Gehraiyaan: A good premise lost while translating onto the big screen

Updated: Mar 16

Spoilers ahead...

I had made it a point not to read or watch any reviews before watching a film. More often than not, those reviews biased my viewing and I came out of the experience with a coloured perspective. Having said that, it was difficult not to come across the polarizing voices for and against the latest Shakun Batra outing. Though I didn't delve into detail on the specifics of the extreme reactions I was assured of one thing - the film, like Arjun Reddy, can't be ignored. Sure, the film has a lot of content that can be disturbing, but as a piece of art, it will stay forever.

Gehraiyaan chronicles the life of two couples Alisha-Karan and Tia-Zain. Of course, infidelity is a major plot point in the film. But it is largely just that. The film has a lot more to it. It explores the concepts of parenting, childhood trauma, adulting and the repercussions of some of these in the individual's lives. While this is an interesting premise, the execution of this idea from idea to a script and from the script to the screen is not as impressive.

Shakun Batra had already proven how good he is in Kapoor&Sons where he beautifully unravelled the various complex problems of a dysfunctional family. He showed that he was a master in exploring relationships. A modern-day Balu Mahendra, if you will. However, in Geheraiyaan, the director seems to be out of depth. The conflicts of each of the characters, while well shot, are not really felt. Somehow, the characters appear to be at arm's length and don't pull us into their world.

The trailer has one of the characters saying, "Are we just messed up people?" which, in a way summarises and sets the stage for the film. Alisha (Deepika Padukone) is in a six-year relationship with Varun (Dhairya Karwa) and feels stuck in life. Her suffocation is further exacerbated because of the various bottlenecks at work (she is developing an app that corrects Yoga postures) and at home (Varun has quit his job in pursuit of becoming a writer). Alisha is pained by the way she loses her mother and tries hard to not become another version of her.

Tia (Ananya Pandey) is Alisha's cousin who's come to India with her fiance Zain, a rich real estate tycoon (Siddhanth Malhotra) to settle certain property-related issues. Alisha and Varun join the bride and groom-to-be for a short trip to Alibaug where Alisha and Zain hit it off. What starts off as playful flirting quickly turns into a steamy affair. Things take a wild turn as Alisha accepts Varun's proposal for marriage and decides to put an end to her clandestine relationship with Zain. After the engagement, Alisha realizes that she is pregnant with Zain's child. The rest of the film is about how each of these characters finds his/her way to a normal life.

This, as I said before, is a very promising premise. The characters of Alisha and Zain are well fleshed-out. We learn a lot about each of these characters in the flashbacks and expositions. However, the development of their relationship feels rushed. What starts off as a purely physical relationship takes a romantic turn. The iteration of 'I love you' by both Alisha and Zain is not enough to prove this point. The screenplay doesn't really show how this purely physical affair turns so emotional.

The characters of Varun and Tia on the other hand are criminally underwritten. For example, there is an instance in the film where Zain and Alisha click a selfie on the former's yacht. Alisha crops Zain out of the picture but on her shoulder, we can still see his wrist which has a watch that Tia gifted him. You would think that Tia would suspect something on seeing this pic on her cousin's Instagram handle (yes, both the cousins are pretty active on Instagram). However, this doesn't happen. I wonder why. Varun on the other hand feels just like a last-minute pairing for Alisha's character as his presence doesn't add much to the momentum of the film except in one place. Even where he does play a crucial role that changes the course of the plot, he could've been replaced by someone else (the butler at Tia's place or something).

Dialogue is another jarringly disturbing aspect of this film. Each of the characters feels a pathological need to use the F-word at the end of every sentence. This makes me wonder as I did earlier, as to the intention behind these cuss words in the dialogues. Swear words, in my opinion, are an expression of an outburst. They could also be a part of the vocabulary, like in Gangs of Wasseypur or Paatal Lok or Mirzapur. Even if one argues that the F-word is an integral part of everyday conversation among the youth of today, the enunciation of the word in this film feels very forced and uncharacteristic. Also, this film felt like I was watching Deepa Mehta film. Before you guys take offence, let me explain. I don't mean the comparison as praise to the director. Other than the occasional Hindi, even the English in the dialogues feels forced. In this earlier outing, despite the characters being urbanized, the dialogues were in Hindi which made it that much more relatable. Gehraiyaan, however, feels like the constant banter in English was essential to show the affluence of the upper-class characters.

The writing is not all that bad, though. I loved how the important details of Alisha's and Zain's life are cleverly revealed using montage shots, voice-overs and exposition. This made the film just a bit more tolerable and tight. What lacks in the direction department, cinematographer Kaushal Shah and the background score by the Kabeer Kathpalia-Savera Mehta duo more than compensate in their respective works. Kaushal Shah in his colour palettes and lighting beautifully complements the complex turns the relationships take while the music perfectly elevates the overall mood of the film.

Other than Deepika, Rajat Kapoor and Naseeruddin Shah, the actors don't convince in their respective roles. While I was confused on whether I was disappointed in the writing of Tia's character or Ananya Pandey's portrayal of it, Siddhant Chaturvedi and Dhairya Karwa were a bit too laid-back in their respective characters. If not for the wonderful background score that accompanied (or was that a choice the filmmakers made after seeing him act?) in the crucial scenes that involved both of these men, the film would've felt even longer than it unbearably is.

Gehraiyaan is a film that gives you a lot to think about not because of the way it is, but for how it could've turned out to be.

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