Cast: Radhika Madan, Sanya Malhotra
Director: Vishal Bhardwaj
It’s funny that the protagonists of Vishal Bhardwaj’s new film Pataakha - a pair of bitterly squabbling sisters - are named after flowers, the very emblem of serenity and peace. We’re first introduced to Champa and Genda as little girls spitting curses at each other. That quickly segues into a scene, a few years later, of a schoolyard fight. Now older, the girls are still abusing each other, landing blows, practically tearing each other’s hair out as a crowd gathers around them, taking in the 'tamasha' and cheering them on.
That’s pretty much the routine in this village in Rajasthan where the frequent clashes between Champa Kumari or Badki (Radhika Madan) and Genda Kumari aka Chutki (Sanya Malhotra) have become a source of entertainment for the neighbors. The girls fight over anything...from 'beedis' to boys, and everything in between, even as their desperate father (Vijay Raaz) struggles to tear them off each other.
There are other characters too, and Bhardwaj has fun with them. Most entertaining of the lot is Dipper (Sunil Grover), the local mischief-maker, thus named for his lazy eye, who adds fuel to girls’ fire for the heck of it. There’s also the village rich guy, a sleazy, vindictive fellow, Patel (Saanand Verma), who’s a complete hoot.
The ensemble, including the men who play Badki and Chutki’s respective love interests, fit nicely into the world Bhardwaj has created. But the problem with “Pataakha” - which, incidentally, is adapted from a short story - is that it just doesn’t have enough plot to merit a 136 minute film. Squabbling siblings as a metaphor for India and Pakistan is the big idea - and frankly the one promising idea - of this film. But the script strains to make that analogy, particularly in the film’s second half, when we meet the girls as married women, pursuing careers.
It’s a shame because there’s much to appreciate here - a robust music score by Bhardwaj himself, set to clever lyrics by Gulzar. Also efficient camerawork, production design, and impressive performances from the young ladies in the lead. Both Radhika Madan and Sanya Malhotra sportingly throw themselves into these shrill characters, never holding back for fear of coming off as unlikeable. These are unusual heroines for a Hindi film, and when the script works the two actresses make a meal out of their parts.
Ultimately Pataakha feels inconsistent and never fully satisfying. It’s a lightweight offering that’s got its sparks, but doesn’t quite live up to its firecracker name. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.
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