By Subhash K. Jha
Film: Manmarziyan; Starring Abhishek Bachchan, Tapsee Pannu, Vicky Kushal; Directed by Anurag Kashyap; Rating: **** (4 and a half stars)
Imagine if Mani Ratnam had sex in his mind for Moun Ragam. Yes, the same story that Sanjay Leela Bhansali made into Huma Dil Chuke Sanam about a marriage of inconvenience where the kind patient husband desists from consummating the marriage until the wife comes out of her earlier relationship.
Imagine if the wife can't come out of her stuporous obsession with her first love because, hell, the sex with Vicky(Kaushal) is toooooo good.
The girlfriend-wife is played by Tapsee Pannu who seems to get more confident with every film. Her Rumi is no walkover for sure. Nor is it someone you would want as your wife, or your son's wife or even as son's friend's wife. She is an unabashed epicurean...and the fact that Tapsee can play this super-annoying selfish woman without making us cringe is in equal measures a triumph of writing (Kannika Dhillon) and performing.
Take the sequence where Tapsee's Rumi rides a mo'bike to her future husband's home and tells him, sorry, she can't marry him. But hey, she can talk to him on Facebook. And she rides off.
Outrageously self-absorbed Tapsee plays Kangana's small-town harridan from Tanu Weds Manu multiplied by 10. She is vixenish yet spontaneous, arrogant in her selfishness and yet not unlikeable. Tapsee brings out all the contradictions in her character. She spares us none of Rumi's churlishness. By the time she heads to Kashmir for her honeymoon with her husband on the rebound, I was hoping someone would slap this unapologetic self-server hard.
Fate does that. The trouble with a pleasure-seeker like Rumi is, she is given a lot of leeway by the people around her. Her Punjabi joint family consternation at her sickeningly self-gratifying behaviour with Vicky comes through in spurts of hurt and indignation.
Not that Rumi cares. She is arguably the most annoyingly self-absorbed romantic heroine seen on screen. Vicky Kaushal as her cheesy DJ lover has worked hard on looking his part. The hair and the clothes and the body language exude a sense of self-limiting rebellion. It is never very clear whether the passion between Vicky and Rumi is all about sex, or something more.
While Tapsee and Vicky give bust to their robust parts, it is Abhishek Bachchan, whose quiet character creates a space in the heart of the plot and lodges itself in the library of the luminous by respecting the character's need to remain noble without seeming over-sweetened or simply stupid.
Manmarziyan takes the traditional love triangle to a new level of expression, articulating an idiom that cannot entirely avoid tedium. After Rumi marries Robbie the narrative runs out of steam. There are repetitive scenes in the second-half which could do with some serious pruning. In spite of its flawed flow due to its extended length Manmarziyan is a winsome romantic tale which dares to ask a very basic question from diehard romantics: love is all very well, but what else?
(Subhash K. Jha can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)