Gehraiyaan: Pushes the Envelope of Commercial Hindi Cinema
An homage that goes beyond its inspiration
Gehraiyaan is a tough film to review - especially in the context of all the hate it has gotten online since its release. So this take is not only an attempt to decode the film but also its reception by the Indian public.
First off, Gehraiyaan is Shakun Batra’s version of Woody Allen’s domestic noir masterpiece Match Point. That said, it is not a copy or a ripoff. It is in fact a legitimate homage. It probably wouldn’t have existed without Match Point, but also attempts to go beyond its initial inspiration.
More importantly, I believe Gehraiyaan pushes the envelope of commercial Hindi cinema, which in itself makes it a very important film. I would call it a watershed moment in Hindi cinema but that will only be decided by its long term impact on the minds of cinema lovers.
Shakun Batra’s third film, Gehraiyaan is as well made a Hindi film as you will ever see. It is shot to look authentic to its milieu and characters, and it creates an ambience that seamlessly conveys the complexities of its characters, their choices and their emotions. It creates a world that is real enough to feel - and its biggest flaw has something to do with that world as well.
You see, Gehraiyaan is set within the life styles of the uber rich in India. That immediately makes it unrelatable (to some extent) and an easy target for toxicity for vast swaths of the Indian audience. The setting is also fairly baffling because the same story with very similar characters and themes could have been told in a more relatable middle class setting. I guess.
The story is about a girl who comes from a complex family history that has left her scarred and anxious for life, and who meets a seemingly self-made millionaire and is immediately attracted to him despite being in a six year long relationship with a very nice man. This millionaire also happens to be her billionaire cousin sister’s fiancé.
The attraction leads to a series of entanglements, deceit, lies, guilt and complex feelings with which my generation of Indian metro dwellers have sadly become all too familiar with. This is perhaps the first time that our collective journeys have been captured on film in India. Gehraiyaan is for us what Life in a Metro was for the 80s and 90s generation.
Batra creates realistic and complex characters and he has cast the right people for the right roles. First and foremost among them is Deepika Padukone.
I do not think it would be hyperbole of any sort to say that Padukone is the most improved actor of her generation in world cinema. She was never meant to be a Konkona Sen Sharma or Golshifte Farahani, but anyone who followed her work in the early part of her career could never have imagined that she would turn in a performance like Alisha in Gehraiyaan. She doesn’t miss a single beat, and can now be considered a serious actor in the league of the Nawazuddin Siddiquis and the Tabus.
Her Alisha is so real that you know her or someone very much like her in your life. The character’s choices have come under much scrutiny since the film’s release - like why would she jump into an affair with her cousin’s fiancé, especially when she is in a relationship with a pretty good man already?
While I agree to some extent with these criticisms, my problem with Alisha’s choices is more intellectual than moral. The reason given for her choices is her troubled past and shaky persona - but in my humble experience, the kind of people who come from the kind of background that Alisha is shown to have, are in fact even less likely to act recklessly than the average person, because people like that who are always on the edge are always overthinking and overanalyzing every move.
Her choice to get into an affair with her cousin’s fiancé was something that someone with a more carefree mindset would do. I understand that strong attraction is a factor, but that would explain maybe straying one or two times - but to enter a full on affair with this man without a care in the world doesn’t exactly make sense. But then again, neither does life. And so to Alisha and her choices I say, fair enough.
Equally well etched out and well performed characters are Siddhant Chaturvedi’s Zain and Ananya Pandey’s Tia. We always knew Siddhant could act, so more on that later, but Ananya Pandey is the real surprise in the film. Her performance only goes to show that with a good director and a good script, India’s millennial actors are capable of being so much more than glam dolls.
Chaturvedi’s is perhaps the most complex or greyest character in the film. But what’s refreshing about these grey shades is that they reveal themselves slowly and gradually over the course of the film - and not only to the audience but to the character himself. The story of Zain in this film is the story of just how low a man can slowly go in his quest to have it all. And all his moves are real. You may not agree with this choices, and honestly the guy is an asshole to begin with, but you will understand his motivations as he spirals further down into a grave that he dug for himself.
Gehraiyaan is a very important film, the first of its kind, that tries to explore the complexities of modern day relationships in the same way films like Masoom did back in the 80s. It is also the first time that the lives of my generation have been held up with so much love and attention and authenticity for the world to understand. It goes much deeper into the complexities of human minds and relationships than any Hindi film in my recent memory, and for that it needs to be celebrated, the hate from the moral police notwithstanding.
Yes it is a bit of a ‘first world problems’ kind of film, but then who would insist that cinema must only ever be poverty porn?
Do not miss out on Gehraiyaan. If you do, you may end up missing out on a bit of yourself.