Raanjhanaa is appropriately named after Ranjha, the male lead in the well known Punjabi tale of doomed romance. The story follows a young Hindu boy in Banaras named Kundan and his lifelong passion for Zoya, the daughter of a local Muslim businessman.
Themes such as religious differences make an appearance straight off the bat, since the opening sequence depicts young Kundan dressed up as Arjun, asking the locals for a charitable donation for a religious festival. He is not put off his task until he unknowingly wanders into a Muslim home to ask for a donation and happens to see young Zoya during the ritual prayer for Muslims (namaaz) in another room. In my opinion, however, the religious
themes are a red herring. Not to say that there aren’t still hurdles when two people of differing religions fall in love, but the idea that the religion is the true hurdle in this story is constantly undercut by Kundan (very seriously) offering to convert to Islam for the sake of his love, an offer that Zoya never takes seriously because of the true hurdle in the lovers’ path: class. The fact that Zoya later on knowingly falls in love with a Hindu boy at university and tries to pass him off as a Muslim to her parents also severely undercuts the idea that this story is about religion.
The real conflict in this movie is something that is not talked about much in the Indo-Pak part of the world but is carved into every inhabitant’s mind: thou shalt not mix classes.
Anyone from that part of the world, upon viewing the trailer, will likely at least be thinking that the girl is completely out of the boy’s league, although it seems cruel to articulate it. Happily, the movie focuses on this difference for at least the first half (happily because I think this is a major problem in our part of the world and does not get the kind of attention in art that it should). Our protagonist has some very clear indicators of the class he belongs to:
a. He is darker skinned, while the female lead is lighter skinned. In this part of the world, fair is beautiful and darker skin is mocked and ridiculed.
b. He is not well educated. Zoya refuses to take his affections seriously and engages in a girlhood flirtation with him only because she believes he is truly romantically harmless. After all, he should already know what she knows: they may be neighbors, but they are miles apart in terms of class and education.The movie uses spoken English as an indicator of education and class. As the movie progresses, Zoya uses her superior command of English as a weapon, brandishing it to intimidate, impress or simply put another in their place. As a contrast, Kundan has little knowledge about English, as is illustrated by his responding to Zoya’s “Forget me!” with “You forget me, muah!” and then later discovering what the phrase means and despairing. Zoya’s preferred suitor is a leader of men, as she explains to Kundan later, but we see in their encounters that he is not rustic or “illiterate” and is able to communicate with both the lower classes and her “class” via a battle of wits in English.Zoya drives the point home at many points in the movie when she refers to Kundan (to his face and behind his back) as illiterate to shoot down the idea of a serious romance or relationship between herself and Kundan. In one instance she further elaborates on the perceived difference between them by pointing out that he is just an errand boy at her house, little more than a servant. Kundan, however, refuses to be cowed by ideas of class or his own social station. He is kind of his little corner of Banaras, well-liked in his social circle and the son of a well-respected priest. In his mind, this makes him an excellent prospect for any woman, especially Zoya. The idea of class is especially ironic in this relationship, given that Zoya’s preferred suitor, Akram/Jasjeet runs a political party based on the platform of equality for all citizens. A party which, in the latter half of the movie Zoya attempts to lead but one that Kundan naturally becomes the ultimate leader and figurehead for. After all, Kundan is the idea of a classless India personified: a man who believes he is as good as any other person and better than most.Now, to the actors. Dhanush is well known in South Indian cinema but this is his initial foray into Bollywood and Hindi language movies. He extended his Hindi specifically in preparation for this role and it does show. Despite some subtle problems with his Hindi delivery, Dhanush is at his best (and most charismatic) when expressing emotions using his body or his face, with absolutely no words needed. The man carries the movie through sheer charisma, doling out pure joy, dismay, anger, petulance, despair, hurt and disgust as required.
Soman Kapoor delivers a skilled performance as the equally mercurial but more selfish Zoya. Zoya is fundamentally an unlikable character as she knowingly toys with Kundan’s feelings, uses and discards him at the drop of a hat and all petulantly blames her parents for educating her to have a mind of her own and then asking her to marry random “nice Muslim boys”.
The music in this movie is gorgeous. A. R. Rahman delivers a score for the leads to fall in love to and the reprises appear at just the right places in the movie to deliver appropriate emotional punches. My personal favorites include “Tum Tak” and the title track.
The first half of the movie is exactly what I expected when I saw the trailer: a romantic comedy with a charming lead duo with some pitfalls on their way to living happily every after. The second half feels like a completely different movie, taking a slightly ungraceful tangent into politics and the wider issues at play in the world. The colorful and charismatic characters are reduced to muted glaring and tearful regret in shadowy corners. While I enjoyed the diversion from the expected love story, it could have been handled better to create a better overall movie.
A few odd things during the movie (particularly the end) jerked me back out of the world and were generally the cause of unintentional hilarity. Oddly, most of these were related to medical treatments. In one instance, Kundan slits his wrists and the next scene shows a bag of blood feeding the needed blood into his body via (oddly enough) the very same slit wrist. Clearly the medical practitioners in this hospital are not ones to waste manpower when a convenient hole is already available. Another instance is a tense operating room scene where the surgeon extracts and plops down a bullet shell rather than the slug, which elicited a laugh for me. Another odd occurrence is that scrubbed in doctors and nurses operate on a man in a sterilized operating theater as friends of the patient randomly wander in (in bloody and dirty clothes and without so much as a hand washing) to hold his hand and have a heart to heart with the unconscious man. Perhaps this can be explained by a lack of a consultant for the medicine related scenes? It seems a shame to detract from the seriousness of the scene with mistakes like this, especially when most of your viewership probably watches CSI, House, and the like as a staple part of their TV diet.
Overall, I would recommend the movie based on the blatant discussion about the class system in this part of the world and some genuinely funny moments with a lovely soundtrack.