That sage who opined that it's very difficult to be simple, must have seen "Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain" coming. This sweet, slender, supple, brittle and tender film about a mid-life marital crisis cuts deep. It leaves us with a smile and a tear and with a resolve to be nicer and more demonstrative of our feelings towards those who matter in our lives.
While recalling two of Sanjai Mishra's finest films in recent times, "Ankhon Dekhi" and "Masaan" (the former for the theme of a man past his prime suddenly seeking to extend the conscripted parameters of his life, and the latter for its Varanasi setting), this film is another beast altogether.
It is a much happier film than "Masaan" and far less philosophical in tone than "Ankhon Dekhi". It avoids a heaviness of the heart but doesn't shun emotions. It just keeps the proceedings uncomplicated.
The matter-of-fact tone rips its way gently through the narrative creating a world of office, home, wife and daughter... It's all so mundane that the drama would almost seem intrusive. When the crisis happens it doesn't take us by surprise. It only reaffirms our faith in the power of serendipity to strike and subjugate human desire even in the most prosaic lives.
So there he is, Yashwant Batra residing in a ramshackle ancestral home in Varanasi with his wife Kiran and daughter Preeti. There are ripples of upheaval when Preeti shows more than a passing interest in the boy-next-door (played with endearing unassumingness by Anshuman Jha).
You would think this is a river-bank comedy about an over-possessive father of the bride fuming as the loverboy whisks her away. But nothing here is as uncomplicated as it seems. In a sequence performed with masterly control and exceptional restraint by the redoubtable Sanjai Mishra and Ekavali Khanna (who is undoubtedly the surprise of the mellow drama), all the seams in the carefully woven pastiche of a working class marriage come apart.
What lies exposed is the hollowness and the veiled insensitivity of a householder who thinks providing for the family is all that his responsibility amounts to.
Though as calm as the Ganga waters that Faroukh Mistry's camera glides over with gladdening serenity, the family drama lays bare some painful home truths and then fights back the tears to instead create some light, bantering moments as Yashwant tries to win his hurt and withdrawn wife back.
Sanjai Mishra takes Yashwant's character through his journey of hypocritical gender-dominance to a state where he provides an equal status to his life partner without reducing his character to an illustrative puppet. Sanjai is eloquent and excursive. In a sequence where he tries to bear with his wife's overbearing family for her sake, he mixes conflicting emotions in a cocktail of fluctuating expressions that a lesser actor would make a mess of.
The greatness of the central performance and the film lies in making the most tangled situation appear simple and soluble. Sanjai is Everyman and yet his own person. As his wife, Ekavali Khanna is powerful. In her most revealing moments, she blends an easy grace with a bedrock of unexpressed hurt. Her flashes of rebellion against her husband's arrogant domination are quickly reined-in to convey a dignified resignation.
The supporting cast, specially Pankaj Tripathi as a doting husband nursing a dying wife and Brajendra Kala as the wacky father of the groom who takes generosity of spirit to another level, are first rate.
This is a small film with a very big heart, enduring in its statement on the erosion of mutual respect in a marriage of convenience, and endearing in its susceptibility to keep the narrative clutter-free when the stakes are piled heavily against a friction-free condition of existence.
Oh, and yes. This is a two-hero film. Sanjai Mishra and the city of Varanasi.
Subhash K Jha