Mujhe aisi kahaniya likhni hai jahan hero ho na ho, kahani hero honi chahiye,” says Arjun Kapoor’s Krish Malhotra in Abhishek Varman’s 2 States. In a way, the film celebrates the Chetan Bhagat’s story, the demystification of Indian fiction in the hands of an author who doesn’t want to teach, preach but to reach his reader. A story teller who has no pretensions of being literary but who knows that the young urban readers want stories that speak to them and of them.
And his books are designed to do just that, ring a bell in the head of the introverted IIT student carrying the memories of an abusive father, a damaged mother, a lost love. And the love that seeks him out all over again in campus corridors and the distance that yawns interminably between Chennai and Delhi when two sets of parents refuse to negotiate it.
Remember Gulshan Nanda? The prolific novelist whose popular Hindi novels were adapted in the 60s and the 70s into hits like Kaajal (1965), Kati Patang (1970), Khilona (1970), Sharmeelee (1971) and Daag (1971)? That was then but Bhagat is doing exactly what Nanda did all those years ago. He too is creating an easily accessible idea pool in a narrative starved industry that film-makers can dip into, garnish with song and dance and make hit films.
2 States will work because Abhishek Varman has turned the basic premise of love between a couple from disparate communities into a visually lush, nuanced and sensitive film. He has assisted Karan Johar, Ashutosh Gowarikar and Raj Kanwar previously and he is a good student because the idea of Revathi singing in Tamil and then effortlessly switching to her first Hindi film hit, Saathiya tune kya kiya, is from the Johar school of cinema. Gowarikar’s visual sense and Kanwar’s melodrama toned down to a more palatable, sophisticated level are also visible. He is going to be an interesting young director to watch out for.
It is a bit painful to see the heritage campus of IIM Ahmedabad designed by Louis Kahn splashed in the colours of Holi, drenched in confetti and the Bollywoodism of Lochae ulfat ho gaya. But when the great Indian English novel can turn into just another Chetan Bhagat best-seller, why can’t a beautiful, historic building become just another Bollywood prop?
The biggest strength of the film are the actors. Ronit Roy, as a compulsively bitter, toxic father and husband has a forbidding stillness and dignity even in scenes of extreme ugliness. Watch him react when his grown son for the first time reacts to years of abuse. He is taken aback, sways on his feet and there is just silence while his wife weeps and the son bends down to gather broken pieces of glass.
This is a powerful scene, made even more powerful by Roy and Kapoor, who is rebellious and contrite at the same time and then there is Amrita Singh, still the effortless, spontaneous actor she always was. From this moment, we travel to the scene when father and son work an awkward embrace. And this journey both breaks your heart and heals it. And without obvious manipulation.
The fractured Delhi family and their deep anguish and yet unshakeable dependence on each other is the story of many homes.
And ofcourse the story of Krish and Ananya that grows from a campus attraction reminiscent of Erich Segal’s Love Story to a mature and deep commitment between two adults trying to find a middle space between personal freedom and accountability to their families.
The scenes where Krish is trying to gain a toe hold in Ananya’s family are both funny and engaging. Arjun Kapoor is a rare young actor who understands when to withdraw from a scene and when to dominate it. In this film, he is as real as he is allowed to be between the mandatory campus song and the token Punjabi wedding song.
There is honest chemistry between Alia Bhatt and him. His quiet, introspective Krish and her unapologetic, strong Ananya create a real, believable relationship despite the obvious odds. Bhatt is an instinctive actor, happy to chew into any emotion she is given. Her most effective scenes are where she is trying to bite back her anger wordlessly after being insulted by her future mother-in-law who wants to keep her on ‘talwar ki dhar’ (on a sword’s edge).
Ananya is the kind of woman character we need to see more often in our cinema. The woman who earns her own money, chooses her own partner, loves without fear and regret but will not sacrifice her self-respect beyond a point. Revathi and theatre veteran Shiv Kumar Subramaniam (you will recall him in a cameo in Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Parinda that he also co-wrote) are delightful in their subtle rejection, and tentative acceptance of a boy who is willing to “marry” the entire Swaminathan family for Ananya’s sake. Shankar Ehsaan Loy’s music and Binod Pradhan’s cinematography keep up with the shifts in narrative and geography.
In the end, this is an aspirational film for young Indians, who want to make money but also need creative freedom, want the freedom to love but will not reject their parents either, who dream of break-throughs like the one Bhagat got when he wrote his first best-seller.
And so at the end of the film, when a bunch of them clap, you cannot argue with their approval or Bhagat’s success. We can clap or snigger but just like he wanted, his stories today have become heroes in their own right.
Verdict: Worth a watch.
Film: 2 States
Director: Abhishek Varman
Cast: Alia Bhatt, Arjun Kapoor, Amrita Singh, Revathi, Ronit Roy