The new DC superhero film is a morose mood piece.
But is that enough to salvage Shakun Batra's relationship drama...
One doesn't want to live in the past and the other can’t let go of hers. A troubled childhood may be the common ground to bring 30-year-old yoga instructor Alisha Khanna (the inimitable Deepika Padukone) and real estate shark Zain Siddiqui (an affable and low-key Siddhant Chaturvedi) together, but they are quickly ensnared in a quagmire of their own making, that draws everybody in its wake to the depths of despair.
Shakun Batra boldly ventures into the tangled web of messy modern day relationships with Gehraiyaan.
Sparks fly when Alisha and Zain first set eyes on each other in a fancy yacht ferrying them to the playground of the rich and the famous, Alibag, and not even the presence of their better halves can keep these two troubled souls apart, as they embark on a deadly game of seduction.
She is in search of a better life for herself, and the unbridled drive and passion of her entitled cousin Tia’s fiancé draws her in like a moth to a flame.
He is a forbidden object of fancy but her own deprived childhood and her deep sense of insecurity tinged with envy towards her more affluent cousin goads her on. There is a constant sense of pall that envelops most scenes of Gehraiyaan that is hard to shake off.
The furtive love affair, which initially seems pretty romantic quickly spirals into grey territory since in contrast you have the wide-eyed innocence of Zain’s fiancée, the naive and privileged yet extremely likeable Tia (played most wonderfully by a wide-eyed, innocent Ananya Panday) and the laid-back and happy-go-lucky Karan Arora (Dhairya in a breezy role that sadly is no match to the rest of the primary cast).
While the focus remains on all four characters and the baggage that they each come with, Alisha and Zain are at the centre of the storm.
And somehow, it is the latter whose psychopathic charm and ruthless ambition is driven by an abusive childhood, that you end up empathising with.
It’s not that Alisha’s own disruptive childhood and her dysfunctional relationship with her father (Naseeruddin Shah in a short but impactful role) doesn’t play in our mind. But her increasingly growing demands and hankering after Zain at the cost of her relationship with her own family is something that is hard to make peace with.
Gehraiyaan showcases a world where every character is flawed; yet even as some seek redemption, a few are incapable of escaping from the ghosts of their past, while others are oblivious to their own culpability in the enfolding tragedy.
What constitutes morality? How far will you go to carve out your own happiness at the expense of those close to you? How your past is coloured by your own prejudices and when you are forced to face the reality of your existence, can you then make peace with yourself - are all questions the movie throws up.
Batra makes his ensemble cast delve into the nook and cranny of every uncomfortable feelings until you feel completely immersed in the raw emotions.
The music keeps pace with the broody atmosphere, be it the soul encapsulating Gehraiyaan or the soaring Beqaaboo - they play out like a lilting soundtrack that soars through the ups and downs of Alisha and Zain’s doomed relationship.
The waves are a constant imagery that washes over the screen, every time Alisha feels suffocated and stuck in her situation. The breathlessness is something the viewers can identify with, and while the element of being non judgemental might work among the characters within the movie, it is difficult as an audience not to be drawn towards the more innocent of these four. Batra also ensures the storm is just gathering speed with the not so subtle end.
The latter half of the movie veers into shaky territory with unexpected plot twists and a shocking turn of events. Yet the central character emerges unscathed with nary a scar on her psyche which is hard to come to terms with for viewers who may be invested equally in the other characters.
Deepika is in top form throughout the movie, showcasing her character's vulnerability through a delicate shift of expressions, alongside a steely determination to get ahead in life. It is a bold role for her to sink her teeth into and kudos to the actress for taking on a character that is not just extremely flawed, but also not very likeable.
Siddhant is able to convey Zain's angst with minimal fuss, and Rajat Kapoor, who plays Zain's ruthless business associate, is his usual dependable self.
Gehraiyaan in many ways is an uncomfortable watch, throwing up questions about the role of destiny and choice in one's life.
While some lucky ones like Khanna (Shah) are able to make peace with the past, for certain other characters it is not so easy to break the shackles of genes and therein lies the conundrum - are you defined by destiny or the choices you believe you are making?
Gehraiyaan leaves one grappling with questions of one’s own, long after the waves have receded.
Director: Shakun Batra
Cast: Deepika Padukone, Ananya Panday, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Dhairya Karwa, Naseeruddin Shah, Rajat Kapoor
Rating: 3 out of 5
Gehraiyaan is streaming on Amazon Prime Video
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