When the trailers for this film hit all the usual channels, the unusual pairing of Sonam Kapoor and Dhanush had the audience talking. Ms Kapoor known for her glamorous real life persona was shown as a simple girl in a small town whilst Dhanush, in contrast, was being shown as a common street boy falling for the girl. Apart from this, not much else was known about the film; however it was clear that it was set in a political landscape. A R Rahman۪s music score for this film had got people talking with the title song and Tum Tak۪ hitting the airwaves, perfectly melodious for the warm summer nights.
In the streets of Benares, a young Kundan (Dhanush) is causing havoc when he spots little Zoya (Sonam Kapoor) praying and instantly falls in love. From then on, he devotes his life to Zoya and grows up adoring her from a distance, desperate for her to notice him. After plucking up the courage, cajoled by his best mate (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), teenager Kundan finally tells Zoya how he feels and receives a slap for his trouble. Kundan will not give up and gets slapped 16 times by Zoya before he even finds out her name. She finally falls for him after he threatens to kill himself by slitting his wrist with a blade. However, their love is not meant to be and as soon as Muslim Zoya۪s parents find out she likes Hindu Kundan, they cast her away to live with her aunt. Eight years later, Zoya returns a young woman where Kundan has been silently binding his time waiting for his lady love to return.
First things first, this is not your typical average Bollywood love story and it should be taken as such. The film takes you on such a journey that it is easy to immerse yourself within the lives of these characters. It has been a while since a male actor has led a film so strongly and Dhanush does this flawlessly. His charisma as a small town innocent boy in love growing up into a disillusioned young man is brilliant and he really can hold his head high for this film. Looks can be deceiving and playing Kundan in this film, it needed an actor who could be the underdog and he carries this off with charm. Ms Kapoor certainly has upped her game when it comes to her acting skills and she is convincing as Zoya and matches Dhanush۪s emotions in every scene.
The supporting cast in this film have to be mentioned as they really do add life to this film. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub as Kundan۪s quirky and yet brutally honest best friend compliments Dhanush perfectly and their banter keeps the audience laughing even in the most emotion heavy scenes. Swara Bhaskar is also great as Kundan۪s smitten childhood companion who really does not have a look in with him but always continues to try to get his attention. The only person who came across as miscast was Abhay Deol as Zoya۪s love interest as he looks a lot older than a college student and though he is a pivotal character, it is hard to see what Zoya sees in him.
There definitely is an air of director Aanand Rai trying to tackle some serious political issues which are preying on the minds of young people in India. There is the vague mention of women being harassed on the streets of Delhi in one scene and the country۪s casual take towards it. Political corruption is also rife in the latter part of this film and there is a particularly amusing scene where the privileged friends of Zoya try to ponder why people are poor in India. Religion is another issue being tackled in a big way but whether the big questions are answered, it is hard to tell.
The music soundtrack by A R Rahman is flawless in this film and blends into the storyline, bringing scenes to life and truly adding colour to the screenplay. Tum Tak۪ and Tu Mun Shudi۪ are very well contrasted into the film and the nature of the soundtrack means that it helps make the story flow rather than act as a break for the audience.
Raanjhaana is a true surprise of a film and really is worth a watch in any case, if only to see Dhanush really excelling in his acting debut. The characters of this film are treated as real people and brutally so, but this is what makes this film appealing. In an era where Bollywood films are airbrushed even more than the actors themselves, it is refreshing to see a film that shows the reality that young people face in a relatively small town landscape.
Star rating: ****