By Shreehari H
A distraught girl is searching frantically for her mangalsutra, while the prospective groom, having just smoked from a hookah that looks like an overblown burette, stares vacuously up at her from the inside of a bathtub, eyes drawn wide in perplexity as if trying to piece together why his love could be getting so worked up. Having no clue himself about where the aforementioned missing item is, he then proceeds to garland her with a makeshift sacred thread: an uprooted toilet seat.
Rajkumar Hirani’s latest film is something special: an insider’s account, in many ways, of what might have transpired in the life of one of India’s most maligned leading men, and yet one that never really feels like an exercise in hagiographic tedium. It’s a deliciously dark tale – one that doesn’t hesitate to acknowledge how misguided its protagonist is – that shines when it is at its most off-kilter, and it is because of this rather adroit balancing of tonality that the film feels so much more than a sum of its parts. And what glorious parts they are.
Ranbir Kapoor delivers the performance of a lifetime as the titular bad boy of Bollywood, capturing every essence of Dutt’s persona from his mannerisms to his gait. “Aaj badi khushi ka din hai,” he declares while breaking the fourth wall, referring to the fact that he is finally going to be able to put his story out there for all to see. He likens his own story to Mahatma Gandhi’s in certain ways: one was Bapu, the other is Baba; one fought for freedom from the British, the other, for freedom from jails; one’s weapon of choice was a dandi, the other’s an AK56.
He even goes on to quote the Gita, of all books. Bad choices make for great stories, he tells us later, and Dutt is nothing if not the king of bad choices. He opines that his evisceration by the media and the public is both short-sighted and uncalled for, having unfairly (or at least, that’s what he tells us) been stigmatized as a traitor who deserves to go to the scaffold. Kapoor plays the role with great elan, with bulked up biceps, furrowed eyebrows and traces of cocaine lacing his lips on more than occasion, making us feel for his irretrievably flawed, tousle-haired character.
The rest of the cast is in terrific form as well: both Dia Mirza and Sonam Kapoor deliver heartfelt performances as the ladies who try and effectuate some semblance of normalcy in Dutt’s life, and Paresh Rawal brings a steely-eyed empathy to the film as the patriarch in the family, Sunil Dutt. Vicky Kaushal is riotous as Sanju’s best friend – this is a man who pronounces Shakespeare as Sexspeare, snacks as snakes, and emotion as emosan. He is a moral science ka kitaab, as pronounced by the khalnayak himself, and it is the relationship between these three men that lies at the emotional core of the film. Manisha Koirala lends suitable gravitas to her portrayal of yesteryear beauty Nargis. She’s graceful, dignified and sublime as an effortless charmer of men, and a pre-interval scene involving her and her son is an absolute knockout, one where the sonorous beeping of a machine and the ticking of a wall clock appropriate an all too creepy significance of their own. If there’s a sore note here, however, it is Winnie Diaz, the “world’s topmost biographer”, played by a curly-haired, blue-eyed Anushka Sharma, whose jarring dialogue delivery feels out of sync with the rest of the film.
Every person who’s addicted to drugs remains in eternal pursuit of a reason to indulge in the same, Kapoor explains to us at one point in the film, and this statement immediately feels both familiar and familial, given the repercussions that inevitably follow such myopic thought processes. I’m no snorter of narcotics myself, but I daresay I’m getting addicted to Hirani’s irreverent style of telling stories that touch an everlasting chord.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Shreehari H is a lover of films and an even greater lover of writing.
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