Bollywood Review: Raanjhanaa

20130621-173149.jpgStarring: Dhanush, Sonam Kapoor, Abhay Deol, Swara Bhaskar, Shilpi Marwaha, Mohd. Zeeshan Ayyub
Directed by: Anand L. Rai

The Hindu boy, Muslim girl love story has been done to death in Bollywood, and from the trailer Raanjhanaa seemed to be a sweet, possibly fun, version of that template. Thankfully, there’s more to the story than just the issue of a inter-religion romance, however it’s not just sweet and romantic either. There’s much more to the plot than the promos let on, and for that alone, the film deserves a chance, but it’s also quite a satisfying watch.

Dhanush, an established Tamil actor makes his Hindi film debut as Kundan, the son of a pandit/Hindu priest, living in Benaras. As a child he sees a girl, Zoya, and instantly falls in love, and spends his years growing up trying to woo her. Impressed by his consistency, she gives him a chance, but her family don’t approve and send her away to Aligarh to live with her aunt. Eight years later, she returns to Benaras, barely remembering Kundan, and in love with someone else (Abhay Deol), but he is still madly in love with her, and is determined to get her to feel the same.

That’s not even the whole plot line of the first half of the movie, but describing any more would be a major spoiler. It’s an old fashioned Bollywood formula to have a light first half and a dramatic second half, and while this doesn’t feel formulaic, the shift in tone is fairly drastic. I think it’s meant to maintain the romance element, but even that gets a little lost along the way. It’s not a criticism of the film, as much as a comment on the choices Anand L. Rai makes to tell the story he wants to.

Dhanush has been acting for many years in Tamil now, but I think acting in a language that you don’t know is quite a challenge, and he does well considering. In places it’s evident that his Hindi isn’t strong. I was worried he wouldn’t be very watchable, but he commits so fully to his character, his performance is quite endearing. Sonam Kapoor is good as Zoya, and though I like her, I’ll admit she still has some learning to do when it comes to acting. But then many ‘actresses’ who are much worse than her have gone further, so at least she’s doing roles that expect something of her. She looks quite good with Abhay Deol, I think they should work together more, if he starts doing more films.

The music is by Oscar winning A. R. Rahman, and while the background music and the album are good, most of it sounds a little like his other work. ‘Tum Tak‘ and ‘Raanjhanaa‘ are really the only two songs that stand out. And I hate when my favourite songs come too early in a film, but at least they’re well placed here. The film looks great, particular the first half, as it has a really desi-film feel to it.

Despite the unexpected turn it takes post-interval, I quite liked Raanjhanaa. It’s not your typical love triangle, or Hindu-Muslim love story, and that’s good, but it ends up being almost two different stories, which isn’t necessarily as good. I would be better with one singular and clear purpose, but it’s a good watch as it is, mainly for the music, performances, and the lovely shots of Benaras.

Raanjhanaa is out now.

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