Gehraiyaan: Deepika and Siddhant in a still from the film. (courtesy YouTube)
Cast: Deepika Padukone, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Ananya Panday, Dhairya Karwa, Naseeruddin Shah and Rajat Kapoor
Director: Shakun Batra
Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)
A smarty-pants, lathery relationship drama that labours under the delusion that it is giving the genre a massive makeover,Gehraiyaan isn't unlike the rented yacht on which many of the film's key scenes take place. For all its fancy trappings, the film is all at sea.
Gehraiyaan, an Amazon original movie, uses the cliched device of crashing ocean waves to symbolise the swelling passion of two young people who stray away from their chosen partners, but the plot is about as deep as a muddy swamp. It is about secrets that people keep and lies that they tell to conceal their true selves. Owing to an uninspired, laboured, superficial narrative, it sinks in a puddle of its own making.
It is a 150-minute advertisement for the ritzy lifestyle of a bunch of pretty people with Bel Air airs but pretty messed-up minds. One cannot but feel that the production and costume designers would not have had to work as hard as they have if only the writing wasn't so full of fluff.
The airy-fairy aphorisms that Gehraiyaan strings together are as rousing as WhatsApp good mornings - life is all about choices, believe in yourself, give yourself a chance... How deep! The comfort of shallow waters can be terribly misleading especially when a film such as this arrogates to itself the task of showing the world how to navigate the waves when they get big on you.
The film is about youthful, adventurous love, but it is utterly devoid of humour and zing. When it tries to lighten up, it falls flat. Here is a sample: "Soch rahi hoon pottery classes shuru karoon," says one of the characters. The response that she elicits scrapes the absolute bottom of the barrel: "Mujhe laga tu potty trained hai!" That is the sort of depth Gehraiyaan plumbs.
The film starts off as a tale of kinship marred by forbidden love, then slowly turns into a half-baked drama about corporate overreach that harps on valuation gaps, bad loans and unclean books, and finally assumes the contours of a dark take on the consequences of a clandestine love affair gone horribly wrong. An act precipitated by deadly desperation brings a tottering triangle to a laboured, unconvincing end, leaving one wondering what the fuss was all about.
Gehraiyaan, director Shakun Batra's third film, is written by him with Ayesha DeVitre Dhillon and Sumit Roy. It has four main characters. They answer to names that are short and sweet - Alisha, Tia, Zain and Karan. But their ways are meandering and muddled. Thanks to their failings and foibles, confusion reigns.
One of the two couples breaks up, another starts a dalliance that quickly turns serious, and yet another is on the verge of getting hitched. All the emotional heaving and thrashing that the quartet indulges in yields a vacuous, repetitive rigmarole.
Three of them - Alisha (Deepika Padukone), Tia (Ananya Panday) and Karan (Dhairya Karwa) have known each other since they were children. The fourth, Zain (Siddhant Chaturvedi), Tia's boyfriend for three years, is an outsider who unites cousins Alisha and Tia on a yacht after a long gap.
Yoga instructor Alisha and adman-turned-writer Karan have been together for six years, but Zain's entry into the frame upsets the delicate balance between the couple - the former's earnings take care of the household bills as the latter finds inspiration for the opening of his first novel hard to come by. Money speaks in Tia and Zain's relationship, too. The former's inheritance fuels Zain's real-estate business ambitions.
The two pairs of lovers clearly depend on each other for more than just companionship, so when temptation comes knocking on Alisha's door in the form of Zain, she lets herself go with the flow, which translates into a series of spectacularly dreary lovemaking scenes shot under the supervision of an "intimacy director".
What would Gehraiyaan's tale of perfidious lovers have done without the existence of dysfunctional families that are at the root of the impulsive choices they make. Alisha, Tia and Zain have daddy or mummy issues. One grew up under the shadow of an abusive, wife-beating father and with a mother willing to take domestic abuse lying down.
Another does not see eye to with her cheese-farmer dad (Naseeruddin Shah in what must rank among his most underwritten screen roles ever) who drifted away from his wife and daughter. A third is advised by her mother not to be as trusting as she was with her father. It is a merry-go-round all right. Only, the circles Gehraiyaan weaves aren't merry at all.
None of the characters, including Zain's colleague Jitesh (Rajat Kapoor, the only actor in the cast with the exception of Deepika to make any impression at all), has a surname. Suddenly, arbitrarily and without any apparent purpose, one tertiary character - he is nabbed by the Enforcement Directorate for extending bad loans to a floundering real estate firm - is granted the luxury of a full name, Bejoy Sen.
The truncated and/or missing families of Alisha, Tia and Zain are repeatedly mentioned. That does not help us understand the backstories of the young protagonists any better. Not being rooted is, however, the least of these characters' drawbacks. Nothing undermines Gehraiyaan more than the fact that not only is there no real chemistry between Padukone and Chaturvedi, there is a distinct disconnect between the two in terms of quality of performance.
Deepika takes to her role like a fish to water and stamps her presence on the film. Siddhant, in contrast, wears an expression that vacillates between hangdog and deadpan - one is barely distinguishable from the other - and is hardly the ideal foil to his infinitely more malleable co-star. The complexities of the scarred Zain - he is suave, sweet-talking and palpably flawed - are way out of Siddhant Chaturvedi's league.
Also, the film passes off Deepika and Ananya, separated in real life by 13 years, as contemporaneous and that is a difficult-to-digest stretch. The worst deal is reserved for Dhairya Karwa - he sweeps in and out of the film like an insignificant twig in the air floating around aimlessly.
Is there any reason at all why anybody should invest two and a half hours inGehraiyaan? Yes, only one: Deepika Padukone. She stands tall amid the ruins.
Deepika Padukone, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Ananya Panday, Dhairya Karwa, Naseeruddin Shah and Rajat Kapoor