Sunday, September 20, 2015

Tu Hi Re: no surprises!

The short story Neither A Song, Nor Fiction by Sindhi writer Popati Hiranandani very endearingly narrates the growing insecurities of a young woman married to a woefully unromantic man. Being thwarted at every attempt to infuse a little romance in her dry domestic life, she starts harbouring fears of losing him to another woman. The husband's staid, even boring personality makes it easier for the reader to empathize with her emotions.

The writer and director of Tu Hi Re could take a leaf out of the late Sindhi author's book. The film tries very hard to make you worry about Nandini (Sai Tamhankar) and Siddharth's (Swapnil Joshi) marriage, but I did not buy it for a second. Not when the film's nominal bad man, the evil politician Kamlakar Bhanushali (Girish Oak) offers Siddharth a load of cash to leave his wife. Not when said wife learns about her husband's past affair with Bhanushali's lovely daughter Bhairavi (Tejaswini Pandit). Not when the sweet and simple Nandini goes out of her way to afford Siddharth one more meeting with the earstwhile object of his affection. Not when an excruciatingly loud Sad Song burst my fragile eardrums goading me to worry about Siddharth and Nandini's 8 year old marriage. Not even when their little daughter voices Nandini's worst fears. I just could not get myself to worry. Or to care.

In the aforementioned short story, it is the husband's personality and the dynamic of the marriage that make the wife's fears seem plausible. Here instead we have a saccharine sweet first half of watching the couple coochie-cooing all over the town. We are given no reason to doubt Siddharth's dedication to his wife and kid. And you can't blame the movie too much. Popati's hero would not be as multiplex friendly as the ever smiling Swapnil Joshi. But then in 2015, can we really get ourselves to worry over such a trivial issue as a husband's long forgotten college romance?

The premise of Tu Hi Re would have made a compelling watch in the 90s. Not just because that generation would make a bigger deal about such an issue, but perhaps a Marathi filmmaker of that time would be able to tell this story more honestly. This story belongs in a quintessentially middle class setting, where marriages are arranged, romance belongs in the fictional world of the movies, and subjects like past girlfriends are not discussed. The couple in this movie is too urban, too polished, and too 'cool' to sell its central conflict.

This seems to be the bane of mainstream Marathi cinema of late. In its attempt to be at par with mainstream Hindi films, it is losing its middle class roots. The SRK-Kajol chemistry of its lead pair can wring a few smiles from you, but it cannot keep you at an edge. the role of Siddharth needed the broodiness of say, a young Amitabh Bacchan or the seriousness of Vijay Anand from Kora Kagaz. To cite more Marathi examples, given my limited exposure I can only think of Dilip Kulkarni in Chaukat Raja, the family man with his very understandable discomfort over his wife's growing closeness to her retarded friend.  This is a man who can surprise you, and before the film ends, he does. Or Manohar Joshi in Tu Tithe Mee as the retired gent who has been so busy tending to his duties as the provider for the family that his wife seems unacquainted with his gentle loving side. In one of the film's most touching moments, the wife mentions a letter she wrote him decades ago, early in their marriage, pouring her heart out to her young husband for the first time, that he never bothered to answer. On reply, the old man pulls out a tattered piece of paper from under his pillow - it is the same letter, which he had carefully preserved all these years, and which he now recites word for word. He has always felt very deeply for her, he explains, only never been able to express.

These are stories driven as much by personalities as by circumstance. I have always found Marathi films most adept at exploring the psychological aspect of these simple yet deeply personal stories. Getting inside the heads of your characters can lead to some of the most intense and affecting moments in film - like Amitabh's outburst in Zanjeer when he feels suffocated by his resolve to keep our of harm's way for the sake of the woman he loves. It can also get messy, and you cannot be emotionally honest while looking pretty.

Perhaps it is Swapnil in the role of Siddharth that's the problem. The dude is just too... nice. There's nothing dark or mysterious about him, no hint of secrets. He is believable enough in the flashback scenes of candy floss romance around a plush college campus. But I could see no difference between the freshly graduated Siddharth of the flashback and the much married Siddharth of the present.  I wonder what someone like Sandesh Jadhav might have made of this role.

There is a moment in the film where the wife registers surprise on hearing of the escapades of a young Siddharth. Like most emotions in this film, I could not share in her surprise.

No comments:

Post a Comment