‘Déjà vu all over again.’ This quote, attributed to American baseball legend Yogi Berra, leapt to mind watching yet another Mahesh Bhatt iteration of the Parveen Babi story. We have seen this innumerable times in so many permutations and combinations – from the point of view of the wife, the mother, the other woman, the son, the transgressing husband – in Bhatt’s Arth, Zakhm, Phir Teri Kahani Yaad Aayee and Woh Lamhe..., and also seeping into the narrative in films like Janam and Daddy that at some point during the series I sort of tuned out. I paraphrased the line ‘How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man’ from Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowing in the Wind’ to: How many times can a man tell the same story before there’s nothing new to tell.
One understands that Parveen weighs heavily on Bhatt’s mind and conscience so that even close to 50 years later, she finds her way into his creative endeavours. One also understands that the actor was vilified, targeted and abandoned by the same industry and the media that fawned on her during her stardom and that had little inkling of what she was going through in her last years. And this may be Bhatt’s way of addressing those wrongs. But does it work? On the evidence of Ranjish Hi Sahi, no.
The action begins at an ashram in 1976. Inmate Shankar Vats (Tahir Raj Bhasin) is thrown out of the ashram for questioning the writ of its presiding godman. (Now, the name Shankar Vats itself I found interesting – Shankar, another name for Mahesh, while Vats is a phonetic stand-in for Bhatt! In the absence of much that held my attention, I found myself time and again looking for connections like these.)
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Shankar is a filmmaker with three flops behind him and is in the process of making his fourth in which he is barely invested. He lacks inspiration and, in the manner of the 1970s’ hero, wanders down the streets of Bombay, swigging copious amounts of alcohol. What makes it worse for him is his tendency to antagonise the big-shot producers of the era, represented by the likes of Jagmohan Seth (Saurabh Sachdeva). In one of the few interesting scenes in the series, when Shankar visits Jagmohan’s residence, the latter is ‘showing’ his new film to Lord Shiva before its release, waiting for a flower from the altar to drop to the ground, which will ensure that the film will become a box-office success.
A chance meeting with the reigning star of the era, Amna Parvez (Amala Paul), provides him with the creative spark he lacks while also turning his life upside-down. Amna is on the rebound from an affair with another high-profile star, Zubair (Rajat Kaul) and is slowly losing a grip on herself. But the material here is so tired, and it is directed and played out so flatly that it’s a wonder the makers could actually find it in themselves to stretch it over eight episodes.
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The period detail is tacky. We see a poster of the era’s biggest hit starring Amna, Ajay, Anwar, Albert! You have Amna shooting a sequence from a film that requires her to say the now-iconic Hindi film phrase ‘Shukriya, karam, meherbani’ followed by what stands in for RD Burman’s famous musical flourish. There’s an award show where an older Shankar is felicitated with a lifetime award. None of which convey the period with any verisimilitude.
Then there are the cliches – the smarmy producers, the swollen-headed star, Amna’s empathetic driver Abdul (Madan Deodhar) and secretary Mary (Naina Sareen), and in the middle of it all, the ‘intellectual, sensitive’ filmmaker mouthing profound lines like ‘Sab kuch badal gaya’ or ‘Sab jhooth lagta hai’.
A sense of artifice hangs over the series. And everything is spelt out, underlined. Consider the watch-repair man Shankar comes across who gives him philosophical gems like ‘find yourself’, ‘life is nothing without death – it’s a package deal’ or ‘only time will now heal’, the last followed by a shot of a wall with a plethora of clocks hanging on it.
It’s only in the last episode, in an interaction between Shankar and his mother (played by Zarina Wahab), that one gets the film’s one true moment when she tells him, ‘You are indebted to her for the pain she has caused you.’ But by now, it’s too late to salvage the drama despite Tahir and Amala’s sincere efforts.
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‘I don’t want to die alone,’ Amna tells Shankar in a scene. That’s how Parveen died. Alone, her body rotted for three days before it was discovered. Ranjish Hi Sahi’s biggest failure lies in its inability to evoke the trauma or tragedy of that. In the way the series plays out, ‘I don’t want to die alone’ remains just another line an actor has been given to mouth.
TITLE: Ranjish Hi Sahi
Cast: Tahir Raj Bhasin, Amala Paul, Amrita Puri, Zarina Wahab, Paras Priyadarshan
Director: Pushpdeep Bhardwaj
Rating: Two stars
Platform: Voot Select
(Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is an award-winning publisher, editor and a film buff)