Modern dating has killed romance. You either swipe left or right on your preferred dating app to hook up. In this Valentine month, nostalgic romance can be resurrected from the past and wrapped in sentimental poetry and viral memes, delivered through social media. Bringing this concept to the big screen is the Onir-directed Kuchh Bheege Alfaaz, which has an instant romance scenario, but with the old-style narrative of a three-hanky drama.
The film tells the story of two lovers. Archie (Geetanjali Thapa) is a social media brand designer who lives in Kolkata with her mother Jayashree (Mona Ambegaonkar), spending most of her time hanging out with her best friend Apu (Shray Tiwari). She forms an unlikely friendship with Alfaaz (debutant Zain Khan Durrani), an introvert radio jockey, over a misdialled phone call. Mistaken identity leads to the exchange of poems, memes, songs, and equitably to a climax tailor-made for Valentine lovers.
Screenwriter Abhishek Chatterjee (also the marketing head for Onir’s Shab ), drew from his own life experiences for the film. “It is a fictional story, but a lot of the characters are inspired from the people I know. I wanted to tell a story about leucodermic people because I don’t think they have ever been represented in Hindi cinema,” he says, referring to the character of Archie played by Thapa.
His other funnel of inspiration was social media mavens. “Meme artistes used to fascinate me a lot, and so I also got in touch with a lot of them to see what inspires them to create the viral content,” he says.
Chatterjee borrowed elements from writer and radio host Neelesh Misra’s show Yaadon Ka Idiot Box with Neelesh Misra on BIG FM 92.7, combining it with the quirks of social media, where instant gratification and opinions abound. He attempted to interlace the two worlds together in his story. The script of Kuchh Bheege Alfaaz was selected in the Drishyam Sundance Screenwriters Lab in 2016, where Onir was one of the jury members. The screenwriter also wrote the couplets sprinkled throughout the narrative. “My inspiration, my guru, my encyclopaedia is Gulzar saab. I think it will take me so many more lives to be even one-tenth of him.”
The poems are a crucial plot point, beginning with the Urdu word alfaaz in the title that mesmerised Onir. “I fell in love with the word without knowing what it meant,” says the director. “I then found out the meaning, and then read the script and loved it,” he says.
Onir, who also writes poetry, encouraged his 16-year-old niece to write a poem for the 16-year-old character Chhavi (Shefali Chauhan) in the film, to evoke the emotions of an adolescent girl. “I wanted a certain level of innocence that she could bring to it,” he says.
Poetry connects key characters in the film and the team behind it. The radio jockey Alfaaz uses a laconic kind of expression that came naturally to actor Durrani. “I have been writing poetry since I was 13,” he says. “My grandfather helped me with my Urdu poetry,” he says. It was the other part of his character that needed shaping: Durrani prepared for his character by meeting and observing professional radio jockeys in their workplace. “It was interesting to study them because they have to emote only through their voice and that was integral for me to understand for my role in the film.”
The film’s light subject and genre is where Onir wants to trek further. “My next film Driving Lesson is more [of] a romantic comedy than Kuchh Bheege Alfaaz . It is another experiment for me,” he says, adding, “After that, I would like to do an adventure film.”
Defending his choices, the filmmaker states, “I do films which have not been commissioned, so there is an inner need to take new paths. You know people like to bracket you and I have many more shades to me than just the rainbow colour,” he says, addressing the issue of not being the mascot for LGBT-related cinema.
Onir has been showing his film to family and friends to gauge the audience’s reaction. “A lot of people have been telling me Kuchh Bheege Alfaaz is my best film,” he says. “I don’t want to be told that My Brother…Nikhil is my best film. I want to move on and I feel extremely proud if people tell me KBA is my best work. It means there is growth, or else it would be a shame to be remembered only for MBN ,” he concludes.
I want to move on and I feel extremely proud if people tell meKuchh Bheege Alfaaz is my best work. It means there is growth, or else it would be a shame to be remembered only forMy Brother… Nikhil