Manmarziyan: Two couples, zero chemistry
A few days before the release of Anurag Kashyap’s new film Manmarziyan, a matrimonial ad went viral. It was for a Mysore-based bachelor who boasted of a “Rig and Atharva vedic background” and wanted a “non-feminist” bride. When someone emailed this gentleman with a prank response to his matrimonial, he replied with a rape threat that radiated machismo and anger. He signed off as “Masculine warrior killer” (sounds suicidal from someone who considers themselves a warrior, but maybe that’s the fault of my non-vedic education) and “Rapist of all feminists” (thus alerting us to not only his criminal aspirations, but also to the fact that self-assessment is not his forte).
One can only hope that in a parallel universe, the arranged marriage circus will bring the Mysore-based bachelor face-to-face with Manmarziyan’s Rumi (and her very hot brother Babloo. What? We must grab all the eye-candy we can and hello, allyship is important).
Rumi is a hockey player in the sheets and a daayan (virago) in the streets. At one point, when a pani-puri seller has the temerity to tell her how much spice she should eat, Rumi tells him, “Jalaana hai mujhe. Dragon hoon main (I want to burn it all down. I’m a dragon).” When her boyfriend tries to unbreak her heart, Rumi literally beats him with her hockey stick. Later, her way of showing affection to her husband is to stuff snow down his shirt, which melts and finds its way to his crotch. They go back to their chalet with him walking like a penguin and sporting a strategically-positioned wet patch, and her giggling.
There’s a lot that’s beautifully on-point in Manmarziyan. For instance, Kashyap’s decision to use twins as a motif throughout the film is inspired.
More than a reminder of Dev. D, it’s a clever bit of quirk that subtly clues you into the fact that Manmarziyan is about people who have two sides to their personality. Kanika Dhillon’s story, script and dialogues are filled with perceptive details and the three leads are as confused, insecure and conflicted as real people tend to be.
The only thing missing in Manmarziyan is love, which is a shame because the film is officially a love triangle. Despite being well-made, there isn’t one tingly moment of romance that makes you want to linger with Rumi, Vicky and Robbie. This is particularly ironic because the film is dedicated to Punjabi poet Amrita Pritam, whose life and work crackle with romantic energy.
In the 1940s, an unhappilymarried Pritam fell in love with poet and lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi who, much like Vicky in Manmarziyan, just couldn’t bring himself to commit to Pritam even though he loved her deeply. (There’s a circle of hell reserved for Kashyap and Dhillon, for making me imagine Ludhianvi with the hair ‘art’ that Vicky sports in the film.) That relationship would eventually leave both Ludhianvi and Pritam with broken hearts, and bleed into Pritam’s poetry. She would eventually find the love of her life in artist Imroz, who wasn’t threatened by her passion for Ludhianvi. “I only knew he accepted me, my madness,” Pritam said of Imroz.
That madness is there in Manmarziyan’s story, but translated to visuals, when Rumi and Vicky smashed their lips against each other in a kiss that’s supposed to be epic, all I wondered was whether their teeth were gnashing. When Robbie was watching Rumi, you felt for him and you hurt for her, but there was no longing. In short: there are two couples and zero chemistry in Manmarziyan.
Romances are the unicorns of popular cinema, urging you to thumb your nose at conventions. Even at its most formulaic and rose-tinted, love stories embody rebellion and hope when they’re done well. Characters push boundaries and question rules. Through the tropes, we’re told that the universe will reward us for not conforming and the gifts it will give us will be more satisfying than what society gives us in exchange for our conformity. It’s a tough sell for a country and society that is reminded with every other Whatsapp message that social divides are sacred.