I always felt Bollywood films lacked the candour and earthy charm that Tamil films (even films with a thick skin plot) boast of. Raanjhanaa is probably that bridge that was to be built between these two varied industries. The film is simple, the hero Kundan lacks the mainstream fever of attitude, the locations are realistic snaps from our daily lives and most spectacular is the story that you can easily relate to. Don't complain if you are blown away by the tears of self-pity which Dhanush sheds and place yourself in his one sided, rudely reciprocated but admirably true love story.
An age old Tamil concept of a boy falling in love with a girl in childhood, where then he keeps on stalking her till she consents (which costs him a wrist slip and 16 slaps). Driven by pure infatuation our charming heroine Zoya ( Sonam Kapoor) does spark off a relationship which ends before it starts. 8 years down the line, Kundan (Dhanush) is still passionately in love with her but Zoya fails to even recognize him. Zoya here, is a completely different person than what we earlier saw her as; thankfully contrary to the norm where popular directors maintain uncanny one dimensional characters through decades in the film.
The first half of the film with its unconventional approach is a viewer's delight. With its admirable cheeky one liners which so subtly build up whole characters to the engaging yet very grounded story, you feel you have had all that you wanted in the first half itself. And you are unintentionally correct; right from where Zoya's love interest in Delhi : Akram ( Abhay Deol) is introduced, the film so unnaturally loses all its vigour. Love takes a back seat and the film derails into politics from which it never actually recovers. Probably the unexpected climax (which actually saves the film) may cover up for the lack of pace and the loss of the earlier charm which the action in Baranasi had.
The cinematography is purposefully simple. In contrast to the popular hackneyed approach where the DOP captures cities with a tourist's eye, here our camera captures the daily Banarasi lives: the streets, the vibrant celebrations of Holi and the very ingenuousness of the locals. Sonam Kapoor is all very attractive and plays well as Kundan's love interest; a headstrong girl with modern sensibilities. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub and Swara Bhaskar as Kundan's childhood friends deliver a noticeably laudable performance. Abhay Deol is severely restricted by the shortness as well as the ennui of his role and fails to impress unlike his past many performances.
The film relies on Dhanush for its grace. Whether you previously knew him through his viral “Kolaveri Di” or his excellence in Aadukulam, you are sure to instantly recognize both his adept acting and his bull's eye appropriateness for Kundan's role. Surprisingly mastering the Hindi tongue (except for a few odd parts where the demand for a speedy dialogue delivery caught him fumbling and reluctant), Dhanush delivers a flawless and extremely admirable performance which will be remembered for long. The ease with which he fits into each life stage of Kundan and the gaseous charm he carries with him clearly lets him steal the show.
Calling the music supportive would be a grave understatement. Augmenting the tone of the story at every point, the forte of the film, the background score so succeeds in conveying strong emotions even when the director fails to. Many scenes remain etched in your mind solely because of the score. Pure classical folk as the script demands, the strings orchestration spaced with an efficacious shehnai is surely a gift to effectively heighten the effect this romance has on the audience. The last time I noted such a score which promoted the story so well was probably in Mani Ratnam's Guru. The songs are already a rage, each one proudly challenging the conventions. Experimental as the maestro's songs always are, each song serves its purpose astutely. Be it the innovative vocal shehnai of “Ay Sakhi” or the enthralling croon of “Aise Na Dekho”; Rabbi's attitude laden “Tu Mun Shudi” which builds Abhay's character or “Tum Tak” (which turns out to be the soul of the film), the entire album presents immense freshness which when further coupled with good picturisation is one of the main reasons why the first part of the film is aesthetically so successful.
As a whole, the film free from commonplace scenes would mostly garner positive response. But you cannot ignore the fact that the latter part fails to match up to the first part in its charisma. A swifter screenplay and a more restrained melodrama would have done better. The very natural next door Kundan falls into a filmy fix later and gets suddenly portrayed as a scheming youth orator. There is an instance where this ignorant villager is fixing a bulb and a party General Secretary says: "Kundan, Ye Sab chhodh, Tu Apni Agli Speech Taiyaar Kar!". Well I was initially under the impression that Dhanush was free of the Rajnikanth shadow these days.
But the film's positives definitely rack up high against these flaws and make Raanjhanaa one of the most realistic films. These characters are not big cinema heroes; they are derived from our own streets. A realistic romance that brims with impressive elements (including and especially the enchanting music), Raanjhanaa is surely a winner at the end and must be watched for its unconventional handling and freshness. Such a film may not be made again, and if made would fall into the snares of clichéd lassitude.