With its heart in the right place and a reformist vision as its center of focus, Anaarkali of Aarah delves deep into the hinterlands of India to come up with a telling yet entertaining statement on feminism, patriarchy, and the importance to defend one’s respect regardless the odds. It may not fall in the league of a Pink, but you never get the feeling that debutant Director Avinash Das was aiming for such high peaks. What he does do well though is ease you into the films rustic narrative, replete with vivid colors and plenty of oomph, and then, when you least expect it, he take a sudden U-turn, and hits you, with what can only be described, as a strong, inspirational, and rooted portrayal of feminism.
The films spotlight is firmly trained on Swara Bhasker in the eponymous role, who follows in her mothers footsteps as an erotic street performer (nukkad ki chamya in desi lingo) in the heartlands of Bihar. After spending time to highlight the simmer and sizzle of her sensuous moves on stage, the plot veers into unexpected territory, where erotica is swapped for social drama and Swaras spirit outshines her sex appeal. The catalyst who changes the narrative and exposes a totally different facet of Anaarkalis persona is Dharmendra Chauhan, one of Aarahs most-important bureaucrats, whose lack of qualification for the post of the town universitys Vice Chancellor is matched only by his deplorable lechery for Anaarkalis flesh. But our dame may be a chamya but shes certainly no chinaal, and Swaras fight to make the entire town, including her close confidants and not just Chauhan realize that, forms the rest of the story.
Some of the most-satisfying aspects of Anaarkali of Aarah lie not only in its message, but how its delivered through several stinging subtleties strewn across the plot. From Swaras troop manager, Pankaj Tripathi, wondering why she cant compromise with Chauhan for a night, considering their profession, to the sheer lawlessness of the land, meted out by the law-keepers themselves, to Anaarkalis fans accepting her as a star but never being able to respect her; the film takes one hard-hitting dig after another at the mentality and background of largely ignored pockets of our society in its attempt to uncover their outlook to women in general. However, it does so with copious fun, where every actor is game to lace their character with comic undertones, achieved primarily through Das hilarious dialogues. The dialect alone is given such a humorous touch that the message of such a heavy subject reaches you in the most lighthearted manner imaginable. Youre offered belly-full of laughs at several junctures in the movie without ever getting distracted from what it truly wants to convey.
If the films message and Das vision is realized, then its primarily due to the cast, who wholeheartedly conform to the script and convince you that youre taking this journey with them in this remote Bihari town. If Pankaj Tripath is the archetypal male confidant always ready to spring to his female coworkers aid but never truly able to lend her the support needed to express herself as an individual then Sanjay Mishra is the epitome of the dirty, middle-aged Indian male, drunk on power and drugged with self-entitlement, believing that his perception of how different women should be treated is the only one that matters. The other supporting players like Ishteyak Arif Khan and Mayur More, too, do a swell job in reminding us that good men can be found anywhere and that all that a man needs to do at times is support a womans decisions rather than be her knight in shining armor.
However, the film is about Anaarkali of Aarah, and, as such, demands a stirring central performance, and thats exactly what were treated to from Swara Bhasker. Her talent was never in doubt, but for too long has she been relegated to appeasing us merely as the heroines friend or the heros sister. Though she got a chance to shine in Nil Battey Sannata, and shine she did, this is the first time that shes given a role of power, drive, blood, and vigor, and boy does she chew it down to the bone. For the first time she makes us notice that not only can she act the socks out of any role, but can also do everything needed of a quintessential Bollywood actress. The role is such that she gets to preen, prance, dance, seduce, and she strikes a perfect equilibrium between substance and swag. Swara has never acted better, never looked hotter, and never owned a character more than she does with Anaarkali. Itd be a criminal waste of talent if she isnt thrust into the major league by more-prominent filmmakers.
The music wont have you humming any tune after the credits roll but it flows nicely with the narrative arc. Technically, however, the film is quite an underachiever, and the lack of budget sticks out like a sore thumb in certain shots and sets. Agreed, a rustic feel was required, but films like Gangs of Wasseypur and Haraamkhor have shown that your product can still look polished while achieving it. The editing, too, could have been crisper; case in point being the Delhi track, which was far too stretched out. Also, in its quest to deliver its message, the screenplay loses out on a bit of realism, and though you go along with it because of its hopeful nature, the nagging question still remains at the back of your mind that it would be virtually impossible for a street dancer to go to such lengths in a place like Bihar before being hacked to pieces and being strewn across a river.
Nevertheless, this is a film that needs to be watched for a budding Directors obvious talent, the pertinent message delivered with heart, and, above all, a virtuoso Swara Bhasker at her vivacious best.
Movified Rating: 3.5/5
Images Source: Promodome