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.