‘Gehraiyaan’, meaning ‘depths’ in Hindi, is a wickedly tantalising romantic drama that doesn’t skim the surface as it explores love, lust and life in all its complicated glory.
It’s a movie that’s willing to offer a free-fall for its principal characters, even if it means they are plummeting to new depraved depths in several scenes.
Led by an absolutely in-form Deepika Paudkone as Alisha (a young woman trapped by her violent past), the movie explores her tenuous dynamics with her estranged and wealthy cousin Tia (Ananya Panday), her inappropriate attraction to Tia’s foxy fiance Zain (Siddhant Chaturvedi), and the fallouts from her life choices.
But at no point is Alisha or any of the characters making murky choices weaponised and that’s what makes ‘Gehraiyaan’ intriguing and a true winner. It humanises desire with melancholy.
‘Gehraiyaan’ is a stirring portrait of regrets and redemption, all the while playing a cat-and-mouse game with its viewers. Just when you think it’s a familiar tale of illicit love, shame, and guilt between Alisha and Zain — both who are in committed relationships with their respective partners played by Panday and Dhairya Karwa — the film veers into another direction. Its shift of pace and meditative mood feels abrupt, but you still stay with them.
It’s not easy to pin this psychological film into a box or a genre.
The players come across as fluid as they go about life making a string of right, wrong and downright terrible calls.
The gorgeous and seemingly wholesome quartet meet on a yacht before they set sail to their lush beach house in Alibaug. From the outset, it’s clear that Alisha and Tia are not on an even playing field and there’s a hint of animosity between them.
Tia’s father did incredibly well in life, while Alisha’s father (Naseeruddin Shah) missed the boat (or yacht).
Alisha was deprived of a privileged and protected existence that was afforded to Tia. But their awkward reunion is sandpapered away when Alisha and Zain find themselves harbouring a magnetic attraction for each other. Sneaky glances and flirtatious social media exchanges later, they hook up. But it’s no holiday romp.
In one of the rare instances in Hindi cinema, their desire for each other isn’t villainised or made to look sleazy. Their clandestine affair is sensitively portrayed as Padukone and Chaturvedi give it their all. They seem like a natural fit, as they behave like hormonal teenagers.
But just when you think this movie would hurtle towards their unsuspecting and gullible partners finding out about their transgressions and launching an incriminatory attack against these two rebels, the film switches gears into the truly grey zone.
The twists and turns are unexpected and not wholly believable.
Just like how the waves in a choppy sea turn into a full-blown storm, things get heated when Alisha and Zain decide to give their relationship an earnest try. So far, so good. As a viewer, director and co-writer Shakun Batra does a superb job of introducing his lead players. If Alisha is the slightly under-confident yoga instructor who hasn’t been dealt a good hand in life, her live-in partner Karan is an uncomplicated and mostly affable guy-next-door. He’s a struggling writer who seems to be battling a bad case of writer’s block. Completing the foursome is Tia, a sweet, entitled, and privileged young woman whose dreams seem to end with a Tuscany wedding with Zain.
But the real fox in the den seems to be Zain who seems to be a smooth operator. Chaturvedi injects his ambitious and suave persona with an assuredness that seasoned actors are usually armed with. Their deepest flaws aren’t ever demonised, even if there’s always a grey cloud of discontent hanging over everyone’s heads.
Having said that the drama falters when it comes to Zain's character arc. His motives and actions in the second half seem forced and contrived. While it's a relief to see a film where a woman isn't witch-hunted for acting on her impulses -- even if they aren't the smartest decisions to make -- it's a shame that the philandering guy isn't afforded much redemption.
The casting is spot-on. Panday nails the bits where she has to be cheerfully gullible or that suspicious spouse who's convinced that her dreamboat boyfriend isn't being honest with her. Actor Karwa does what's expected of him and is a sturdy foil. But his character isn't as defined and memorable as the other three players.
Undoubtedly, the true anchor of this film is Padukone who does a brilliant job of showcasing human frailties. Even when she’s at her most vulnerable and broken, there’s a silent strength about her that makes this film immensely watchable. It’s Padukone’s character that’s deeply fleshed out, while the others don’t get as much attention. But we aren’t complaining.
The scenes in which a broken Alisha makes peace with her past and her estranged father — played achingly by Shah — is a masterclass in subtlety. The part where he tells her gently that she's not a sum total of her mistakes is deeply moving.
Padukone doesn’t shy away from being unlikeable and that’s the beauty of this film. Even when its players are doing some deplorable actions (here's looking at you actor Rajat Kapoor as Zain's crafty business partner), you feel like giving them a chance without judging them harshly.
'Gehraiyaan' is a keeper with a spine-tingling teaser of a climax.
Director: Shakun Batra
Cast: Deepika Padukone, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Ananya Panday, Dhairya Karwa, Naseeruddin Shah and Rajat Kapoor
Stars: 3.5 out of 5
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video