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How Raanjhanaa holds enough of its own marvels to justify multiple viewings?

  1. Conception, plot and setting

The blood in the veins of the two protagonists, it might seem to some, is deeper than the water that flows in the river: as the film progresses into the second half though, it will immerse you intellectually in the tenor of Benaras, the clarity of childhood love, the repercussions of the blinding optimism it effects and even in trifling recurring themes of falling cycles and slit wrists. Look for subtext? Aanand L Rai goes well beyond a mere romance.

The first half and a part of the second are set in Varanasi. The film captures the spirit of the location in a manner that provides the narrative its core.

We are introduced to the protagonists through a voiceover that takes us back to events in the bustling lanes along the Ghats of Varanasi where a genial but impulsive drifter Kundan (Dhanush), son of a Tamil-speaking temple priest, meets a pretty girl Zoya (Sonam Kapoor), daughter of a Muslim professor. The boy obsesses and loves Zoya, to the extent that every slap and rejection is a thorn disguised as a flower in his mind. Teenage love is thwarted when the boy’s bleeding wrist sparks a scandal; an eyewitness tattles to the girl’s parents, and she lands into big trouble.

Aanand L Rai who gave us an acute, well-observed small town sensibility in his first film Tanu Weds Manu, builds the drama at a gentle pace, taking care to create the right kind of physical and psychological spaces for the characters to breathe and evolve in.

It’s neither simmering nor constrained but bears a quaint mystery, which deepens as they alternate to justify and contradict their actions. Hindu boy Kundan Shankar pursues Muslim girl Zoya Haider with such tenacity that the latter is compelled to give in, if only briefly. Conflicting personality isn’t some gimmick in Raanjhanaa. But in the same movie, another girl Bindiya is head over heels in love with our hero Kundan, but she is rather intelligent; how? ~ Instead of slitting her wrist she believes in feeding cows.

The idea on the banal level is to depict a connection between two individuals developing with a different set of priorities. Eight years on, Kundan is still the boy he was, but Zoya is now a different individual, no longer the carefree, fun-loving schoolgirl of yore. While one grows up, and in the process grows out, of the comfort zone to evolve, the other remains dedicated to a single-minded aspiration. Zoya breaks free from parental control when she enters JNU in Delhi and discovers a new life and her own voice, inspired by an ambitious and idealistic student leader Akram (Abhay Deol).

We get a real, non-touristy Delhi and an engagement with current events: the farmers’ agitation in Bhatta Parsaul, shades of Arvind Kejriwal-led ‘people’s party’, the students agitation at India Gate after the December rape. Zoya’s love interest Akram is a politically active JNU lad who dreams of a better India.

What salvages Raanjhanaa is its unconventional take on love: the vibrant, recognizable human tableaux that unfolds in the background gives Raanjhanaa a distinctive feel.

2. Three important performances

Dhanush slips effortlessly and lends sustained energy to the character. Even when he is exasperatingly impulsive, the character remains endearing; thanks to the boyish charm that the actor exudes.

Sonam Kapoor delivers a rock-steady star turn, moving from innocence to cynicism, and from demure to worldly wise in a smooth arc. She does not miss the tricks in conveying the emotional ups and downs of a small-town girl who grows out of her moorings over a period of nearly a decade.

The playfulness and intensity that Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub exhibits consistently to the character of Murari, the hero’s inseparable friend and confidant, is what keeps the film ticking. His strong screen presence, dialogue-delivery and complete surrender to the role lead to the kind of unselfconsciousness that is so absent in Bollywood newbies.

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