Gehraiyaan seems to be aurally thin, which serves as a clue to the larger issues plaguing the movie, observes Rohit Sathish Nair.
Early on in the Shakun Batra directorial Gehraiyaan comes a scene that is slightly similar to that brilliant one from his previous feature film Kapoor and Sons,, the one where the sons of the family return home after years and go through their objects of nostalgia separately.
The scene in Gehraiyaan has the some sort of a reunion.
Yoga instructor Alisha (Deepika Padukone) and adman-turned-author Karan (Dhairya Karwa) reunite with Tia (Ananya Pandey; Tia is Alisha's cousin and Karan's friend from college) and her fiancé Zain (Siddhant Chaturvedi) at Tia's beach house in Alibaug.
We see Tia and Karan simultaneously going through the former's memories of her childhood and making up for lost time between them. On the other hand, we see Alisha and Zain introduce themselves to each other and bond over the latter's aching back and their dark histories.
Batra plays them out simultaneously and even lets the conversations bleed into each other.
The rest of Gehraiyaan, though seems to be aurally thin, which serves as a clue to the larger issues plaguing the movie, and they make themselves apparent soon after the aforementioned scene.
Stuck in mismatched alliances, Alisha and Zain find themselves drawn to each other. But this progression feels rushed and the architecture of the scenes depicting this doesn't seem to be naturally achieved.
The two don't seem to be sharing with each other a lot else other than sad stories of the past, and even before we know it, we are watching songs and montages of courtship, subterfuge and clandestine lovemaking.
A briefer way to say it may be, we get to know of the sources of the characters's sorrows, but we don't get to know enough of what they derive their flaky little pleasures from.
We only seem to be moving from their sorrows to their fears and vice-versa.
This particularly hurts the rest of the proceedings because we don't know the exact nature of the matrix of 'pleasure, fear, sin and crime' that the characters inhabit.
The movie also suffers from insulation of other kinds, for example, the interaction (or slight lack of it) of the characters with other people, the outside world and nature, so much that the real event that sends the principal characters to their doom (one of Zain's investors at his real estate firm gets arrested for money laundering) feels like an impending anvil from above, rather than something that sets off a genuine domino effect.
We get a lot of shots of waves, the rain and squealing seagulls, but they are just that -- not a lot more than just B-roll.
We see further choices being made to isolate the characters, with the shot-reverse shot style and a lot of single shots and over-the-shoulder shots of the principal players, and thus we don't see enough of how much they move around each other and within the spaces.
We are not sure to what extent this was intended to cover up for the dialogues not really bouncing off (initially, Padukone's lines reek of a little stiffness of articulation) but one thinks what could have been, with there being more master shots or at least two shots instead of or along with all the singles.
This method strikes one as more curious when you consider how the weighting of the characters's histories and features mostly tilts in Alisha's favour.
Two of the other three in the quartet are rather simple, what-you-see-is-what-you-get characters, Tia and particularly Karan, but what we see more than hopeless, almost tragic incongruence, is plain insensitivity (particularly in the case of the latter).
Siddhant Chaturvedi doesn't seem the actor who can eloquently express Zain's particular mood, and it hurts more when you don't get clues of his particular brand of hustling other than the rage of feeling excluded and the supposed middle-class fighting spirit.
The only performance that, in a sense benefits from the gap, and by extension the only character with genuine mystery, is that of Naseeruddin Shah's (as Alisha's father). Every action, feeling and thought a little blurred and half-done, he walks around loaded with the film's biggest secret, only to have Tia reveal it most unceremoniously.
All of this sums up to the effect of watching a very sentimental brand of noir, where their actions stem directly from their sorrows, and by extension, the twists don't precipitate in a particularly evocative manner.
In fact, as true as Deepika's tears feel, the scene where she comes across as most electric is one where Alisha and Zain get into an argument at a parking lot (also one of the few scenes that mirror both Zain's past and his future).
Another such scene among the better ones in the movie also takes place in a parking lot, where Rajat Kapoor (as Zain's associate Jitesh) can't stop yelling at and scolding a sobbing Alisha. You are with both characters to some extent at that point, and thus the scene becomes sad, and also horrifying funny, making you laugh inappropriately.
You get reminded of better, more accomplished movies as you keep watching, like the Dibakar Banerjee short in Lust Stories, whose Sanjay Kapoor's character makes you see how conventionally the Ananya Pandey and Dhairya Karwa characters have been written.
You also get reminded of Mayaanadhi, another film about a crime that jeopardises a few lives, and you see that Gehraiyaan is a little too sparsely detailed in comparison -- the first half-hour of the former comes with more than five culinary transactions (for lack of a better phrase), and yet each such dealing had something new and different each time to say about each character.
Great films have you sharing the highs of the characters as well as seeing their weaknesses as extensions of your own.
'Mass' films are essentially about characters relentlessly exhibiting individual (and at a few other instances, collective) brilliance and they let audiences projecting themselves onto the big screen.
A particular kind of unaccomplished film makes you self-exalting, thinking about all the right decisions you'd have made if you were in the characters's shoes.
It's weirdly amusing when a film has you thinking of all the right things to do (Seek help! Use contraceptives!), and also has you thinking like Georgekutty/Vijay Salgaonkar/Suyambulinga (insert preferred Drishyam protagonist).