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'Raanjhanaa' review: It's both delightful and devastating!

Aanand L Rai
Dhanush, Sonam Kapoor, Abhay Deol, Swara Bhaskar, Mohammed Zeeshan
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Benares: where amid the small gallies, and around the local chaat-wala, a very young romance is about to blossom.

The pundit's son Kundan (Dhanush) has fallen for the girl at first sight. That they're both kids makes us dismiss it as a meaningless crush. But a few years later, the boy is still in love with the girl, Zoya (Sonam Kapoor).

When she's in school, he follows her around holding her hand and getting slapped in the process. Despite behaving like a harassing Roadside Romeo, there's something that separates him from them. Finally, she relents because of his "consistency", but there's more drama to follow. For many more years.

The promos will have you dismiss this as yet another love story between a loutish boy and a sophisticated girl who's out of his league. But the story is bigger than their romance, or romance per se.

The film shifts cities when Zoya gets into JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University), and through her, we are introduced to the idealistic and political culture of the place.

She discovers a long-lost strength as she confronts and then falls for student leader Akram (Abhay Deol). The film takes a turn when Zoya returns to her hometown after eight long years only to find some things changed, and others surprisingly the same.

The second half, inspired to an extent by recent activities in the capital, has student leaders challenging the establishment, with the romance intertwined, often suffocated, somewhere in between.

The film has dialogue and scenes that will stay with you. After debating with herself, this writer has chosen to give you an insight into one of the film's best scenes. This is where a character is climbing the building's pipes to meet his beloved. When caught by the student political party, he says he's a thief.

In a deliciously humorous twist, the students, instead of handing him over, debate on how the establishment makes robbers out of people, while offering him tea and samosas.

Or the scene by the river banks where Panditji, as Kundan is fondly called, proposes to his ladylove with a cheesy card that opens to the Kenny Rogers classic Oh my love.

The film is not without flaws. The stance that Kundan takes – following the girl even when she slaps him, slitting his wrists if she says no, is highly regressive and objectionable. Especially in our country that has the roadside Romeo culture where the man often refuses to accept a no, thinking that harassing a girl into saying yes is the way to go.

Also unfair is the way Zoya is manhandled by Akram when they first meet. What exactly is the director trying to say?

And again you wonder why Zoya keeps seeking favours from Kundan, when their equations do not favour it.

Zoya's irrational decisions when she's in charge of affairs are also a tad disappointing, since it feels like an aside from her character. Clearly, while the director has created an interesting and powerful female character, he hesitates to give her credit all the way.

Despite the flaws, the characters are largely moulded with heart. Kundan turns out to be quite a revelation. Zoya, again turns out to be a memorable character – one with several contradictory qualities and unexpected layers.

Abhay's Akram appears much later but is equally delightful. His hero-like entry saw several sighs from the ladies in the theatre.

The casting is a dream. Dhanush is quite magical as Kundan - as vulnerable as he is headstrong. Sonam Kapoor is impressive, especially in the second half when her character comes into its own. Abhay Deol is superb.

Beautiful cinematography, art direction, styling, editing are a treat. A R Rahman's soulful music coupled with Irshad Kamil's evocative words is one of the film's solid strengths.

However, it is the masterful (with a Shakespearean touch) folding of politics with romance that remains director Aanand L Rai's (Tanu Weds Manu) triumph. You wonder which aspect interests you more. Yes, the romance is dealt with far more complexity than the slightly simplistic idealism of student politics, but they're both equally arresting sides to the story.

Plummeting to the depths of darkness and rising beyond unconditional love, the film shows us myriad shades of love – both delightful and devastating. How many stories do that?

A film about the politics of love and the love of politics – Raanjhanaa is a must-watch!

Rating: 3.5 stars


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