Silvat (2018): If you haven’t seen this 2018 digital film which you can easily locate on Zee5, you haven’t seen what Kartik Aaryan is capable of. We can safely say it is a tailor-made role for the young actor. Playing a Muslim darzi in the crowded gully of what looks like Mumbai’s Haji Ali locality, Kartik is every bit Anwar, the shy sensitive tailor who develops a secret passion for his favourite client: a lonely abandoned wife Noor (Meher Mistry) whose husband has migrated to Riyadh for a job with nary a glance back for the woman he has left behind. The focus of the passionate plot, pulsating with unspoken ardour, is Noor. But it’s Kartik’s Anwar who silently steals the show. There is no exhibition of outward passion here. And yet so much is said through Anwar’s eyes. Every stolen glance is laden with longing. When she asks if he would like a cup of tea, Anwar knows it’s just a ruse to make him stay longer than his job allows. His reply to the kind offer, ‘Maine kabhi chai ke liya naa bola hai?’ says everything without saying anything.
This is Kartik’s only film with a female director. It is evident that he blossoms as an actor under the female gaze. I have always been fond of Tanuja Chandra’s work. She understands women, men and the dynamics that govern human relationships. In the 40 minutes of playing time in Silvat, there are a lot of unstated emotions. It as if the writers chose to leave the words out because they knew there was little time to waste here. Tanuja Chandra whips up a muted urgency between the couple. They know their love can never be. That there can never be a silver (crease) on the bed as long as the husband is away.
Tanuja’s eye for detail is astute and comprehensive. The interiors of Noor’s tiny home where most of the plot unfolds is every bit what it should be, Functional, neat, desolate….The film is shot on location in a Muslim locality with streetside vendors frying parathas and malpuas, hawkers selling bangles. The bustle of the street is weighed against those heavily loaded silences between Noor and Anwar. They know they cannot cross the wall that divides them. A married young woman dutifully waiting for her absconding husband to return home cannot give in to her emotional and physical desires. This is 1997. And riots don’t happen only on the streets. Sometimes they also occur in a woman’s lonely heart.
Akaash Vaani (2013): Strangely this undiscovered gem too is about a mixed marriage and its fatal consequences. In one of the film’s high dramatic moments shot on a small deserted railway station in the night, the film’s protagonists, now estranged by an unfortunate series of circumstances, sit on the bench and...well, they sob. Yes, they simply cry their hearts out. First, the girl. Then in a melancholic celebration of the me-too syndrome, the boy, now alas no longer a boy (and he smokes to prove it) also breaks into little sobs that build up into a wail as the shehnai, indicative of a cruel marital joke, plays in the background. The sequence in the hands of a lesser director would have fallen flat on its sobbing face. Luv Ranjan has the punch-filled boys-will-be-boys saga Pyaar Ka Punchnama behind him to prove his solid grip over the grammar of the hearts of the young and the confused.
Akaash (Kartik Aaryan) and Vani (Nushrratt Bharuccha) seem clueless about what they really want out of life, or from each other. Is Akaash fooling around with her in the college? Is he serious in his filmy antics? Or filmy in his serious antics? Ranjan’s screenplay takes the lovers from the corny escapades and frigid philosophizing of the college campus to the precipice of heartbreak. The journey given a vivid visual manifestation by Sudhir K Chaudhuri’s fluid camera-work is made with ample feeling and remarkable restrain. Unlike other contemporary celluloid raconteurs, Ranjan is not fearful of silences. He doesn’t fill up every conceivable nook and corner of the storytelling with words and music, though I must state here that Hitesh Sonik’s background music and the songs in the latter part of the film go a long way in building an appealing case for the lead pair’s star-crossed relationship. If Akaash and Vani seem so lost without each other it’s a lot to do with the way their emotions are pinned down by the words and the music that underline the course of their togetherness.
On many occasions Ranjan allows the lead pair to share silences. A rarity in today’s cinema where it is presumed that the average moviegoer has the attention span of a sparrow looking for twigs before the rain starts pelting down. There are long meditative stretches of just simple non-verbal communication between the protagonists. It’s a risk to allow audiences to get restive. But a risk worth taking. Ranjan’s lovers come across as people who do what they do not impress others but simply because their heart tells them to behave the way they are shown. Both the lead actors are extremely effective in showing their character’s inner world. Nushrratt Bharuccha has the author-backed role as the girl who must sacrifice her love to make her parents happy. Not exactly the most novel of ideas. The sincerity with which the young almost-new actress approaches her part propels the part to a level beyond the mundane.
Yes, you feel the girl trapped in a marriage of compromise where the cruelty is so intangible and prone to sarcasm that it seems negligible from the outside. Director Luv Ranjan shows Vani’s suffocation through some disturbing scenes of marital rape. Outwardly Vani’s husband is no brute. She carries no signs of his cruelty on her body. It’s worse. The soul gets wounded. In a languorously-shot lengthy stretch of post-marital escape into Utopian happiness, we see Vani united with her lover again. They spend time together, frolic in the snow, live out some of the dreams they had dreamt during courtship. They don’t talk much. And when they do the words are never meant to impress us. For a change, the couple seems to be talking to each other rather than to an imaginary audience.
Kartik Aaryan manages to hold his own with an endearing performance far removed from what he attempted in the director’s Pyaar Ka Punchnama. He is here to stay. Though there are patches of aridity in the relationship (what was Akaash doing while Vani was suffering in malfunction domesticity?) this is a very good film about a bad marriage, or what havoc a wrong decision about one’s life can create. To his credit director, Luv Ranjan can hold the lovers’ predicament in place. He has a keen eye for the inner life of his protagonists. Their inner turmoil is palpable and urgent. Seldom since Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s have we wished so intently to see two people in love be united. Ranjan quietly sucks us into the story of Akaash and Vani. Suffused in contemplative silences and deriving its dramatic energy from the age-old debate on arranged versus love marriages, Akaash Vani is thoughtful and absorbing not prone to tripping over with nervous anxiety and excessive energy to hold our attention.
The world of Akaash Vani is far removed from the bantering bawdy backchat of Pyaar Ka Punchnama. But that is the beauty of the second film. It tells you that the director is not frozen in his initial world. With first-rate performances by both Nushrratt and Kartik, this is one love story you can’t afford to miss.
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