India Today - - LEISURE -

Afew min­utes into Once Again, we see the mid­dle-aged fe­male pro­tag­o­nist Tara Shetty (She­fali Shah) pat­ting her face. The de­lib­er­ate­ness of her ges­tures sug­gests a nightly rit­ual: she seems to be putting some­thing on, per­haps an in­vis­i­ble layer of cream? Al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter, there is a mir­ror­ing, when we see the film’s mid­dle-aged male pro­tag­o­nist in the midst of his own cleans­ing rit­ual. But Amar Ku­mar (Neeraj Kabi) is a fa­mous film star, and his smoky black eye make-up is be­ing gen­tly dabbed away by some­one else. The ad­di­tion of an in­vis­i­ble layer ver­sus the re­moval of a vis­i­ble one; the woman’s ac­tions hop­ing to stave off the in­evitabil­ity of age, while the man has just shot for a se­quence with younger women: of such con­trast­ing de­tails is Kan­wal Sethi’s film made.

Cre­at­ing char­ac­ters who share your sen­si­bil­ity is the oldest trick in the writer’s book, and Sethi takes this route, mak­ing Tara and Amar agents of the film’s un­hur­ried tac­til­ity. It makes per­fect sense that Tara’s cook­ing, slow mar­i­na­tion and hand­ground masala, should ap­peal to Amar, whose first gift to her is a gajra.

The premise—of a con­nec­tion fos­tered through the daily de­liv­ery of a freshly-cooked meal—is bound to in­vite com­par­isons with The Lunch­box (2013). Both films are redo­lent with old-school ro­mance: nos­tal­gia for hand­writ­ten notes and land­line ap­point­ments. Un­like the plot­ted safety of Ritesh Ba­tra’s film though, Tara and Amar meet sev­eral times, let­ting the charmed flame of their phone ban­ter flicker into un­scripted dis­ap­point­ment. Women have long cooked to ex­press love. The film recog­nises the in­ti­macy of the act, and the un­equal gen­dered labour of it. But Sethi’s glanc­ing, at­mo­spheric style doesn’t delve too deep, some­times leav­ing us with more sugges­tion than sub­stance.

The pro­tag­o­nists’ re­la­tion­ships with their re­spec­tive grown-up chil­dren never feel fully fleshed out, com­ing off like dis­trac­tions from our main fo­cus. This is par­tic­u­larly so be­cause Shah and Kabi are fine ac­tors, and Shah’s in­ten­sity makes her chem­istry with Kabi a smoul­der­ing thing.

—Tr­isha Gupta

Once Again art­fully de­picts a mid­dle-aged cou­ple drifting into love

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