Despite a theme as old as Jane Austen’s books, there is something immediately alive and pulsating about Anurag Kashyap’s latest outing, Manmarziyaan.
It could be Vicky’s peacock-coloured spikes or Rumi’s thick mop of wild red hair. Or their uncontainable passion for each other. Or Amit Trivedi’s all-engulfing, hypnotic music that — too brilliant to remain in the background — assumes a solid, layered identity of its own. Or it could be Kashyap — the madman at the heart of it all. It could be one or all of them that prevent Manmarziyaan from being the shadow of a story that finds its way to the 70mm screen at least once every two decades.
At a time when most films are marred by a deep originality deficit, Taapsee and Vicky — through their effervescent characters — give Manmarziyaan an elusive freshness, a fiery urgency. But the one person who remains at the periphery despite being placed right at the centre of the hustle is Abhishek Bachchan’s Robbie. In the middle of all the vivid vivacity of Kashyap’s cinematic universe, it is disappointing to see still Abhishek straddled with a character he first played 15 years ago.
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We were rehearsing a rather intense scene.... I know it doesn't show from our body language. But, this is how @anuragkashyap10 approaches such scenes. He makes the environment and atmosphere very relaxed and allows his actors time to just effortlessly slip into the mind space he wants. This was a very new approach for me but I really enjoyed it. He removes the stress and hustle-and-bustle of the set and just gives his actors space and time. A true luxury if you've ever been on a film set. And once everyone is at ease and ready he throws you a curve ball!!! "Let's shoot this entire scene in 1 shot"!!!! ♂️ #RoadToManmarziyaan #Manmarziyaan #TakeTwo : @khamkhaphotoartist
Remember his Prem Kumar from Sooraj Barjatya’s 2003 dud Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon? As a man hopelessly falling for a woman who is in love with another, he was arguably the only good thing about a film that bad. He reprised the role of the mature, understanding and all-forgiving man smitten with a flawed woman once again in Pradeep Sarkar’s Laaga Chunri Mein Daag. But that too was 11 years ago.
Today, seven years later, ‘truly, madly, deeply’ has become ‘fyaar’ and heroines no longer spend an entire film trying to justify an unwed pregnancy. They get an abortion instead, which they passingly mention sans any hurt or heartbreak. But Abhishek Bachchan, even after a two-year professional hiatus, returns with Manmarziyaan only to be where he was 15 years ago.
He, of course, is an obvious choice for Robbie. But such predictability saps vitality from a film that has a Rumi, a Vicky, a Kashyap and a Trivedi.
While Rumi and Vicky are a refreshing first, we have had several Robbies before, even if we exclude the ones played by Abhishek himself. Shashi Kapoor’s character in Kabhi Kabhie and Ajay Devgn’s in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam — much like Robbie — were also compassionate husbands to women still in love with their former partners.
Sure, Abhishek has evolved since his Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon days. His performance in Manmarziyaan is more nuanced, his eyes more intense, but is his Robbie as heartfelt and earnest as Devgn’s Vanraj (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam) or as charming and breezy as Kapoor’s Vijay Khanna (Kabhi Kabhie)? Hardly.
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In between takes while shooting the beautiful track "chonch ladiyaan". Possibly one of the fastest song shoots I've ever done. @anuragkashyap10 finished shooting the day in about an hour! 2 shots and he was done. Hence, we had a lot of time to hang out on set as is evident in the above photo. #Manmarziyaan #RoadToManmarziyaan #TakeTwo : @khamkhaphotoartist
In fact, it was while watching Manmarziyaan’s second half that it hit me what a terrific performance Devgn had delivered in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s 1999 romance-drama. Devgn’s Vanraj makes you root for him. With Robbie, you empathise, but never root.
Eighteen years into his acting career, it is time Bachchan Junior went beyond Robbie. Not that he hasn’t. He sure can act, and well. From interesting to impressive, several of his performances have been praiseworthy. But a Bluffmaster, a Guru, a Paa, a Yuva, or a Bol Bachchan are so few and far between in his filmography, that one forgets.
An Anurag Kashyap film is a great way to make a comeback, but Robbie is the only safe thing about an attempt as bravely honest as Manmarziyaan. Abhishek Bachchan doesn’t need safe right now. Considering his calibre and steady charm, what he needs is a leap of faith — for himself and for people who want to see him do more and do different. Because he can.