Hamari Adhuri Kahani has outstanding cinematography and fine performances. But in trying to pack too much layers the film eventually loses its track.
Hamari Adhuri Kahani begins with the lonely and tragic death of a middle-aged woman who drops out of a public bus somewhere in the no-man’s land called Bastar filled with extremist violence and land mines that can blow one up before one realises it. Cut to a middle-aged man insisting that his wife, wearing a bright red dress, spoke to him that very morning to his psychiatrist that tells us that he is mentally ill. His wife Vasudha has just died. Jump cut to a white-walled room filled with silent people with serious expressions and clothed in white to spell out that someone has passed away and this is the funeral or shraddha. The silent gathering is disturbed by the entry of the crazy man who insists that his wife’s ashes – the garlanded portrait of the woman with the flowers and the lamps – must not be washed away by river waters but must be strewn across Bastar where she died alone on the lonely streets. He says this after making a few dirty comments about his late wife’s moral character and finally, when the grown son throws him out, he makes sure that he carries the urn filed with his wife’s ashes with him. The son picks up the diary his father has left behind and the film goes into flashback.
The cinematography is outstanding but loses out because of the sudden leaps in space – Dubai, Kolkata, Cape Town, the works and also between the tiny lamp-lit altar in Vasudha’s home juxtaposed against the massive rangoli design on the Dubai hotel floor in celebration of Diwali. These touches neither elaborate on nor enrich the content in any way. They create a hallucinatory view for the audience. There are too many songs on the soundtrack and therefore, one is confused to slot this film within a definite genre – love story, suspense thriller, musical or any other. The music is subtle, underplayed and good but the songs are wasted because all they do is drag the film’s footage till you want to doze off.
The diary which is almost like a thick hard-bound book is a retelling of “events as they actually happened.” Now wait a minute. How can Hari who was absent from Vasudha’s life almost for the entire film get to know what happened between Vasudha and Aarab after he went missing? How could he narrate Vasudha’s life in Dubai and the intimate realities of her relationship with Aarab? No one knows. The screenplay writer and the director probably chose to keep these complexities away from the love story. But that weakened the script so much that there was hardly any film left. What happened to Vasudha and her son after Aarab died in Bastar in a mine explosion? Why did she migrate to Kolkata and how did she lead such a cloistered but lush life till her death two decades later? How did the owner of 108 hotels but no home suddenly fall in love with a simple florist? “You remind me of my mother,” he says and we are taken into a flashback-within-a-flashback with the teenager Aarab watching his mother (Amala Akkineni) sing at a starred hotel to eke out a living for the two of them. This is meant to rationalize Aarab’s sudden obsession for Vasudha but it rings false. The five-star lavish ambience of a Dubai hotel fails to justify its owner’s determination to win over his married lover’s heart.
Vidya Balan’s portrayal is flawless as she emotes with her eyes that keep changing from surprise to shock to pain to pleasure and back to pain as she traverses the rocky journey as a single mother whose husband has abandoned wife and child and has lost himself somewhere in Bastar. She writes greeting cards to her son in the name of her husband to console her little boy Saanjh. Vidya has a right to pick and choose her roles but Vasudha is certainly a wrong choice. Emran Hashmi is distinctly uncomfortable as the love-lorn hotelier who cancels his flights to follow the hotel florist he cannot live without. His face is devoid of expression for the most part and his generosity in trying to prove Hari’s innocence to save him from the gallows is a bit too much. After Shahid, Queen and Talaash, Rajkumar Rao as Hari proves once again how versatile he can be in an extremely layered role like the violent husband he has portrayed in Hamari Adhuri Kahani. One wonders whether Aarab is playing Jesus Christ or Vasudha is playing Sita. There is a clear reference to Sita and Radha from mythology drawn by Aarab’s mother who lives for her comatose lover and says “dhadkanon ke bhee niyat hoti hai” whatever that is supposed to mean. The two boys – the one who plays the little Saanjh and the teenager who plays the young Aarab are brilliant and that is an understatement. The brief cameo by the heavily tattooed Suhasini Mulay as Vasudha’s angry mother is a bit over-the-top. Amita Akkineni as Aarav’s mother is too sweet and sugary to be real. The actor who plays the Kolkata hotel owner who refuses to sell his place to Aarab is very good indeed in a brief role. The same goes for the police officer who has sympathy for Vasudha but nothing beyond that.
A mangalsutra that plays the disappearing act when Vasudha falls in love, or her husband Hari’s name tattooed on her forearm much against her wishes and through intense physical pain play strategic roles in making a woman decide to stay within a marriage where the husband symbolises everything that is evil in a man – suspected of being a terrorist who has killed four Americans, abandoning a wife, possibly pregnant to fend for herself, coming back to her for refuge when the police is chasing him, beating her up black and blue when she says she has slept with the man she loves and finally, admitting to terrorist acts he did not commit just so that his wife tries to save him from the gallows and in so doing, cannot marry the new man in her life – Aarab.
Some stories are best left untold, specially stories that lose their focus and forget what they had in mind somewhere along the way. Regressive ideologies women harbour is another drawback of Hamari Adhuri Kahani directed by Mohit Suri. His last film Ek Villain, a psychological thriller, demonstrated his rising command over his medium without reflecting his links with the Bhatt family. But Hamari Adhuri Kahani cannot compare with Ek Villain.
The fact that a mangalsutra can keep a young woman tied to a marriage that has ceased to exist is not a fact anymore, it is an illusion. So is the character portrayed by Vidya Balan. It is a very regressive character after the radically unconventional characters she has portrayed in Ishquian, No One Killed Jessica, Paa, Dirty Picture and Kahani. Agreed, that an actor has the right to explore her versatility by slipping under the celluloid skins of different characters. Vidya Balan’s Vasudha in Hamari Adhuri Kahani is a case in point. But does this justify a regressive portrayal that defies every kind of logic and is filled with unexplained and illogical time-and-space leaps? Editor Rohit Makwana must have enjoyed these time and space leaps that alternately must have made him pull at his hair wondering what was happening. With too many layers filled into this club sandwich of a love story – domestic violence, arranged marriage, patriarchal values, desertion, terrorism, single parent issues, adultery, fragrant white lilies, mangalsutra, tattoos, mine blasts, Durga Pooja, Diwali in Dubai and so on – the director obviously lost his way in this jungle of issues and the Hamari Adhuri Kahaani lives up to its title. One desperately hopes that Suri who built up his directorial career riding on sequels, does not make a sequel to make this ‘kahaani’ ‘puri.’
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