In Anurag Kashyap’s “Manmarziyaan” (What the heart wants), the conflicts are not external. The characters elope, break off engagements and indulge in all manner of transgressions.
Even though the film is based in the relatively conservative town of Amritsar in Punjab, family and society don’t form the hurdles in the path of love. It is the tumult within that causes most of the drama - a refreshing change from regular Bollywood romances.
When we meet our protagonists, Rumi (Taapsee Pannu) and Vicky (Vicky Kaushal) are in a no-holds-barred relationship. They love each other with an abandon and a recklessness that is fascinating to watch on screen.
He is a man-child, fickle about his career, willing to partake in all the perks of a relationship and reluctant to own up to the thorny parts. She is headstrong, clearly wears the pants in the equation, but also hopelessly addicted to Vicky.
When Robbie (Abhishek Bachchan), a seemingly staid, vanilla banker from London is suggested as an alliance for Rumi by their families, things blow up.
Vicky is unable to get past his commitment issues and is convinced that Rumi would never want to be with anyone but him. She is determined to prove him wrong, even if it is out of spite.
Robbie has also fallen hard for Rumi, telling a friend: “If I can be an option for her, why shouldn’t I take that chance? Why should I give up?”
The story draws on the city of Amritsar, absorbing all the characters and colour that it offers. People talk and curse in chaste Punjabi, which might be difficult to grasp for those not familiar with the language.
Kashyap has a worthy collaborator in music composer Amit Trivedi, whose electric score adds an added layer to the film, much like it did with “Dev D”.
Even though the rough contours of “Manmarziyaan” matches films like the 1999 romantic drama “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam”, the treatment is different.
This time, it’s the woman’s story, and Taapsee Pannu owns every bit of her role. She is more than just the object of desire in this film. She has agency, and is willing to steer her own path in life, no matter how many times she changes her mind about it.
Pannu is ablaze on screen, and it is hard to take your eyes off her. Kaushal is equally good – at once petulant, childlike and suddenly cheerful, bringing a vulnerability to Vicky that saves him from being the villain of the piece.
Bachchan, in keeping with his character, brings a worldly-wise tone to Robbie. But when it comes to emotional outbursts, he cannot match the intensity of Pannu or Kaushal, both of whom have immersed themselves in Rumi and Vicky. Bachchan seems to be looking in from the outside as Robbie.
Inspite of that, the performances are the best thing about the film, because after a while the script falters. Having set up the story beautifully, Kashyap and the film’s script writer Kanika Dhillon seem to give up mid-way.
As the end nears, knots untie magically, the cobwebs clear, and the end seems to come together a little too neatly.
For a film that waxes eloquent about the unpredictability and volatility of love, the end feels like an unnecessary cop-out.
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