I have to admit that when Dhanush made his debut in the 2001 Tamil film Thulluvadho Illamai directed by his father Kasthuri Raja, I dismissed him as yet another director-father’s attempt to make his son a star. His very next movie Kadhal Kondein directed this time by his brother, Selvaraghavan made me rethink my notion about him. In between masala flicks he showed his acting finesse in movies like Pudhupetai, Polladhavan, Aadukalam with the latter fetching him the National film award for best actor. The versatile actor-playback singer-lyricist gained national recognition with his 2011 viral song Why this kolaveri di which took him to Bollywood with the movie Raanjhanaa.
Dhanush must be the only contemporary actor-hero who can still convincingly appear on-screen as a school boy even now at the age of 29. In Tamil films he had many times essayed a school-boy character the recent one being 3 ( the Kolaveri di film), in Raanjhnaa we get to see him again in a school-boy role and his transformation into a teen and a sensitive adult along with Sonam Kapoor who ably compliments him like how Shruti did in the movie 3.
In Raanjhanaa, director Anand L Rai who earlier made his debut with Tanu weds Manu, weaves a love triangle story between Kundan (Dhanush) a small town Varanasi boy who grows up in love with his childhood friend Zoya (Sonam Kapoor) who develops a feeling for her Jawaharlal Nehru university colleague Akram (Abhay Deol). Add to the love triangle the vicious ingredients namely religion and politics and good dollops of betrayal and revenge.
To give an air of credibility to Dhanush’s character and his Hindi, Kundan Shankar comes as the son of a Tamil priest in Benares but to his credit the national award winner inspite of not knowing the language has made an earnest and good effort in speaking the language without resorting to dubbing artist.
The son of pundit falls in love with Zoya, a daughter of a Muslim professor the very first time he saw her at the age of 10. He grows up obsessively but harmlessly stalking her at distance and after being at the receiving end of 15 slaps he proposes and almost kisses her on the cheeks but his Hindu identity puts the brakes in the brief relation.
It spurs again when he cuts the wrist for her and talking about the wrist-cutting, it’s not once but we see it three times in the movie. When her parents comes to know this, she is packed to Aligargh and later she joins Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.
While her life takes a different course, Kundan grows up with only Zoya in his mind. After six years, Zoya returns to Benares while Kundan is a forgotten chapter for her Kundan still pursues her not knowing the fact there is someone else now in Zoya’s life.
The other person is Akram/Jasveer (Abhay Deol) an idealistic student leader from JNU who has jumped into Delhi politics and contesting in the impending election.
In the second half of the movie, Himanshu Sharma the story writer liberally borrows the current affairs of Indian society and politics including the student movements, street play protests, farmers protests etc and with that the love story that began in Benares falters in Delhi and ends in an incoherent note.
It’s very clear that Anand L Rai wanted to come up with a love-story with twists and surprises with a dark tinge. Unfortunately, it is very evident that the director lost the grip of the subject along the way with too many elements put in. What began as an obsessive love story of a rustic young boy in the banks of Ganga gets diluted and muddled with politics and the blame lies on the poor handling of the script with too many loopholes and unrealistic turn of events.
What holds together the movie though is the stellar performance of Dhanush and Sonam Kapoor and also Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub as Dhanush’s friend Murrari and Swara Bhaskar as Bindiya who comes across as Dhanush’s childhood friend one-sidedly in love with him inspite of him ignoring her.
If you have followed Dhanush in Tamil movies, you will know that this unassuming actor with very average looks and a skeletal body devoid of six packs or fair-ever skin has a charisma and acting skill to compensate. In Raanjhanaa it’s quiet evident and his Hindi delivery inspite of occasional Tamil tinge still has an earthy feel.
Sonam compliments the southern actor very well and her transition from a small town school girl to a social-activist-student leader in Delhi campus is effortless as well as natural.
Anand Rai’s Benares comes alive with all it’s cultural elements, A R Rahman’s music traverses the Ganges melodiously.
If at all Raanjhanaa works it’s for Dhanush and Sonam Kapoor and for the portions of Benares but unfortunately like river Ganges, the movie is muddled with politics,lacks the focus and clarity.