Film: "Akaash Vani"; Actors: Kartik Tiwari and Nushrat Bharucha; Director: Luv Ranjan; Rating: **** - a love story you shouldn't miss.
In one of the film's high dramatic moments shot on a small deserted railway station in the night, the film's protagonists, now estranged by an unfortunate series of circumstances, sit on the bench and... well, they sob. Yes, they simply cry their hearts out. First, the girl. Then in a melancholic celebration of the me-too syndrome, the boy, now alas no longer a boy (and he smokes to prove it), also breaks into little sobs that build up into a wail as the shehnai, indicative of a cruel marital joke, plays in the background.
The sequence in the hands of a lesser director would have fallen flat on its sobbing face. Luv Ranjan has the punch-filled boys-will-be-boys saga "Pyaar Ka Punchnama" behind him to prove his solid grip over the grammar of the hearts of the young and the confused.
Akaash (Kartik Tiwari) and Vani (Nushrat Bharucha) seem clueless about what they really want out of life, or from each other. Is Akaash fooling around with her in the college ? Is he serious in his filmy antics? Or filmy in his serious antics?
Ranjan's screenplay takes the lovers from the corny escapades and frigid philosophising of the college campus to the precipice of heartbreak. The journey, given a vivid visual manifestation by Sudhir K. Chaudhuri's fluid camera work, is made with ample feeling and remarkable restrain.
Unlike other contemporary celluloid raconteurs, Ranjan is not fearful of silences. He doesn't fill up every conceivable nook and corner of the storytelling with words and music, though I must state here that Hitesh Sonik's background music and the songs in the later part of the film go a long way in building an appealing case for the lead pair's star-crossed relationship. If Akaash and Vani seem so lost without each other, it is a lot to do with the way their emotions are pinned down by the words and the music that underline the course of their togetherness.
On many occasions, Ranjan allows the lead pair to share silences. A rarity in today's cinema, where it is presumed that the average moviegoer has the attention-span of a sparrow looking for twigs before the rain starts pelting down. There are long meditative stretches of just simple non-verbal communication between the protagonists. It is a risk to allow audiences to get restive. But a risk worth taking.
Ranjan's lovers come across as people who do what they do not to impress others, but simply because their heart tells them to behave the way they are shown. Both the lead actors are extremely effective in showing their character's innerworld. Nushrat Bharucha has an author-backed role as the girl who must sacrifice her love to make her parents happy. Not exactly the most novel of ideas. The sincerity with which the young almost-new actress approaches her part, propels it to a level beyond the mundane.
Yes, you feel the girl is trapped in a marriage of compromise where the cruelty is so intangible and prone to sarcasm, that it seems negligible from the outside. Ranjan shows Vani's suffocation through some disturbing scenes of marital rape. Outwardly, Vani's husband is no brute. She carries no signs of his cruelty on her body. It is worse. The soul gets wounded.
In a languorously-shot lengthy stretch of post-marital escape into Utopian happiness, we see Vani united with her lover again. They spend time together, frolic in the snow, live out some of the dreams they had dreamt during courtship. They don't talk much. And when they do, the words are never meant to impress us. For a change, the couple seems to be talking to each other rather than to an imaginary audience.
Though the film belongs to the female protagonist, Kartik Tiwari manages to hold his own with an endearing performance far removed from what he attempted in the director's "Pyaar Ka Punchnama". Both Kartik and Nushrat are here to stay.
Though there are patches of aridity in the relationship (what was Akaash doing while Vani was suffering in malfunctional domesticity?), this is a very good film about a bad marriage, or what havoc a wrong decision about one's life can create.
To his credit, Ranjan is able to hold the lovers' predicament in place. He has a keen eye for the inner life of his protagonists. Ranjan quietly sucks us into the story of Akaash and Vani.
Suffused in contemplative silences and deriving its dramatic energy from the age-old debate on arranged versus love marriages, "Akaash Vani" is thoughtful and absorbing, not prone to tripping over with nervous anxiety and excessive energy to hold our attention.
The world of "Akaash Vani" is far removed from the bantering bawdy backchat of "Pyaar Ka Punchnama". But that is the beauty of the second film. It tells you that the director is not frozen in his initial world.
With first-rate performances by both Nushrat and Kartik, this is one love story you can't afford to miss.