By Divya Unny Feb. 11, 2022
Gehraiyaan holds a broken mirror to your soul, by portraying deeply flawed characters with Shakun Batra ably orchestrating, and Deepika Padukone essaying perhaps the role of her career so far.
There’s a feeling that Amazon Prime’s Gehraaiyaan addresses repeatedly through its 148-min runtime. The feeling of being stuck. Stuck in a life that you may have chosen but are desperate to get out of. It’s not a feeling we as human beings are unfamiliar with at least in the art that we consume. Perhaps most of us live through it at some point in our lives, maybe even our days. This lack of air and desperation is what Gehraiyaan hinges on from the very beginning. It’s how the film has its hooks on you. Director Shakun Batra’s third feature acts as a broken mirror to the minds of those watching it, nudging you to look within, or even break away from a life of lies. Alisha (Deepika Padukone), Zain (Siddhant Chaturvedi), Tia (Ananya Panday) and Karan (Dhairya Karwa) are four adults in intimate relationships, but also trying to find their own individual identities.
A lack of air and desperation is what Gehraiyaan hinges on from the very beginning. It’s how the film has its hooks on you.
Alisha, a yoga instructor, and Karan, a struggling author have been dating for 6 years and live together in a modest apartment in suburban Mumbai. She pays the bills, as he attempts to finish a book. It’s a life that he’s grown into and she’s growing out of. In sharp contrast are Tia and Zain, engaged and also business partners, thanks to Tia’s rich dad who has helped float Zain’s big ambitions. Tia is head over heels and can see little beyond Zain’s charm. While Zain, drunk on big dreams and money, believes he’s living the life he deserves. Alisha and Tia are cousins who were once inseparable as kids but are now estranged. Years later they choose to take a weekend trip together with their respective partners, and a lot changes.
Shakun Batra’s third feature acts as a broken mirror to the minds of those watching it, nudging you to look within, or even break away from a life of lies.
Zain and Alisha are almost immediately drawn to each other, and here begins an affair that brings them the validation and comfort they have been seeking within their own relationships. Broken and bruised, with unamendable pasts that dictate so much of their present, the characters of Gehraiyaan are raw and relatable. Much like Shakun’s previous films Ek Mein aur Ek Tu and Kapoor and Sons, the relationships here too aren’t simple or placid. Shakun often deep dives into our innate nature of desiring what we can’t seem to have, and is unapologetic about it. Writers Ayesha Devitre Dhillon, Sumit Roy and Yash Sahai Batra create characters with all shades of grey, and give them backstories that often make you empathise, and connect with the mistakes they make. There’s guilt, shame, anguish, fear and so often a feeling of self-preservation as their real selves start to unravel with the story.
There’s guilt, shame, anguish, fear and so often a feeling of self-preservation as the character’s real selves start to unravel with the story.
The camera lurks around like a third person keeping you on the edge. The frames are washed with a certain blueness of pain. Without breaking the intimacy of moments, cinematographer Kaushal Shah fluidly captures discomforting truths of their lives, and the murk within them. Scenes where Karan dismisses Alisha when confronted about his book, or one where Tia pushes Zain into a corner trying to get him to confess to the affair, are played out with brutal honesty. The soundtrack by Kabeer Kathpalia (OAFF) and Savera Mehta marries itself beautifully to the inner emotional graph of the story but is never overused. within the unbridled passion that the characters often find themselves at the mercy of.
Without breaking the intimacy of moments, cinematographer Kaushal Shah fluidly captures discomforting truths of their lives, and the murk within them.
Shakun’s made sure his actors act less and live more, and mostly he’s got them in sync with a certain melancholic rhythm the film carries. Ananya Panday, in her best role yet, plays out her part with earnestness. She reminded me of a less honed Alia Bhatt in scenes where she’s breaking down. Siddhant Chaturvedi doesn’t try too hard to break away from his inherent personality, and you wish he’d disappear a little more into the skin of Zain. Dhairya Karwa is a nice new face in a mix of familiar stars and supports the story well.
Deepika Padukone, in her most complex role to date, fearlessly lends herself to Alisha. Here’s a character constantly running away from a troubled past that eventually catches up to her and breaks her to bits. She deep dives into the complexities of a girl who’s trying hard to stand tall, and alone. The more you watch her, the more you want to. The pain Alisha goes through throbs right onto the screen. You feel her gasp for air and you want her to be free. Watch her seethe with emotion in a scene where she reconciles with her father, played by the brilliant Naseerudin Shah.
Deepika has matured with every film and you wish more such roles were written for her. Roles where moral codes are blurred and you’re just playing a human being with all your deformities and deliriousness. A special mention for Pavleen Gujral who plays young Alisha’s mother, and is sincere in the limited screen time she has.
Gehraiyaan could have definitely made its impact with lesser run time and it doesn’t leave you feeling happy or even hopeful, but it urges you to introspect.
The exposition of the characters seem spoonfed initially, and the beginning of the affair feels a bit too convenient. The film leans on melodrama and sudden revelations for impact. Gehraiyaan could have definitely made its impact with lesser run time. In fact, it would have been a better film if it was shorter, and didn’t harp on one major conflict point for so long. It sometimes shadows the styles of Woody Allen’s Match Point and David O Russel’s Silver Linings Playbook in the way it builds tension and chemistry. But Shakun’s used his cinema influences well. The film doesn’t leave you feeling happy or even hopeful, but urges you to introspect. It’s probably why you may not give it a second go. But I see it as a huge coming of age for Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions and the black and white, all’s-well-in-the-end kind of storytelling it stood for. It’s a memorable film that will stay with you after you’ve watched it.
Divya is a Mumbai-based journalist-turned-actor and now director. Some say it's too many hats for that one small head, while she insists there be more.