Of late, there has been a slew of films featuring the ‘feminist voice’ cleverly wrapped in different wrappers such as Pink with the star charisma of Mr Bachchan, or, Parched, with the picturesquely beautiful location of rural Rajasthan covering the ugly face of domestic violence, or, Akira with the clichéd avenging-woman story. These women do not drown themselves in martyrdom or self-pity but fight back for their rights. Anaarkali of Aarah is one more step down that direction.
Anaarkali (Swara Bhaskar) is a beautiful young girl from Arrah, a small town in Bhojpur District of Bihar, who takes on her mother’s profession to makes a living out of entertaining an all-male audience with erotic and exotic song-dance numbers arranged by the local orchestra band and its owner (Pankaj Tripathi). The audience whistles, makes cat-calls and even stands up to dance to her hip-swinging and chest-thrusting movements sung to double entendre lyrics in shimmering costumes and jewellery. While she is not anywhere remotely close to being a pure, untouched, lily-white virgin, her ‘relationships’ are her choice and she is clear she not answerable to anyone including the owner she dances for. What happens when the Vice Chancellor (VC) of a local university (Sanjay Mishra) takes a fancy to her and she does not respond to his hints, suggestions and then direct demands, makes for the rest of the story.
Is Anaarkali allowed to follow her principles where the mainstream shuns her and calls her names within her hearing? Can she really run away from the terrible poverty she is steeped in? The film explores her points of exit and possible closure in different ways by taking the story to Delhi post-interval. This segment drags a bit and becomes repetitive besides diluting the essence of her ideology by putting in fairy-tale gimmicks that appear as commercial compromises the director has taken recourse to. Anaarkali’s revenge, when it comes, is also too pat and melodramatic for this otherwise character-driven story.
The VC is coarse, crude and commanding. The same goes for the local police inspector whose servile behavior towards the VC is an example of how low the police force can stoop to just to hold on to their posts. Sanjay Mishra as the despicable, disgusting VC, who makes no bones about his lecherous inclinations, is not only totally convincing, but his character also sheds considerable light on the current situation in institutions of higher education in Bihar. At the other end, as the head of the orchestra band, Pankaj Tripathi is at his adorable best. Above all, Swara Bhaskar, who has already established her versatility in films like Tanu Weds Manu (2011), Raanjhanaa (2013) and Neel Battey Sannata (2016), smoothly carries Anaarkali of Aarah on her slender shoulders.
The dialect and lyrics are too niche and are likely to be understood primarily by those belonging to Northern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand and this takes away the spike and the masala from the double entendre lyrics. Anaarkali’s movements, postures and body thrusts however, do the needful. She dances with tantalizing movements not only to live music, but also to songs written, set to tune and rehearsed exclusively for such programs.
By the end, however, one is rather confused about whether director Avinash Das intended this to be an out-of-the-box film revolving around the eternal question of a woman’s consent or a more familiar avenging-woman film. If he had been more focused, Anaarkali Of Aarah could have been a more powerful celluloid statement than it has turned out to be.
Hindi, Drama, Color