Shiuli is out of a coma but won’t recognise Dan in front of the doctor. This upsets Dan. Rukhshana, a demon-child raised in shackles inside a forest hut, finds refuge in a Bengali man’s bachelor pad. Rumi has honeymoon sex with Robbie, just so she can text Vicky about it. Sonu doesn’t want Titu to go with Sweety. A Pakistani officer bonds with his Indian (spy) wife over a shared love for music. And — as the moon rises over the accursed temple-town of Chanderi — a ladies tailor gets measured up by a mysterious stree.
2018 has been a year of crazy romances. A young, innovative bunch of actors and directors made us see love from the underside — warts and all, twisting old plots into newer and funnier shapes — while an aging superstar went for broke to convince us he can still pluck stars at will. Many of these stories looked at affection at its most ordinary: a couple strolling down Marine Drive, for instance, in Aadish Keluskar’s disturbingly acerbic Jaoon Kahan Bata Ae Dil. Others revelled in the contradictory shadow lines between love and desire, like the Netflix anthology film Lust Stories, while still others took on bigger beasts like religion (Kedarnath) and caste (Mukkabaaz). As we fold up another year of good and bad romances — in films and otherwise — here are a few Bollywood love stories that took us by surprise in 2018.
Love Per Square Foot
In a city forever scraping for the skies, the desire to own an independent apartment prompts Sanjay (Vicky Kaushal) and Karina (Angira Dhar) to forge marriage documents and apply for a housing scheme. A simple marriage of convenience — so they think — until they end up kissing on the local train (that other great leveller in a city always in a rush). Directed by Aanand Tiwari and released on Netflix, Love Per Square Foot offers a sparse and enjoyable take on aspiration and upward social mobility in present-day Mumbai. It’s about the lovers, yes, but also about the coming together of two communities: the holier-than-thou Bandra Catholics and the meekly over-compensatory northern immigrants. Love Per Square Foot is, quite literally, a film about making room.
Pari, starring Anushka Sharma, belongs to the legion of allegorical horror, a gory tale of a satanic cult tracing back to the 1971 Bangladesh genocide. Yet, it’s also the simplest of love stories — about a kind-hearted man (Parambrata Chattopadhyay) who opens his doors for a woman who may or may not do him good. In other words, a film about empathy and the supremely human spirit of asylum provision. By casting a reversed glance at the Beauty and the Beast setup — in a tale where the beauty is the beast — director Prosit Roy creates an apt metaphor for the balming effects of love on the marginal and the demonised. This is, after all, a film where the heroine, after gashing off her fingernails with knives, soothes her toes with Boroline.
Danish Walia (Varun Dhawan), a hotel management trainee at Radisson Blu New Delhi, already hates the man he is training to become. He is too busy stomping on dry laundry and annoying his supervisor that he fails to notice life slip him by. And life slips him by... when batchmate Shiuli Iyer falls off the hotel terrace on New Year’s Eve. Her last words before the accident... “Where is Dan?”
Directed by Shoojit Sircar, October is a romance sustained by the absence of words. In a crushingly info-swamped world of digital gestures — of hits, likes and swipes — the characters here communicate via fluttering eyelids and the sweet smell of jasmine. It’s a device so deliberate that to call it slow would be to miss the point.
It’s mildly puzzling that a film like Raazi be adorned with so much popular love. Underneath its stated allegiance to patriotism and self-sacrifice — themes that have yielded many a recent hit — Raazi is a deliciously subversive take on cross-border espionage. It’s a disarmingly human film, a morally tense tale of an Indian spy (Alia Bhatt as Sehmat Khan) who is married into a Pakistani army household during the war of 1971.
It’s also enough of a love story: between Sehmat and her husband Iqbal (Vicky Kaushal), an earnest young officer who falls back upon his enviable Jazz collection to impress his new wife. Little does he know of her true identity and little she seems to care, confiding in him that she’d rather hear some Hindustani classical. Music is a shared language, director Meghna Gulzar hints, as she opens and closes her film with a tribute to Sehmat and Iqbal’s brief but undeniable romance — and the wreckage of its aftermath.
Manmarziyaan starts off with characters we think we know: Taapsee Pannu as the free-spirited but indecisive Rumi; Vicky Kaushal as the flippant man-child Vicky; Abhishek Bachchan as the unperturbed and smugly inward groom Robbie. Yet, by the end of Anurag Kashyap’s spunky update on romance’s oldest trope — that of the ever bereft love triangle — we find each of these souls deeply and irrevocably altered. Rumi learns to rein in her errant heart and anchor it on Robbie; Robbie for once sheds his stoicism and lets his vulnerability peek through; and Vicky, who seemed all this while too adrift to even feign maturity, finds closure in the difficult task of letting go. Manmarziyaan is a film that tells us — gently, cheekily, self-righteously — why Facebook must always trump Tinder. And why the softest Kashyap films are often his best.
It cannot get more classic. Imtiaz Ali’s younger brother Sajid Ali directs this Kashmir-set adaptation of the old Layla-Majnun fable. So melodramatic is the first-half you are tempted to pass it up as fluff. Qais (Avinash Tiwari) and Laila (Tripti Dimri) fall for each other against rolling hillsides, only to be separated by parents who stand on opposite ends of a dispute. It all seems to go nowhere until this very feeling is turned into the mainspring of the film.
For Laila Majnu is a film about madness — metaphorically, yes, but also in a grotesquely real sense. Here the lead character, Qais, emptied by a deep yearning for Laila, abandons sense and civility to roam the valley as a vagrant. He laughs at praying men for mocking his lunacy and sings aloud to the tall canopies around him. In a brave manoeuvre, Ali ends his film without closure, the finality of death dimmed by the ecstasy of the spirit.
Amar Kaushik’s Stree is a horror-comedy that toys with the ‘mysterious girl’ trope in hilarious ways. Vicky (Rajkummar Rao), a ladies tailor in Chanderi, meets with a customer who demands an unusually swift delivery. Vicky is enamoured of this strange lady (played by Shraddha Kapoor), and agrees to put his scissors to good use. Soon, strange occurrences take over the temple-town and several men fall prey to a vengeful lady-ghost, making Vicky rethink his time with Miss What’s-her-name — a constantly elusive girl who, he only now realises, doesn’t even carry a phone.
One of the most enjoyable commercial hits of 2018 — besides AndhaDhun and Badhaai Ho — Stree showed as that love can arrive in many forms, dead, undead or otherwise, and that feet not touching the ground isn’t always a sunny thing.