls him up for slitting his wrists stupidly, she does exactly the same thing in a different context later in the film, without quite realising that she is not very different. She just chose to pretend she was intellectually superior.
There are quite a few digs at this intellectual class (if you are familiar with this type, you will laugh out loud) in the second half of the film. This is also the portion that seems most staged, convenient and unlikely. Because it is all about a small-town boy winning over the intellectual class with values he represents, something that seems possible only in our movies.
But in their defence and to their credit, the makers do tell us why it is not an easy bridge to mend, once burned. The overbearing burden of baggage on both sides, the context of dirty politics and the need to retain echoes of the Heer Raanjha tale do take a toll on the pace of the film in the second half, which is full of surprises, even if contrived.
Yet, there is no denying that Raanjhanaa is a brave film to explore the crevices of young minds that straddle many worlds — social, intellectual, political and personal — that it is easy to lose your mind in the complex politics of modern relationships.
Dhanush performs with the ease of a veteran, never letting language get in the way of the attention and screen presence he commands, while Sonam keeps it natural, playing the foil, and Abhay chips in with an effective cameo.
Special mention to Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub and Swara Bhaskar who are simply unforgettable as Murari and Bindiya, the friends who literally stand for all the small-town values that Kundan epitomises.
A.R. Rahman and Irshad Kamil once again show us how songs can fill in the blanks in the story (the montage where Kundan and Murari force Bindiya to stage an elaborate hoax to help Zoya is a hoot).
Despite its inherent drama, the director of Tanu Weds Manu, once again keeps the mood light and the film never runs out of laughs, even in its final poignant moments.
This should do to Dhanush what Saagar did for Kamal Haasan and what Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa did for Shah Rukh Khan.
India will fall in love, again.
Director: Anand L Rai
Cast: Dhanush, Sonam Kapoor, Abhay Deol, Swara Bhaskar, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub
Storyline: A small-town boy from Benares needs to break through the class divide to gain acceptance from his childhood sweetheart who is now in love with big city ideals
Bottomline: A dream debut for Dhanush even if the film gets stuck in its messy political subtext that kills the romance