Movie Review: Raanjhanaa (2013)

Raanjhanaafilmposter2 Stars (out of 4)

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What a difference perspective makes. Had Raanjhanaa been told from the point of view of Sonam Kapoor’s character, Zoya, it would’ve been a horror movie along the lines of Fatal Attraction.

Instead, the main character in Raanjhanaa is a scrappy guy named Kundan (Dhanush). He’s supposed to be a tragic romantic hero, but he’s actually a stalker so possessive of Zoya that he destroys her life.

Their one-sided romance starts harmlessly enough. Muslim Zoya and Hindu Kundan grow up in the same neighborhood. He flirts with her, and she doesn’t discourage him. Things progress as far as a hug before her parents learn of it and send her away. Kundan vows to wait for her forever, even though he’s only in tenth grade, and she’s in ninth.

Eight years later, Zoya returns and doesn’t recognize Kundan. When he reminds her that he’s the reason she was sent away, her memory sparks, but romance does not. She laughs off his marriage proposals and makes it clear that he resides in The Friend Zone.

Besides, Zoya is in love with someone else: Akram (Abhay Deol), a politically active classmate from college. Akram is everything that Kundan is not: rich, principled, educated, and motivated. Zoya says that she loves Akram because he treats her as an equal, not as an object of worship or a trophy to be guarded.

Kundan doesn’t take the hint and instead acts like a manipulative drama queen. He slits his wrists, then stages a sham marriage to his childhood friend, Bindiya (Swara Bhaskar) to try to make Zoya jealous. This is particularly cruel because Kundan knows that Bindiya is in love with him. Ultimately, Kundan robs Zoya of her home, family, love, and future, all because she doesn’t love him in return.

What makes Raanjhanaa more interesting than another recent stalker-as-hero movie, Ekk Deewana Tha, is that the movie acknowledges that Kundan is in the wrong. He recognizes his mistakes, and justice is served in the end.

Yet the fact that the story is told from Kundan’s perspective is problematic. Most of the movie’s second half is about Kundan trying to redeem himself in Zoya’s eyes, though his actions are heinous enough that he doesn’t deserve forgiveness. The fact that he believes his actions are motivated by love is itself a kind of self-administered absolution, a shield for behavior that would otherwise be deemed evil. Perhaps the story might have been more satisfying had Kundan realized during his atonement that what he feels for Zoya is obsession, not love.

The story is all the more tragic because Kundan is a different, more endearing person when he’s with his friends, Bindiya and Murari (Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub). He’s more relaxed and playful, and the three share a great rapport. One of the movie’s best scenes is when Bindiya reluctantly agrees to help Kundan and Murari sink one of Zoya’s potential suitors, a doctor, by turning a medical check-up into an x-rated encounter.

The acting is uniformly good. Sonam Kapoor gives Zoya depth and allows her to grow throughout the film. Dhanush also gives a strong performance. It was nice to see a couple of romantic leading men portrayed by actors who don’t look like professional bodybuilders, for a change.

Raanjhanaa is entertaining, even if it is troubling. Zoya spells out exactly what modern women want in a love interest. Time for filmmakers to write their leading men accordingly.

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15 thoughts on “Movie Review: Raanjhanaa (2013)

  1. Sujit

    Though i agree with most of your cooments about stalking in Raanjhanaa….sadly it’s the reality of how young love blooms in small town’s of india. It surely will boggle you as being a western audience and not knowing the local scenario here in india. So you took protagonist as the culprit here…in second half, he resurrects himself and acts responsibly and behaves more maturely .. in contrast with his true nature…only because zoya has been his true love all this time.not a mere obsession..he is willing to die for her shows his determination…I think highly of this film so do many others as it has garnered more and more respect among moviegoers ….I hoped it deserved better rating 🙂 Anyways nice work..apreciate your interest..keep up !

    1. Kathy Post author

      Thanks, Sujit! I agree that Kundan’s growing sense of maturity in the second half promotes the idea that love is earned because of one’s character, not simply by degree of devotion. I’m still not convinced that what Kundan feels for Zoya is love. When they interact, she’s not nice to him. She laughs at the greeting card he buys for her, and she laughs when he proposes marriage. She makes it clear that she considers him beneath her. Why would he want to marry someone like that? I think Kundan is in love with his idea of who Zoya is, not the person she actually is. It makes his devotion seem kind of twisted.

      On the other hand, when Zoya hugs Kundan after he slits his wrists (the first time), it’s not out of love. It’s out of fear, guilt, and pity. What person wants to be “loved” out of pity? I don’t believe that love can ever be coerced, either by threat of suicide or by threat of murder. Kundan threatens to slit Zoya’s wrists when he thinks she’s lied to him. Only a monster does that.

        1. Kathy Post author

          Thanks for the link, Sujit! If nothing else, Raanjhanaa has given me a lot to think about. 🙂

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  3. Raghu

    Though I agree with many of your comments, I think you conveniently avoided talking about the scenes that work against Zoya. So, let me fill in.

    Though Kundan stalks Zoya during his teenage, he does not remain a stalker for long. He gathers courage and proposes. Zoya on the other hand takes advantage of his obsession and slaps him everyday for fun until she is bored. Later, she agrees to meet him. Engrossed in the romantic act, she slides her hand on his chest and finds the holy thread – worn by a certain Hindu caste.

    Eight years later, Zoya is in love with Akram. Zoya realizes that Kundan was and is still obsessed with her. She takes his help to get rid of a marriage proposal. Fully aware of his obsession, as a reward for his help, she is ready to flirt with him on his scooter holding him tightly. Kundan at this point is unaware that Zoya is in love with Akram and is under the impression that he has won her all over again.

    Zoya finally reveals her true love. Kundan is heart broken and behaves insanely. Zoya fully aware of Kundan’s obsession shamelessly urges Kundan to convince her family about her marriage with Akram. Kundan convinces Zoya’s father that Zoya is in love with a well educated Muslim and insists on getting them married. When he finds out that Akram is not a Muslim he feels manipulated by Zoya and makes a hasty move of disclosing this in the marriage hall. ( If Kundan had not disclosed this, Zoya’s father would very well assume the Kundan was involved in the plot too. )

    The kind of obsession Kundan has for Zoya is also seen with Bhindiya. She is obsessed in marrying Kundan though he has shown no respect to her and has just used her to help Zoya.

    Later, when Kundan confesses his mistake and assures to take her to Akram – Zoya literally spits on his face. Despite this, he takes Zoya to Akram’s place only to find him dead. Zoya holds Kundan completely responsible for Akram’s death though her lack of courage to stand up to her father and her decision of basing the marriage on lie/manipulation played a big role in the tragedy.

    Kundan joins the team lead by Zoya who are involved in election campaign. With his natural charm and sensible thinking he is able to win over the public and Zoya’s team. Zoya is unable to bear Kundan’s success.

    Compromising the safety of her team and values that Akram had built, Zoya shamelessly joins hands with corrupt politician in a plot to get Kundan killed. Zoya manipulates Kundan by moving close to him in auto-rickshaw and making him wear Akram’s clothes leading him towards the death plot.

    Zoya succeeds in her cold blooded murder but also confesses her involvement. It is too late when she realizes that Kundan was aware of the whole plot.

    Who is monster now ?

    1. Kathy Post author

      Thanks for commenting, Raghu. I completely agree that Zoya is not a good person. She’s manipulative, and she’s not nice to Kundan (except for when she wants something). But that raises the question: why does Kundan insist in pursuing her? As I mentioned in my comment to Sujit, he’s “in love” with an idea of who Zoya is. If he appraised her honestly, he’d walk away and start a happy life with Bindiya.

      I like your suggestion that Kundan needed to distance himself from his advocacy on Akram’s behalf. Had he voiced that concern aloud, then told Zoya’s father privately that they’d been tricked, I’d have believed that self-preservation was Kundan’s foremost concern. Instead, in a fit of anger, Kundan deals with his discovery by storming into the ceremony and revealing the truth about Akram to everyone present, humiliating Zoya’s father in public and ensuring retaliation. Zoya was wrong to lie, but she would’ve gotten away with it. I hold her about 20% responsible for Akram’s death. The other 80% is Kundan’s fault. He valued his pride more than Akram’s or Zoya’s life.

      While I agree that Zoya irresponsibly jeopardizes the safety of her friends in the climactic scene, I contend that she wouldn’t have been in the position to do so were it not for Kundan’s actions at her wedding. Zoya is a monster of Kundan’s creation.

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