16 September 2017
Film: "Simran"; Starring: Kangana Ranaut, Sohum Shah; Director: Hansal Mehta Rating: * 1/2 (3 and a half stars)
Imagine if your child turns out to be a sociopath. This, in one line, summarizes the whimsical plot of Hansal Mehta's film.
Simran or Praful Patel, is no ordinary celluloid creation. She gambles all her savings away in Las Vegas and spends the rest of her time back home in Atlanta robbing banks to pay back her dangerous creditors (played by a mock-mafia of amateurish American actors).
It's hard to imagine anyone but Kangana playing a Gujarati bandit queen, shooting her way through a series of hilariously-staged heists where Praful alias Simran gets to try out several wigs that wouldn't fool a 5-year old, let alone the American law enforcers who take awfully long to cotton on to Praful's get-rich-quick scheme.
As written by Apurva Asrani, the script is a craggy mine-field of mind games, the script's surly skyline is filled with explosive devices threatening to detonate . Fearlessly Kangana walks that extra mile to play Praful/Simran as a muddled, utterly despicable daughter and selfish prospective bride. She is so conceited in her belief in her own right to survival at any cost that we wonder what her suitor Sameer (played with likeable ethnicity by Sohum Shah) sees in her.
In one tender sequence done by a serene lakeside Sameer expresses envy at how complete Praful is as a human being. The irony is completely lost on Sameer. Because Praful is anything but complete. A damaged derailed disjointed piece of bad news, Praful Patel must be the most disconnected heroine we've had in a Hindi movie.
She steals, she lies, she cheats and she makes her parents so helpless and embarrassed, you just want to slap this churlish delusional girl on the face for being such a nuisance.
Hansal Mehta doesn't try to build case for his heroine's sociopathic behaviour. What he does is, put Praful/Simran in situations that make her look progressively compromised and cornered. The narrative has an impressive build-up from a normal bickering Gujju family to all of Atlanta's police force looking for the 'lipstick bandit'. You see, Praful writes warning notes with lipstick before robbing banks.
One doesn't know how much of all this is actually true. The writing is deliberately ambivalent. The narrative takes us just deep enough in the dare-you-to-believe zone to suspend our disbelief. But a bedrock of sincerity and conviction runs through the film. In the way Praful interacts with her father (effectively played by Hiten Kumar) and with her unconditionally devoted and sincere suitor, shows Kangana's character in an utterly flattering light.
Kangana plays the part with a ferocious sense of ownership. There is not moment of Praful Patel's self-destructive hedonism that the character doesn't participate in. Kangana never stands aside. She dives deep into Praful, not afraid of encountering ugly home truths to the unbecoming personality.
That this morally reprehensible divorced child-woman (divorced not only from her marriage but also from a socially acceptable reality because what Praful wants, Praful must get) is shot amidst some of America's most beautiful suburbs, is a bonus. Anuj Rakesh Dhawan's camera lenses lavish much affection on the protagonist's idiotic crime plans.
Kangana looks so much at home in her character we feel she must have been Praful Patel in an earlier life. This of course is an illusion. No human being so flawed and fractured can ever be a role model, even to an actress as giving as Ranaut.
But that's the magic of a film which dares to deal with the ugliness of its protagonist without flinching and with much warmth and compassion. Hansal Mehta never sentimentalizes Simran's anti-social behaviour. He lets the Gujju girl grapple with her demons. Just how disturbed this girl is, comes through in the shocking way she attacks a man twice her age whom she suspects of stealing her money.
She will fight back when cornered, or when she feels cornered.
A More than anything else, this girl needs a shrink. I am talking about Praful Patel. Not Kangana Ranaut.