Shakun Batra’s ‘Gehraiyaan’ Is Compassion for Human Frailty in a Film
By choosing to do 'Gehraiyaan' Deepika Padukone gained new heights as a performer.
There are films which move you and there are films which live in your mind and Gehraiyaan is the latter. The title, which translates to ‘the depths’ is also a metaphor for people falling off the deep end and falling in & out of love and the climax sums this up visually. The writing in Gehraiyaan is reminiscent of the way Shakun displayed his prowess to conjure up everyday characters with not-so-everyday problems in Kapoor & Sons.
The essence of any good film lies in its writing. To reach a point of perfection in the written word is the core quest of every filmmaker/screenwriter, and Shakun achieves that with this film.
The writing doesn’t indulge in smart wordplay yet your ears are attuned to catch some clue, any clue as to ‘what’s going to happen’ to these (wonderfully flawed) people who, like many of us, are running from the consequences of our choices. How does one run away from the past which keeps showing up and haunting the present in ways we don’t even know?
Everyone is capable of such violence – crossing the line which each one of us must face in our lives. Yet we all somehow stay closeted in our little circles of morality and pat ourselves on how well we have circumvented temptation and therefore stand tall amidst our peers or family? What if you succumb and what if you are not able to stand as tall?
What happens to that ideal of a perfect person we are taught to pursue in our moral science classes, where we still allow our family or friends to influence what happens in our day? Does life really change in 48hrs? Or doesn’t it? In this film, both happen.
And that is nothing short of a screenwriting triumph. Gehraiyaan, like its title, goes to a depth which no other Indian film has gone to, especially when it comes to a complicated relationship between a man and a woman. And no other relationship in life is ordinary or simple either.
Beneath each face lies an ocean of unsaid memories and monumental heartbreak. Time can heal but it can never hide what we have done or choose to do. We must face the consequences of our choices- standing tall means standing up to our imperfections. Even the Arabian Sea is a character in this film and what a high and low it takes us to!
One will rush to grab a bottle of water to tackle the drained feeling the film leaves you with. This is a filmmaking triumph! The whole film is an ode to imperfect humans. But find love we must, and move on we shall. I marvelled at Batra’s clarity in not wanting to find answers to existential questions, the right and wrong.
He doesn’t even attempt to show you the good and the bad - he merely shows you what his characters are and what they do when faced with choices.
He shows you how deep unconditional love can be (Nasseruddin Shah makes a brilliant cameo which will make you want to take him from the screen and hug him tight!) and how it can heal you enough to finally find the strength to face your demons yet again.
This is an important film which defines what childhood perceptions of parental love can affect us as an adult, when we are in pursuit of acceptance, of love. Families hide deep secrets and our parents perhaps live their whole lives hiding them because they think they’re protecting their children from their darkness, which is revealed in the post climactic scenes in this film.
I didn’t see it coming and once I saw the scenes unfold, I felt that Shakun Batra dug the skeletons out of people’s closets but he does so with a lot of love and compassion for them. If compassion for human frailty has a movie, it is Gehraiyaan. The craft of this film has to begin with the seamless, wonderfully textured cinematography by Kaushal Shah. The Mumblecore method of filmmaking has been attempted before in Kapoor & Sons, but in Gehraiyaan, Batra makes it the language of the film.
(Mumblecore method - A subgenre of independent film, this method is characterized by naturalistic acting and improv dialogue with a focus on personal relationships of people in their 20s and 30s.)
The key question here is how did a mainstream actor like Deepika Padukone agree to a film like this? A personal, bare your body and soul film which needs her to channel sadness? Deepika proves that to be the number 1 actor of this country, one needs to primarily be a good actor and after that comes the physicality or the uninhibitedness in front of the camera.
Her body is a mere physical manifestation of how a human being gathers strength to survive a damaged past but watch her yogic stance and you will also see a bogged down shoulder, a limp walk which tells you more even when she’s silent. By saying yes to a film like this she reached an immense height as a performer.
In that sense and many more (take the transition points in the editing of the film, which is like Batra invented a new editing idiom altogether) Gehraiyaan is not just an ‘Indian film’ - it’s global - in its emotions, craft, the way the camera moves so close you can see the scars in the lead characters and how the music feels like Alisha and Zain themselves composed the lyrics and orchestrated the rhythm.
To get into such depth and hurl their emotions right back at us, is what Batra succeeds in doing by giving us a film which explores how human beings are just helpless souls, searching for love, who are lost and sometimes found, only to lose themselves over and over again. And nothing is ever ‘The End’. Life in Batra’s universe is one long continuum.
So much of what we see on the outside is mostly not a reflection of what is on the inside. We are a mix of our greys and that’s what defines us and determines our choices.
In this moving and personal film which is engaging enough to be good cinema, much of our empathy for the leads comes from our own experiences perhaps?
Siddhanth Chaturvedi plays one of the most ‘labyrinthian characters’ ever written on celluloid and oh boy, does he hit it out of the park! Gehraiyaan is a heavy relationship film sans superficial humour and truly puts the 25+ urban Indian into much introspection.
To bring to life a concept as abstract as what I’ve described needs a special kind of filmmaker which Shakun Batra truly is. For him, the actors and the technology are equal parts in how well he can narrate his story; in how well he can show you that love is what we are, it is what makes us and destroys us.
(This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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