Film Review: RaanjhannaThe lengthy Bollywood love story swerves dangerously between cinematic styles, but its star is engaging through the last frame.
The first half of Raanjhanna is a gently whimsical love story, with moments of inter-religious tension. In the second half of the two-and-a-half-hour film, the story takes a contemporary political turn. By the third half, greed, intrigue and mystery—and viewer fatigue—take over, making the entire project a head-scratching exercise. But somehow, and despite several unrealistic shifts in tone and plot, director Aanand Rai pulls it all together into an appealing mishmash.
The fact that the film marks the Hindi-language debut of South Indian star and YouTube superstar Dhanush is bound to draw interest at the box office, though Rai’s firm refusal to play by the rules of the typical Bollywood love story may make it hard to sustain momentum.
Dhanush is an acting, singing and dancing star whose appeal can’t be overestimated. At 29, the unconventionally gangly actor has become a top name in Tamil films, with 25 titles to his credit. But it was one song, the funny and infectious “Why This Kolaveri Di,” that made him a global phenom in 2011, racking up 67 million hits on YouTube.
So Raanjhanaa is a high-stakes effort for Dhanush, who is required here to play Kundan, in turn a comically love-struck teen, a romantic lead (the title of the film is a play on “Raanjha,” the name of one of the great tragic lovers of Indian lore), and later a firebrand political leader. It doesn’t always work for him, in part because the histrionics of his native South Indian cinema tend to creep in at inopportune moments, but no matter what direction the film is taking at any given moment, Dhanush’s charm remains.
Sonam Kapoor—the daughter of veteran Anil Kapoor and a familiar face on this year’s Cannes red carpet for some assertive jewelry choices, including an enormous jeweled nose ring—is well-cast as Zoya, a bright young Muslim girl whose parents are staunchly opposed to her relationship with the Hindu Kundan. Abhay Deol (Road, Movie; Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara) doesn’t leave much of an impression as a third man in Kundan and Zoya’s love triangle.
Rai, whose previous films include the critically appreciated Tanu Weds Manu, relies on a straightforward, unadorned storytelling style for this film, letting Himanshu Sharma’s screenplay take the spotlight, although more attention to continuity would have been welcome: in one scene, a character drives his scooter into the Ganges river, only to appear dry and freshly pressed five minutes later.
Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman lends several subtly moving songs with classical and folk elements at the right moments; and cinematographers Vishal Sinha and Nataraja Subramanian and production designer Wasiq Khan deserve credit for their artful depiction of all the shades of ancient Benares. Pollution and all, it is still Hinduism’s holiest city, and it becomes as much a part of Raanjhanaa as its songs.
—The Hollywood Reporter