Marjaavaan Review: Bollywood Doesn’t Get More Stupid than This Two-Hour Long Headache

Bollywood

Marjaavaan Review: Bollywood Doesn’t Get More Stupid than This Two-Hour Long Headache

Illustration: Aishwarya Nayak

This week’s release, Marjaavaan has a couple of markers that are revealing of how the odds are clearly stacked against it. It is directed and written by Milap Zaveri, best known for writing and directing a slate of films (Grand Masti, Maastizaade, Pyaare Mohan, Housefull, and Satyameve Jayate, ) that you wish you didn’t see. Remix composer Tanishk Bagchi’s name features predominantly on the music credits of Marjaavaan, which nowadays, is a sureshot threat of a splitting headache. The film is also part of a totally unwarranted franchise (its existence is inspired by the unfortunate success of Ek Villain) that hinges on indiscriminately killing women to justify the lack of a plot. But I suppose, Marjaavaan’s breaking point – the biggest indicator that the film is an astonishing hopeless cause – is the fact that it requires Sidharth Malhotra, an established non-actor, to act in the very first scene. It’s near impossible to recover from a blunder of this proportion. Malhotra lives up to his reputation by not even trying, a principle he diligently follows for the rest of the film as well.

The plot of Marjaavaan repeats the exact beats of revenge as Ek Villain (Zaveri was credited for its dialogues): There is a local goon who falls in love with a girl who reforms him, a villain who violently gatecrashes their idyllic romance, a dead girl, and someone eventually paying for her death. Yet, it recreates this premise even more incompetently than Ek Villain, an already incompetent outing. The film’s love-story is entirely soulless and the mute Sutaria has more chemistry with the girl who translates her sign-language than with Malhotra. In fact, the film’s two male leads, who already acted opposite each other in Ek Villain in the same roles, can’t even conjure up a rivalry worth rooting for. Raghu and Vishnu really have no reason to be up in arms against each other: Every single face-off has as much purpose as a quarrel between two sleep-deprived three-month-old babies over a toy. In this case, the duo don’t even have a toy to fight over. The film’s “novelty” then, rests on Zaveri simply doubling up the theatrics, which he somehow believes is the same as doubling up the stakes. 

marjaavaan

Marjaavaan’s breaking point is the fact that it requires Sidharth Malhotra, an established non-actor, to act in the very first scene.

T-Series/ Emmay Entertainment

So instead of a pregnant woman being flung out of the window, Marjaavaan has Zoya (Tara Sutaria), a mute music teacher who chooses to be killed as a sacrificial lamb. If the titular villain in Ek Villain was a deranged, mentally ill killer who could easily blend into a crowd, here Vishnu (an unforgivable Riteish Deshmukh) is a whiny three-foot son of a gangster who pretends to have daddy issues when he really has social anxiety and zero work ethic. And if Ek Villain’s hero was a former gangster, Marjaavaan has Raghu (Malhotra), an orphaned goon who moonlights as a part-time Muslim rights activist and thinks that being in a polyamorous relationship with religion is a personality trait. (There is an entire scene crafted out of the fact that he has tattoos of different religions on each knuckle.) More importantly, no one has a normal conversation in Marjaavaan – all of them talk in breathless, pointless riddles that last longer than a Shakespearean monologue – even Zoya, who doesn’t technically talk, speaks in slam poetry.

Worse, for a film that relies almost entirely on the template of traditional masculine exaggeration to entertain, its dialogues, an integral ingredient of sustaining such a machismo universe, are embarrassingly non-threatening to the extent of being juvenile. Raghu’s trademark catchphrase has him bragging about how if he kills someone, not only will they die but also be scared of being reborn again. He says this while casually munching on a matchstick, a look that can be best described as a cry for help and not necessarily a threat. Vishnu, on the other hand, feels less like the dreaded villain and more like the film’s comedic relief, given that he has to ask his father for permission to do just about anything and then get chided for not doing anything. Take for instance, the scene where he expresses his desire to kill Raghu to his father. Not only does his father reject his demand, but also adds that he can only kill Raghu if he tries killing Vishnu first. Even by the abysmally low standards of gangster logic, this feels rather self-defeating. It doesn’t help that Deshmukh’s idea of coming across a menacing villain involves behaving in the exact way a chimpanzee would, if it were throwing a never-ending tantrum. 

No one has a normal conversation in Marjaavaan – all of them talk in breathless, pointless riddles – even Zoya, who doesn’t technically talk, speaks in slam poetry.

If Zaveri had stopped there, Marjaavaan might have just been guilty of being yet another pointless outing that is based the idea of finding an excuse for two overgrown man children to glare at each other while threatening murder after every five minutes without actually putting into action any of it at all. But the filmmaker goes one step ahead and insists on parodying violence by inserting religious undertones to Marjaavaan. It’s unclear what the purpose of this addition is, for the film doesn’t seem very interested in taking any stand. Zaveri understands the complexities of secularism in a country run by ideas of Hindutva even lesser than he understands storytelling. It’s why a mosque, a church, and a temple are found within metres of each other in the premises of a Mumbai slum, why a Muslim goon in the film is only found offering namaz or burying bodies of Muslims, and why the film begins with Raghu uttering a tone-deaf dialogue about mosques and mandirs both finding a place in the country to a deafening background music. A sub-plot about a fictitious Kashmir Music Festival and a mute girl equating militancy in the Valley with petty gang-fighting in Mumbai also finds its way into the film for no reason other than it can. By the time the climax inches close, Zaveri’s antics make one thing clear: Taking pride in its abject stupidity is Marjaavaan’s only achievement.

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