Bollywood is full of stories about brothers and sisters who will do anything to show their love for their siblings. Vishal Bhardwaj’s “Pataakha” (Firecracker) is a complete departure from that trope.
Badki (Radhika Madan) and Chutki (Sanya Malhotra) are sisters who are perennially at loggerheads. And they need only the slightest of provocations to physically assault each other - from stolen cigarettes to borrowed clothes.
They fight in the rain, in the mud, in their house and on the street, snapping at each other incessantly, much to the chagrin of their harried father. To make matters worse, the sisters are egged on by the town’s busybody Dipper (Sunil Grover), who amuses himself with their duels.
Badki and Chutki cannot wait to get away from each other, but fate has other plans for them. The men they fall in love with and marry coincidentally turn out to be brothers.
Bhardwaj makes no secret of the fact that the tale of the two sisters is a metaphor for warring countries, especially India and Pakistan. There are multiple references to the rivalry and smart lines about former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf. Their grandmother-in-law is likened to America, whose presence prevents the two from openly fighting with each other.
The only problem is that it is difficult to notice the humour in a film that mostly has two women constantly screaming at each other. There’s only so much you can digest, and it is difficult not to shake off the feeling that this is a scene from one of the many daily soaps that flood Indian television.
After a while, the film feels stretched and you can see the inevitable conclusion from a mile away. Both Madan and Malhotra put up spirited performances, as does Grover. Vijay Raaz as the distressed Bapu is a treat to watch, but even his performance loses its sheen towards the end.
“Pataakha” should have been a short film, but it got inexplicably extended into a 136-minute full length feature. Much like his protagonists, Bhardwaj doesn’t know when to cut it short and walk away.
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Edited by David Lalmalsawma