Gehraiyaan Review: Too Mild To Tap Into Something Real

Gehraiyaan Review: Too Mild To Tap Into Something Real

Rating: 2.5/5

The impending arrival of Shakun Batra’s latest, Gehraiyaan, kindled numerous controversies and conversations in Indian circles: a domestic noir unravelling sexual desire, relentless passion. and profound intimacy. With floating rumours of bold scenes, the film steadily drew criticism, even a month before its release, for what seemed to resemble another painfully orthodox “Bollywood” love triangle. 

So, is Gehraiyaan adept at subverting expectations and refuting the claims of its naysayers? 

Frankly, the film isn’t brilliant enough to shut anyone up: it poses as a wobbly response for its critics, and even worse, a lousy film for its anticipators. 

With his stunning 2016 film, Kapoor & Sons, Batra flourished in unmasking the rotten dysfunction eating away at the core of an Indian middle-class family. Brimming with exceptionally orchestrated conflict, Batra skillfully captured a fractured family, struggling to resolve and reconcile with one another. It’s the heartfelt relatability that stands out, anchored by a phenomenal ensemble and tightly wound script. However, it’s this relatability and an authentic aura which are sorely absent from Gehraiyaan. Batra lays out the ingredients: strikingly beautiful performers, an evocative and crackling soundtrack, and a sizzling premise bent on exploring raw intimacy, as opposed to an overblown romance. Unfortunately, Gehraiyaan, is bogged down by far too many contrivances to truly come into its own.

The film opens with a young Alisha (Deepika Padukone) comforting her distressed and forlorn-looking mother, amidst what seems to be a family crisis. But before we explore this memory nugget further, we are suddenly thrust forth into the present, where an adult Alisha grapples with her career as a yoga instructor.  Here, she is in a live-in relationship with Karan (Dhairya Karwa), a painfully lethargic writer. Gehraiyaan niftily portrays Alisha’s dissatisfaction with her uneventful life, even if it teeters on superficial moments. The narrative finally kicks into gear as Alisha and Karan’s daily tedium is cut short by an invite for a lavish Alibaug trip, courtesy of Alisha’s swanky and affluent cousin, Tia (Ananya Panday). As the pair join Tia aboard a luxurious yacht, she introduces them to her hotshot, real-estate boyfriend, Zain (Siddhant Chaturvedi). With the primary characters now in place, Batra sets the stage for a steamy, swooning, and passionate affair to unfold. 

Gehraiyaan swiftly sets its world and characters in stone, but suffers from a rocky opening. The exposition is tediously blatant, and the scattered mix of lines in Hindi and English works more to the film’s harm than to its favour. It’s clear that these are modern Indians thriving in urban settings, but lines like, “Believe in yourself” and “Life is all about choices” seem more like half-cooked pearls of WhatsApp wisdom, instead of rousing inspiration. But once Batra disposes of these irksome little concerns, Gehraiyaan gradually begins slipping into form, beautifully building up its central romance and casting a sharper focus on its intimate storytelling. As the torrid affair rages on, Batra handles it with supreme nuance and grace, tastefully capturing the spectrum of falling in love. Even the songs, as is the tradition with Indian romances, are a delightful addition to the film’s proceedings. They never feel intrusive or tiresome. It’s all blissfully smooth sailing, until it isn’t.

The critical flaw that ends up being the undoing of Gehraiyaan is just how manufactured it all is. There was a crucial sense of subtlety that underscored Batra’s sophomore feature, Kapoor & Sons. It gave a distinctive sense that we are witnessing a real family suffering a dysfunctional lapse, but Gehraiyaan desperately lacks this authenticity that powered Batra’s earlier works. One can literally sense the screenwriters shifting around characters like pawns sprawled on a chessboard. They rarely feel like real people making ugly choices. Reactions and meltdowns seem awfully cued, and the proceedings are evidently staged. 

It also doesn’t help that the narrative is one giant wagon with no well-defined destination. Pouncing from one strange plot point to the next, Gehraiyaan stumbles between a raunchy affair, an emotionally volatile character study, a corporate drama, and even a twisted thriller. The outcome is a disjointed and confounding jumble that struggles to ascertain one tone for itself. 

Some of the English dialogues have an almost interruptive and stilted quality to them, jutting out awkwardly in crucial scenes. Hindi lines naturally function the best, but it’s unfortunate that Gehraiyaan never knows when to strike this balance, confusing English for urban authenticity, when some heartfelt Hindi could have done the trick as well. 

The larger point being, Gehraiyaan struggles to create genuine moments, perpetually oscillating between being too convenient or too convoluted. Tension builds and dissipates at the drop of a hat, strictly as per screenwriting convenience. While Gehraiyaan is indeed a mildly riveting and somewhat worthwhile journey, it chucks off all its credibility in a ludicrous climatic twist; it’s as massively unpredictable as it is tremendously unsatisfying.

When the film’s proceedings have been steadily simmering and nearing an explosive finish, the third act twist was perhaps the last thing Gehraiyaan needed. It shields contrivance after contrivance with enough twists to sink you in, but never dazzles or impresses. While much has been said about the performances, Gehraiyaan is a tad bit of a letdown in that regard as well. Deepika remains a class act, with a sublime performance that crackles with nuance and a quiet intensity. Her eyes convey a tremendous volume of emotions and the sheer power of her performance certainly stands out. But for those saying it supersedes her work in Piku, well…. perhaps that’s going a bit too far. 

Gehraiyaan assembles a breathtaking, albeit weakly put-together cast. This isn’t to say that Siddhant Chaturvedi, Ananya Panday, or Dhairya Karwa are terrible actors. If anything, they’re exceptional performers, but Gehraiyaan needed a different, more emotionally attuned, and subtler cast. 

Therefore, it’s only natural that experienced performers like Rajat Kapoor’s Jitesh (Zain’s business associate) and Naseeruddin Shah’s Vinod (Alisha’s father), remain incredibly impactful even in minuscule segments. Siddhant Chaturvedi is extraordinary in his pondering moments; he has a smouldering intensity that truly lends layers to his character. But alongside Deepika and in his outbursts with Ananya, the actor is shockingly unremarkable. It’s almost as if he needed some extra prodding to go there in terms of his performance, but Batra regrettably never pushed him to do so. 

The same goes for Ananya Panday, who’s spot-on with some passing moments, but loses steam during confrontational scenes. Her character is one that requires profound subtlety, sharp introspection, and a general demeanour to hold her own against Deepika. Despite her earnest attempts, Ananya fails to lend brevity to the relatively simple yet complex character of Tia. Dhairya Karwa sincerely tries, but is honestly reduced to a dead-weight character, fueling Deepika’s angst and emotional crisis. 

Again, Deepika and Siddhant bear chemistry as the forbidden lovers succumbing to their fervent desires. However, the heavy-handed scenes of conflict seem too artificial, given how uneven the two performers are during their heated arguments. 

Kaushal Shah’s cinematography, on the other hand, is exceedingly gorgeous and minimalistic, a refreshing departure from the conventionally bright and colourful  Bollywood fare. But it does leave one wondering: how do we stir empathy within ourselves for these perfectly-toned lovers, who nag about money but hop from five-star hotel rooms to yacht trips in a jiffy? It’s something Zoya Akhtar attempted with Dil Dhadakne Do, but you’d imagine that someone with Batra’s sensibilities might cast an even sharper eye on the tumultuous lives of the rich, and wrap it up in a soul-stirring tale of intimacy. Well, think again. 

This isn’t to say one must avoid Gehraiyaan; if anything, the film has garnered a very split reception, so it’s certainly worth a watch to formulate your own opinion. You might profoundly dislike it or be deeply moved by it. I, for one, was gravely disappointed by Shakun Batra. Until his fourth film…

Gehraiyaan is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. 

Watch the trailer here.

Author Biographical Note: The author is currently pursuing a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Jai Hind College, Mumbai. He is currently working for Explore Screen: The Cognitive Dialogue in the capacity of an intern.

Related posts: Ritwik Ghatak: A Director Ahead Of His Times

Hyper Narrative Interactive Cinema: Letting the Audience Participate in The Movie

Waheeda Rehman: In a Male-Dominated Industry, She Set Her Own Rules

From Around the web