Director: Hansal Mehta
Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Soham Shah, Manu Narayan
Late in the second half of Hansal Mehta’s Simran (written by Apruva Asrani with additional story and dialogues credit to Kangana Ranaut), Praful Patel (Kangana Ranaut) takes Sameer (Sohum Shah) to her favourite spot in Atlanta. Their undefined but beautiful relationship has begun to blossom and Sameer reveals himself to be one of the few honest men left in the world, and the character that feels most honest in this film.
He remarks how quiet the location is and says this about Praful—“aur tum to shaant baitne walon mein se nahin ho.” Shah’s performance is incredibly measured and understated. I wondered if this was Asrani or Ranaut. If I had to bet—a more educated attempt than Praful’s gambling in Las Vegas—this has got to be Kangana because it drives too close to the kind of bouquets-and-backlash reception pattern she has going for taking on the establishment. She is not worried about whom she takes on and for what. She is not one to flinch from shaping the narrative the way she wants. No matter what one makes of it, her pertinacity is admirable.
Something similar can be said about Praful. Maybe it is the mark of a true artiste that when it comes to perception of their art, the real affects the reel and the reel affects the real. Simran can at times feel autobiographical if you’ve been exposed (who isn’t?) to the relentless Ranaut pop culture. She is a divorcee and that irks her parents. Her father, a textbook Indian parent from Nehruvian India, is more worried about the optics of her situation than her and wants her to remarry. She seems to have a good rapport with her colleagues, but has had a bad breakup with a superior. The kind of thing that is a big deal, but she doesn’t want to show it. Kangana plays this role by channelling both her inner Tanu and inner Rani.
The performance, therefore, is a powerhouse. The split personality this role involves is apparent when she adopts the Simran moniker to get herself to do things that Praful wouldn’t. She even exudes different sensibilities in different languages. Her submissive nature in thickly accented English or her confidence and intrepid self in Gujarati tinged Hindi. Watch her swap the readings in her performance when she storms out of her house in rage and depression, and while driving, makes a phone call to her friend to ask for a favour.
Simran joins the long list of recent films set and shot in Atlanta. Mehta’s film also gets the milieu—both the American and the Indian-American—right for the most part, with an emphasis on diversity that is apparent. From Praful’s workplace conversations, locker room banter, small talk with Las Vegas bartenders to confessions between sisters. It also deals with a quintessential American problem - debt. Not all attempts at humour work.
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Some of it, to do with theplas and majamas, are unimaginative. The humour that works best is that at the darkest moments thanks to Ranaut’s performance—when she is getting thrown out of her workplace or her coming undone on the Las Vegas tables or that scene where she drives Sameer and his parents out of her home. Sameer’s introduction is played for easy laughs, but some of the loveliest moments in Simran occur in his trajectory with Praful. We tend to misunderstand him first, that he is just another NRI stereotype.
He even says his start-up idea is that of a mobile app and something to do with Hindu rituals overcoming geographical distances. But Sameer comes into his own when he opens his mind in tandem with ours. He makes a valiant effort to understand Praful, to get her in ways that are not physical. Another relationship with potential, but left unexplored, is that of Simran and her cousin Amber (Aneesha Joshi).
There is a loaded moment between them in their hotel room in Vegas that rings true. Amber, all of 25 and about to get married, wishes to be like Praful—independent. Praful wonders how she, 30, a divorcee and working in housekeeping, in this trip sponsored by Amber, is independent? That’s the single greatest quandary of our times. Simran may be uneven to merit both these relationships, but it thrives in these minute transactions.