Hansal Mehta’s Simran starring Kangana Ranaut is surely a film to endlessly learn from specially an unforgettable lesson, that no matter how stunningly beautiful an actress looks and even has oodles of talent to boot , the film still has to have some minimal elements and pre requisite parts that make a movie into a whole, BY Sushil Kumar.
And having them all ain’t enough but that the whole should be greater than sum of all parts put together. Otherwise, the film would be really a tear jerker of different type ; one may be reduced to tears due to jerky jumps from one scene disjointed in seriatim with another and that too ,without putting any pretense of an attempt to even allude a link to previous scene/s or shot/s. The film is eventful to say the least ,yet all events unfold as episodes that end abruptly without any explanation or elaboration ,leaving audiences wondering whether they are seeing a movie or a collage of Ranaut performances- a collage usually given by newcomers to producers while seeking a break like Govinda did initially.
One doesn’t know whether the film is made to depict a woman’s assertion of independence or whether of changing woman’s role in traditional middle class home – transposed to American Atlanta. The story is attributed to a real life story of a NRI girl convicted for four robberies. One sees a single Gujarati divorced girl staying comfortably with her family while working in housekeeping department of a big hotel and wanting to inexplicably buy a house on mortgage. The reasons for divorce and buying a house are left to the audiences’ assumption/imagination. So far so good.
Then in unrelated episodic progression (that would repeat endlessly), Simran flies to land at Las Vegas and casino table to gamble and win two thousand dollars that spin her life like a roulette , taking the audience to what all is possible in America – winning , wining , dining , dancing and even agreeing to have sex with an American hunk. But to save an Indian nari the blushes, the sexual act is halted for protection reasons- primarily for protection of great Indian morality existing across shores -though the wine/champagne glass is still in hand and steps are wavering .
And next day, after heady hedonistic life, in true movie gambling style , the bug bites for bigger bucks and she is back on the gambling table to drink wine and to win but like Russian roulette, the wheels turn in reverse and heady journey is halted and reality bites . And then we have the hedonism turn to hysteria and whining about not winning , only to land in clutches of criminals crowding the casino ,as if there is no security detail in such big casinos. And after this , one goes in endless circles of senseless events.
Kangana’s Tanu Wed Manu hit the Bollywood Box office bullseye catapulting her to commercial success and earned her the star tag despite not coming from any camp or film family. Of course, her acting was appreciable but the film largely owed success to its portrayal of a bindaas girl from a small town who wanted to make her own choices about love and marriage. The film found direct emotional connect with provincial town culture and stereotypes.
The story of small town girl with mind of her own was repeated in Tanu weds Manu returns with a difference that the cultural context of small town Kanpur was changed to small town in Haryana ; lo and hold even this film found fame, fortune and big time bucks at Box office. And Kangana became a bankable star on her own ; her reputation grew as both these films had no big stars though the supporting cast of Dobriyal, Madhavan, Swara Bhaskar, Jimmy Shergil through their superb acting ,breathed life into characters, making them appear believable. And both films basically has similar stories relating to individual choices in a patriarchal society. The same motif in mutated form has been repeated in Bareilly Ki Barfi recently and has also found commercial success.
And if that was not enough, Kangana luck hit stratosphere with commercial success of Queen which incidentally again dealt with the issue of middle class marriage where the rejected girl from a humble family does the unthinkable- of going on a solo sojourn of Europe without knowing anyone to guide or having a local guardian. The dreams and aspirations of woman and her assertion of identity and freedom of choice found a right emotional connection with the audiences making it a commercial success. The success of these three films possibly led to conclusion that Kangana was a superstar on whose shoulders the whole film can stand and story, script, screenplay wasn’t that important. The assumption that Ranaut would be able to carry the whole film is borne out by the absence of any recognizable supporting cast including the love interest of Ranaut. One forgot that her earlier three successful films had Raj Kumar Rao, Dobriyal, Swara Bhaskar, Jimmy Shergil in supporting roles .To leave out this approach proved fallacious .The failure of Simran may have made the producers realise this gap; it ended the golden run of Ranaut leading to her being runout , caught way short of commercial crease of success.
One must note that fundamental fault of Simran is that successful motif of small town characters with dreams and struggles was totally cast aside .The film’s character is a US citizen who resembles a rebel without a cause . The film assumed that since Kangana had carried the previous three films on her shoulders, the storyline and craft wasn’t important. So, the previous identification of a segmented middle class population was totally cast aside. And if aim was to depict a character settled in US, it came across as a complete caricature and made a successful American Indian look like a confused character. The story and script is far too amateurish and is derived from far too much belief in the amazing acting aptitude of Ranaut ; the result, the film ends in total rout for Ranaut.
There is no doubt that Kangana possesses tremendous talent in not only enacting the entire range of emotional expressions (nine abhinaya rasas) but can also supplement that with terrific range in tonal textures and speech intonations. Her portrayal as assertive, vulnerable, rebellious, fun and frolic filled femme is fabulous in some frames .If one drops one’s critical senses and sees the film as an enamoured Ranaut fan , then one would come back enchanted with her acting and her varied looks.
The film’s amateurishness act is all too visible in assuming absence of CCTV in banks, petrol pumps, hotels, casino and complete absence of understanding on how 911 emergency call lines and quick response teams respond. In fact, the Atlanta Police end up looking like police in Bollywood films showing their last scene entry to take away the gangs and goons to the prison cells. And worse is when the serious case of bank robbery is considered fit enough for Simran’s confinement for a limited time only.
The stereotypes of mafia and a black side kick that appear to intimidate and to give deadlines without carrying out the threat is too unrealistic. Simran’s assertion of independence and identity specially of one born and brought up in US is not likely to connect with the Indian diaspora even in the US ,forget in India. The ‘lip stick bandit’ robbing banks without guns and bullets is an affront to anyone’s sensibilities. The portrayal of American life is stereotypically portrayed through Las Vegas gambling, crime associated with Black, work place sexual harassment – though police is portrayed as totally unprofessional , contrary to stereotypes of prompt response and chases.
The first frame to last frame has Ranaut and Ranaut only as if director didn’t want her to share screen space with anyone else. So much so , that even the film credits has her singing away with roll over of credits. In pure screen space percentages , Ranaut fills over ninety percent of the frames and that surely would be a rare record worthy of forgetting.
The camera angles and shot making is nothing to speak about. The film has predominant long and medium shots and close ups are virtually nonexistent. The music is also missable. The set designer may have had a lighter load as the setting of a house, hotel, casino, bank etc. may have been easily available.
In one way, this is could be termed as an experimental film of sorts; it tries to use a star power only to tell/sell a tale of stale ideas strung together believing that audiences besotted with star will gulp down anything without question as used to happen in yesteryears. But film maker forgot that even films of Dilip Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Rajesh Khanna and younger Amitabh Bachhan needed a villain or comedian as comic or crime relief (remember ubiquitous Mahmood, Pran, Ajit, Prem Chopra et al in the hit films of these stars) to sustain audiences’ interest. In Simran, Kangana has attempted to enact these roles herself (comic relief at casino, shopping mall and crime one while robbing banks, police chases, stealing at gas station or shop and even going to jail ) forgetting that there is a limit to what an audience can take. This excessive screen space presence could be carried by legendary actor like Sanjeev Kumar in Naya Din Nayi Raat where he enacted seven different roles ; it bombs when an actress like Sheetal attempts to do in a film like Honey wherein as director she filled nearly every frame with her frame. This happens both in Hollywood and Bollywood when film maker forgets that a star can be larger than a film only to a very limited extent.
One must appreciate the enormous ease and felicity with which Ranaut has displayed the spectrum of emotional range on screen: from childlike innocence to adolescent infatuation to exhilaration/exultation and throwing of infantile tantrums on losing in casino or home and that too within few frames ; and from assertive working woman to giggling girl to a hysterical assault on her boss ; from a loving adoring father’s daughter to vulnerability , submission and open defiance. Her acting definitely displays her abundant talent . Maybe director got carried away with a vision to exploit her talent and forgot other necessary ingredients ;and this is specially surprising from the director who has made films like Aligarh, Citylights or Shahid. If I were to make a movie, I would re-make Sridevi starrer Sadma and cast her straightaway ; she would easily enact the entire range of emotions of a young girl, an adolescent ,a woman with facial, bodily and tonal range with terrific ease.
Summing up, the film has much to learn and unlearn from. Hope all do- in way or the other.
The authar is a senior IAS officer – a film and sports writer.