Disclaimer: This is not a review of the movie. It is mostly about my interpretation of the central character of this movie.
मेरी हर मन मानी बस तुम तक
बातें बचकानी बस तुम तक
मेरी नज़र दीवानी बस तुम तक
तुम तक, तुम तक, तुम तक
These are the opening lines of a song which form the essence of the Raanjhanaa of this new movie: Kundan, played with an inexplicable charm and zest by Dhanush. Kundan is a rare breed (rare for modern Hindi movies) of characters: he is in love with this one girl, no not love, more like he worships this one girl – who is completely out of his league in more ways than one: she is far better looking, comes from a family which is economically much better off than his, has a higher academic upbringing (her father is a professor, his a priest), she is Muslim and he is a Hindu.
Insurmountable differences all of the above when it comes to match-making in a small conservative town like Banaras. But, who is to tell Kundan? There are many who do tell him repeatedly that Zoya is nothing but trouble for him, including his closest friends Murari (an excellent Zeeshan Ayub – that guy who murders Jessica Lal in No One Killed Jessica) and Bindiya (a scene stealing Swara Bhaskar – that girl who was the best friend of the Tanu character in Tanu weds Manu). But Kundan is not to be told, he keeps accepting Zoya’s rejections, her deceptions, her abject disregard to his devotion as gestures of some kind of acknowledgements that he exists in her life. He is unstoppable and turns a deaf ear and a blind eye even when it’s time for the ultimate deception. He embraces it literally and willfully and with the same unwavering, unconditional devotion as he accepted her first slap on his face as a 9th grader.
Do such people exist in real life? I want to believe they do! Setting this movie in Banaras and making Kundan a son of a priest is key to understanding this character. Just replace Zoya with “God”,and you have millions of Kundans. They will go to no end to gain God’s approval, His love, His attention. Banaras’ spirit is that of blind worship/devotion and redemption, it is only natural that Kundan just stays true to where he comes from (as indicated in the lovely song – Banarasiyaa: “ghaat kinaare umar guzaari, ghaat Banarasiya” ). He pursues his God, even when God rejects him, uses him for her selfish reasons and eventually deceives him. There is a key scene in the movie when Kundan sees his object of devotion slipping away from him, takes a drastic measure which is more of a knee-jerk reaction from him than him playing “evil” or meaning “harm”. Just as quickly as he commits this ghastly act, he quickly realizes his folly and then seeks redemption by offering himself in the process. After all, what else is a Banarasi guy to do? He goes and drowns himself in his Ganga.
Casting Dhanush as Kundan works wonderfully : he embodies the right physicality, instant likability – to the extent that we see why he does that one ghastly act, his motivations and his intentions are never questionable. He gets the physical aspects of Kundan spot on. Just watch how Dhanush plays the teenage Kundan and then the older Kundan. His body language is so in tune with how a scrawny teenager walks, stands, moves, turns, sees, talks, spits, runs, rides a bicycle, etc. He displays a constant “earnesty” in all his actions. There is a brilliant scene between him, Abhay Deol and a gas cylinder. That 15 seconds scene explains volumes on what Kundan is at his core. It is a tremendous joy watching Dhanush play Kundan. I cannot imagine any mainstream Hindi actor playing this character.
I have read a number of blog posts and reviews about the movie. Many mainstream reviewers are talking about how regressive the movie is in the portrayal of “love”, about Kundan’s stalking of Zoya, about his self-destructive actions (slitting of wrists), about Kundan’s treatment of Bindiya and the general old-fashioned depiction of wooing a girl. Many have gone so far as to say that this might encourage the youth to go about doing what Kundan does in the movie. While I don’t want to comment on the social impact of movies, I feel that many of them have missed understanding the Kundan character. They are missing the simplicity of this character, this is such a one-note character and yet so fascinating that it begs to not try and over-complicate him. Once again, I refer to the “tum tak” song. It describes everything you need to know about Kundan. A R Rahman and Irshad Kamil (the lyricist), in my humble opinion have created a classic. Rahman has composed it like a devotional song : there is a Marathi term for such devotional songs : “Aarti” where repetition of a phrase/couplet forms the crux of such songs – just like how “tum tak” is repeated numerous times. There is a small couplet in the middle of the song, which conveys Kundan’s dilemma and pathos quite beautifully:
नैनो के घाट ले जा, नैनो की नैया (take the boat of my eyes to the shore of your eyes)
पतवार तू है मेरी, तू खेवैया (you are the water current and you are the steer (for my boat))