Mohit Suri’s half-baked tale of love and betrayal lacks soul, and is a terrible waste of acting talent.
Hamari Adhuri Kahani
Director: Mohit Suri
Starring: Emraan Hashmi, Vidya Balan, Rajkummar Rao
His face fell when he heard the bad news. He couldn’t believe it; he asked again to make sure. He didn’t need to. The cold, hard truth was staring him in the face on the computer screen the man at the box office was pointing at. “Only one ticket, sir. Second row.” The attendant gave him a sympathetic smile and suggested he watch Jurassic World instead. No, too much violence. He eventually settled for Dil Dhadakne Do, but even that didn’t seem to put his mind at rest. He rushed back, worried about what he would tell his girlfriend, not even realising that he’d forgotten to collect the tickets and his change.
Standing behind him in line, I was thrilled at fortune smiling on me for once—somehow, I’m always fifth in the (four-seater) auto queue—gleefully snapping up the last ticket. However, instead of a packed house watching Mohit Suri’s Hamari Adhuri Kahani, I walked in to find a documentary on the life of Ashok Kumar playing before a hall that was at most half full. The crowd started trickling in, presumably from the food court, only after the advertisements were over, meaning that whatever emotional impact Suri hoped to achieve with his opening sequence was lost due to the beam of light that would appear on the screen every time the door opened and the next group of audience members sauntered in, taking their own sweet time to find their seats.
It’s unlikely that the cloying mess of a sequence would have worked better even if it had had our undivided attention. The film opens with a woman getting off a bus on a solitary highway, 15 km from Bastar. (In case the audience is confused where that is, the bus has “CHHATTISGARH” emblazoned on top.) She staggers on the road, then falls, one arm outstretched in classic Devdas fashion. Cue weepy Arijit Singh music and title card. You don’t need the subtitle to know that this is “A Mohit Suri film”.
“Mohit Suri film”, of course, is code for “Bhatt Brothers film”, which is code for “shoving Emraan Hashmi down our collective throats”.
“Mohit Suri film”, of course, is code for “Bhatt Brothers film”, which is code for “shoving Emraan Hashmi down our collective throats”. Hamari Adhuri Kahani is Suri’s tenth directorial venture; eight of them have starred his cousin, the films ranging from the moderately bad (Zeher, Kalyug) to the downright unwatchable (Crook: It’s Good to be Bad!, Raaz—The Mystery Continues). It’s no coincidence that the few films in which Hashmi’s performance has been lauded (The Dirty Picture, Shanghai, Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai) have nothing to do with either Suri or the Bhatts; they were the rare occasions where he stepped out of his comfort zone, where his character had actual depth and subtlety. Most importantly, though, these were films where Hashmi wasn’t the centre of attention, though that might be post hoc ergo proctor hoc: the films aren’t good because he isn’t the biggest attraction; they can attract better talent because they’re better films.
Aarav Ruparel, his character in this film, is textbook Hashmi, the kind of cookie-cutter leading-man performance that makes you wonder what the people who go on about his alleged talent have been smoking. Like most of his Bhatt-film roles, it’s a shoddily crafted archetypal, yet scarcely believable, character—an über-eligible bachelor who has everything money can buy, except for the love of his life, a buyer of hotels for whom home is Seat 1A on his next flight—charting a familiar arc, with no character development whatsoever, spouting grandiloquent dialogue that is as cheesy as it is inane. He brings nothing new to the table, but then nothing is ever really asked of him in this sterile, paint-by-numbers romance.
The beginning of the second half illustrates this point, as the plot rapidly goes off the rails, unravelling much like the film’s protagonists. The titular unfinished love story is between Aarav and Vasudha Prasad (Balan), a single mother who works as a florist in a fancy hotel that Aarav buys. He’s impressed by her dedication to her work and touched by her courage in raising a kid on her own—her husband Hari (Rao) disappeared a month after said kid was born—and offers her a job in his new Dubai property. The interval comes just after Aarav realises the extent of his feelings for Vasudha, rushes back to Dubai and declares his undying love for her through song.
Like most of his Bhatt-film roles, it’s a shoddily crafted archetypal, yet scarcely believable, character charting a familiar arc, with no character development whatsoever, spouting grandiloquent dialogue that is as cheesy as it is inane.
All this is too much for Vasudha, who doesn’t seem to have any feelings but gratitude for her benefactor. The second half begins with her fleeing in the most incompetent way possible. (First, she leaves a note with her roommate, knowing full well that she will go tell their boss. Second, her great escape plan seems to involve her wheeling her suitcase along the desert road all the way to the airport.) Aarav chases her down in his car and confronts her, and she provides perfectly justifiable grounds for rejecting him: that she’s not some commodity who can be bought, that she’s still legally married, that she didn’t wouldn’t have accepted his charity is she had known his ulterior motives.
Fine, he says, I’ll let you go, but first I want you to meet someone. Whoosh! They’re in Shimla, where Aarav takes her to meet his mother. The Oedipal subtext is inescapable. After all, the main reason he loves Vasudha is that she reminds him of mum, a former cabaret singer who raised him singlehandedly. “Kaun hai yeh banjaaran,” mommy asks him, “joh apni si lagti hai?” A woman, he replies, to whom I want to provide every happiness in the world, but who doesn’t know how lucky she is. Aww, dear, she coos. You need to stop being Sita and embrace your inner Radha. Presumably, Vasudha is too sanskari to argue with an elder, for she neglects to mention any of the qualms she had had in Dubai, and after a little more emotional manipulation (Aarav pretends to say goodbye for ever), she rushes to him, to seal their now mutual love with an affectionate…hug. (I suppose Mrs Roy Kapoor isn’t allowed “bolder” scenes, even with Bollywood’s serial kisser.)
What follows is run-of-the-mill love triangle plotting, complete with perfect timing (Hari comes back in her life the day before she is about to formalise their divorce). What little novelty is created by Hari’s seemingly ambiguous character is soon lost once you realise Suri is far more comfortable dealing in black and white than in shades of grey. Whatever chemistry existed between Hashmi and Balan in The Dirty Picture has long since been lost; their interaction seems wooden and forced. There are way too many inconsistencies and loose ends to catalogue, and the reductive politics are too cringe-inducing to ignore, even by the standards of “mindless entertainment”. (It’s not just the interchangeable use of ‘Naxalite’ and ‘terrorist’ that is problematic. Vasudha’s tendency to shuttle between pliable, traditional aadarsh naari and assertive, applause-generating-feminist-rant-spewing modern woman seems a truly mindless attempt at pandering to changing times.) The melodrama, annoying at first, becomes comical by the bitter end—like most other Mohit Suri ventures, the film has no sense of irony, no awareness of its own ridiculousness.
What little novelty is created by Hari’s seemingly ambiguous character is soon lost once you realise Suri is far more comfortable dealing in black and white than in shades of grey.
The Bhatts have never pretended that their low-budget masala entertainers of the last decade or so are anything other than the cynical commercial ventures that everyone knows them to be, copious amounts of sex and/or violence or lowest-common-denominator plotting compensating for any lack of production values or logic or acting talent. The problem with Hamari Adhuri Kahani, I suppose, is that it makes that pretence, both with the florid dialogue that pervades it, and the pedigree of its star cast, two-thirds of which has won National Awards, after all.
Hamari Adhuri Kahani has a proper budget, more than that of the last three Vishesh films put together (not counting their March misadventure in bringing us Emraan Hashmi in 3D, Mr. X). What it lacks, however, is a soul.