Complex adult relationships are a rarity in Indian cinema, let alone infidelity. But every once in a while a Bollywood movie comes along and treats its audiences as grown-ups. Flawed characters, romance, betrayal and beach getaways, ‘Gehraiyaan’ – Shakun Batra’s latest directorial has all the makings of a twisty love story. With an endlessly watchable ensemble cast featuring Deepika Padukone, Ananya Panday, Siddhant Chaturvedi and Dhairya Karwa, the film serves an intimate, authentic look at modern human relationships. And it isn’t afraid to dive head-first into the deep end!
Gehraiyaan is a lot of things. It’s easily one of the buzziest titles arriving amidst much speculation and some of the expectations have been met. But more than anything else, the film is about normal people. Alisha (played by Deepika Padukone) is a yoga expert hoping to launch her own app. She has been dating and living with Karan (played by Dhairya Karwa) who is an aspiring writer, fresh out of his advertisement job. The pair have a long-overdue plan to meet Alisha’s cousin Tia (played by Ananya Panday) who happens to be Karan’s best friends, you see the three grew up together. Joining Tia is her fancy, yacht-owning fiancé Zain (played by Siddhant Chaturvedi) who’s in real estate. Almost instantly, sparks fly between Alisha and Zain.
For all the attention Gehraiyaan garnered owing to its unconventional approach, the film keeps it real and at times painfully relatable. It opens with a young Alisha in her mother’s arms while arguing with her father about starting over and choices, in the way married couples do. As an adult, Alisha holds the belief that she’s cursed. So when she hangs out with Zain who talks about always having choices at a pretty Alibaug beach house where she feels most at home, it gives her comfort. Meanwhile, her relationship with her boyfriend of six years is a mess. They argue often, about money and being open with each other. Against this backdrop, Alisha’s newfound friendship with Zain enters murky waters. It starts small – harmless flirting, text messages and a yoga session till it turns into a full-blown affair.
Come for the Deepika Padukone show that Gehraiyaan is, stay for the steady performances from Ananya Panday, Siddhant Chaturvedi and more.
First things first, the cast and crew of Gehraiyaan weren’t lying. Intimacy in this film is not bolder or even steamier than usual. In fact, the film has some understated sex scenes that aren’t shot or choreographed through the male gaze. It’s refreshing. And it’s easy to see that the cast is comfortable, much to the credit of intimacy director Dar Gai. Shakun Batra sets up the affair in a way that the cheating takes place on yachts and hotel rooms – holiday spaces close to tranquil waters so that it feels like an escape from reality. That’s precisely why it’s so jarring when the characters are brought back to their everyday lives and forced to confront their guilt. So no, sex isn’t a hook here, the characters are. As Alisha, Deepika Padukone is at once beautiful and tragic in a heartbreaking way. Between her traumatic childhood experiences, an estranged father (played by the ever-reliable Naseeruddin Shah) and an underlying sense of being stuck in life, she pulls off quite the range of emotions. The actress is best known for picking challenging roles and Gehraiyaan is yet another testament to her versatility. Once the affair enters turbulent waters, a ripple effect that is felt by both couples, Padukone goes to some pretty dark places.
And while this is a Deepika Padukone show, she has a solid ensemble to rely on. Ananya Panday has perhaps landed her most important role as Tia. She’s clearly at her career-best as someone with a seemingly perfect life and engaged to a man she loves. Tia has her own flaws and even secrets but as a to-be married woman trying to figure out a marked change in her fiance’s behaviour, she’s a sympathetic character. Panday has come a long way in an incredibly short time. The same goes for Siddhant Chaturvedi who after his breakout performance in Gullyboy, has matured as an actor although he’s somewhat lacking in comparison, it’s nothing that hurts the film too bad. Meanwhile, Dhairya Karwa who falls short in terms of performances is at least convincing as the everyman. With a sprawling runtime of over 2 hours, Gehraiyaan ebbs and flows into some wild directions and that’s not always a good thing.
Nothing will prepare you for the plot twist this film has in store.
We knew the film was going to be sneaky when suspense was listed as one of the genres. If you think the much-hyped trailer has given away the entire plot, you are mistaken. Without going into the details, let’s just say Gehraiyaan goes from frolicking on a yacht and love stories to crazy-eyed thriller very quickly. The second act gets really dark and the film’s tone does a 180 flip. Sadly, what could’ve been an exciting bunch of sequences is instead a meandering and increasingly tangled subplot. This right here is the film’s only and biggest crutch considering the second half is still about an hour of the movie. I for one, wish I liked the movie better for all its promise and potential. The same goes for the film’s music. It doesn’t slap nearly as hard as it did when the soundtracks were having a moment of internet virality.
Gehraiyaan does exactly what it promises. The film’s exploration of authentic relationships goes far beyond modern dating. The star-studded cast’s talents are on full display, especially with Deepika Padukone leading the pack. The film has flaws, much like its characters and they aren’t easy to overlook. But as an experiment in grey characters with their own nuances and stories, it works. The film is a conversation starter that’s bound to make waves.
Covert artwork: Bhavya Poonia/Mashable India