“Humein pata hai aap chor kyun bane (We know why you became a thief),” a JNU student wakes up Kundan (Dhanush) from his sleep in the second half of Aanand L. Rai’s Ranjhanaa. “Kyunki, aap gareeb hai aur aapke paas kaam nahi hai (Because you are poor and you don’t have a job).” To think that a collective of kurta-clad, progressive, Left-inclined JNU students took a whole night to come up with this reasoning is hilarious. It is one of the best (although exaggerated) comedy set-pieces in the film. But the problem is that it doesn’t fit. It stands out from the rest of the film, just like many more such sequences in the second half do. Post-interval in Dhanush’s Bollywood launch vehicle, you tend to look around to make sure you haven’t entered the wrong hall. The love story that takes shape in the beautiful first half of the film gives way to a convulted, confusing and cluttered second half.
While the first half is about the mad love Kundan has for Zoya (Sonam Kapoor), the second half is dominated by some unnecessary idealistic, political and social comments. And in making this transition, some innocence, a life and, most unfortunately, the plot is lost. Having said this, Ranjhanaa does excel in a few departments. The first being—acting. It doesn’t come as a surprise that National Award-winning actor Dhanush can act. But what does surprise the viewer is how he transcends all limitations—be it of language or looks–and emerges a winner. Right from the opening sequences, you start falling in love with the boy-next-door Kundan, a Tamil Brahmin settled in Benaras, and cheer and root for him when he stalks the effervescent Zoya. Sixteen slaps and a slit wrist later, the girl does give in, but things go haywire, as is expected when a Hindu boy falls in love with a Muslim girl. Her parents pack Zoya off to her aunt’s house to complete her studies. Kundan promises his lady love that he would wait for her as he chases the train she boards to Aligarh on a cycle, and he keeps his word, too.
Eight years pass and Zoya returns to her hometown. While Kundan is still the starry-eyed lover boy he was, Zoya becomes an independent and ‘confident’ JNU student and has fallen in love with another man. A senior from college and an upcoming political leader Akram (Abhay Deol) enters the scene and from this point, the script nosedives. There are too many ideas introduced into the storyline and the film ends up being something we hadn’t bargained for. It loses its light-hearted tone and turns into a dark and broody story, to add to which there are huge loopholes and gaps of logic.
But, all the while, what keeps you from losing hope in Ranjhanaa is the outstanding performance put up by Dhanush. He appears convincing both as the naughty 15-year-old as well as the scruffy 23-year-old. And, this is where the leading lady Kapoor loses out. Although she manages to make her Zoya believable, she looks too old as a 14-year-old in the first half. It is sad that Ranjhanaa also falls prey to the Bollywood cliche of a golguppa-eating, ever laughing ‘simple’ girl so much so that Kapoor ends up just laughing open-mouthedly during most of her screentime in the first half. However, she does deserve full points for looking the part. Right from her colourful skirts as a school-going girl to her kurta-jeans-jhola look in the second half, plus the minimum make-up, adds an authentic feel to the character.
The lead couple is supported amply by other actors like Abhay Deol, Swara Bhaskar and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub. All three of these actors impress with their acting prowess, but we see a lot less of them in the latter part of the film. Another reason why the film drags post-interval. A.R Rahman’s music adds life and energy to Ranjhanaa, but Rai uses up most of the music in the first half itself. He is left with some good music but no instances to fit it in in the second half, which makes some good songs like Aisa Na Dekho and Nazar Laaye being wasted. But Rai should be applauded for three things. First, for getting the Benaras feel right, thanks to his cinematographers Nataraja Subramanian and Vishal Sinha. Second, for perfect casting. And finally, for an unconventional ending that is free of clichés.
Ranjhanaa may not be the best love story according to Bollywood standards, but the hugely entertaining first half is reason enough to sit through the movie till the end. Watch it for some amazing performances from all the cast, expecially Dhanush, and superb, soul-stirring music by Rahman.
Director: Aanand L. Rai
Cast: Dhanush, Sonam Kapoor, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Swara Bhaskar, Abhay Deol