Gehraiyaan (2022), Dharma Productions latest offering that is currently streaming on Prime Video, starts out as an atmospheric piece on infidelity but soon evolves into a broader portrait of emotional conflict and personal motives teetering on the brink of a cataclysm. Director Shakun Batra and his team of writers show us that this intensely grim tale is worth exploring despite the various loopholes that stop the film short of ‘being there.’
The story revolves around Alisha (Deepika Padukone), scarred badly by her mother’s suicide when she was little. She blames her father (Naseeruddin Shah) for her mother’s death and keeps minimal contact with him. Presently a yoga instructor in Mumbai, she is trying to get her yoga app funded. Alisha is in a live-in relationship with her struggling writer boyfriend, Karan (Dhairya Karwa), who has given up his job in an ad agency and is writing his first novel. Alisha’s cousin, Tia (Ananya Panday), whom Alisha hasn’t seen for a while, invites the two of them for a weekend get together at her beach house property in Alibaug. As they travel to Alibaug via a yacht, Karan and Alisha are introduced to Tia’s fiancé and real estate businessman, Zain (Siddhant Chaturvedi). Soon sparks between Alisha and Zain and both of them embark upon an affair, which leads to Alisha getting pregnant. And as Zain’s professional life falls apart, their relationship starts to take a downhill turn. Meanwhile, Tia has secrets of her own that involve her father and Alisha’s mother…
Within the first few moments of the film, Alisha’s yoga app hangs while she is giving a demo to a pespective client. She tells the woman that she will fix the glitch. As the story proceeds, we see that the hanging of the app and having to sort out the problem is an analogy for Alisha’s own state of mind as she tries to fix her emotional baggage and her professional and personal insecurities. While her physical body is flexible and freewheeling, her mind is caged and stiff with memories of the past as she tries to come to terms with her self-doubts and get what she desires of life. This is something that the other characters are struggling with too. Tia, Karan and Alisha have a past history as they grew up together while Zain, the outsider, is trying to go past his own issues that caused him to leave his home in Jaipur.
The film does a fine enough job exploring the interior lives of its muddled and flawed characters, who are unable to come clean or express anything directly. Not even their own anguish and dissatisfaction. While the sea on which the primary characters cruise leisurely around Mumbai and Alibaug signifies their emotional turmoil and complexities in a metaphorical sense, the inserts of the sea waves used to depict the disturbance in their minds is a rather clumsy editing technique that is much too literal and at times arbitrary. The luxurious beach-side house in Alibaug acts as a somewhat ominous possession having its own buried moments of betrayal. Once the ownership is lost, Alisha and Tia finally find the courage to rejuvenate their relationship and move on.
That said, the last third of the film spirals out of control. As the film veers into the terrain of Woody Allen’s Match Point (2005), the narrative energy loses momentum and coherence. The manner in which a heinous act of accidental crime is dealt with thereafter creates much disbelief and a lack of reasoning going against the grain of the narrative. This takes away a lot from the film which till then was on reasonably solid ground.
Deepika Padukone holds the film together with her fine performance. With Gehraiyaan she has superseded her effort from Piku (2015), arguably her best act to date. Balancing her suffocation, angst and heartbreak perfectly, she brings an extraordinary tenderness in her intimate scenes without making them explicit or titillating. Siddhant Chaturvedi brings an effortless coolness to Zain. Ananya Panday brings a restrained and organic likeness to Tia. But in the more emotional moments, her acting is devoid of complexities. Naseeruddin Shah lends some much needed heft to the film in his limited screen time as an estranged father yet again. And Rajat Kapoor brings subtlety and competence in his role though frankly, he has nothing much to do. Dhairya Karwa as Karan makes a sincere effort to match up with the rest of the cast.
Cinematographer Kaushal Shah has shot the film with a lovely, loose naturalism. Morover, he allows us to experiance every emotion of all the characters, perfectly capturing the intensity of their psyches. Nitesh Bhatia sets the pace languid pace for much the film with his elliptical cutting. But the last third looks far too hurried in wrapping up the story and makes the narrative feel choppy with an inconsistent rhythm. The songs are well composed while the background score and sound design work in tandem to evoke the aural ambience of the vehicular traffic, the crashing of waves and those intense silents yet eloquent moments. The background score, in particular, blends beautifully with the mindset of the characters. The production design by Abid TP adds contemporariness and gloss to the visual design of the film.
Gehraiyaan has its moments, no doubt, but unlike its title, it lacks that depth to truly score. That said, Batra and Padukone, provide us with enough meat to recommend giving it a watch.
Hindi, English, Drama, Thriller, Color