All That Could Have Been is Mahesh Bhatt’s book version of the film Hamari Adhuri Kahani (Our incomplete story), which he wrote and produced. And that’s the theme for our review of the tragic love story. Because all that it could have been is a real good film.
You see, when you have top-notch actors like Vidya Balan, Emraan Hashmi and Rajkummar Rao, you do not turn them into cliched Bollywood characters who are reduced to mouthing the cheesiest lines you could think of.
“There are no dried leaves here, it’s too perfect,” says Balan’s Vasudha in a scene shot at Dubai’s Miracle Garden, where a smitten hotel magnate Aarav Ruparel (Hashmi) stands over her, hanging on her every word. “Nothing’s perfect in this world. Even the moon has spots.”
This is no poetry recital. Vasudha is a florist and part-time philosopher who selflessly ‘saves’ Aarav in a mock fire drill in his hotel in Mumbai. He’s so impressed by her dedication he gives her a promotion to work in his hotel in Dubai.
And now the poor woman’s being driven straight to the Miracle Garden from the airport and asked what she thinks about it.
It’s not long before something flies into her eyes, causing tears to stream down her softly-focused face. Aarav reaches out to wipe it, forever sealing their tragic fates.
Cue the first song.
But life’s not so simple. Vasudha is a married woman, with a young child. Her husband Hari (Rao) has been missing for the last five years and the police have evidence he’s joined a terrorist group. There’s also a back story about how she was married off to Hari against her will by her religious father and forced to tattoo her husband’s name on her arm.
So this tug-of-war of emotions continues for a while until Aarav declares his love for Vasudha with the beautiful Abu Dhabi desert as backdrop. There’s a random spin-the-bottle game inserted somewhere here, but I digress.
Vasudha tearfully rejects it, saying she’s bound to her husband, and tradition, pointing to her mangalsutra (a necklace some Hindu women wear to signify they’re married). But, horror of horrors, she’s forgotten it in her hotel room. She runs, in slow motion, knocking everything over in the process.
That effectively signals the halfway mark of the film.
The second half slowly picks up pace when, predictably, Hari reappears to cause mayhem. But things get really muddled at this point. While our lovelorn hero continues with his quotable quotes — “To love somebody you have to first stop loving yourself” — Vasudha finds her strength, and the film briefly turns into a woman’s empowerment drama with references to the Hindu deity Durga et al.
“I’ve been watching like a coward as every one fights around me. No more,” Vasudha says at one point.
Alas, it comes so late in this cheesefest of a love story that you’d already been knocked out senseless. Even when one character dies, you feel nothing.
I blame Bhatt and the director Mohit Suri for turning Balan, undoubtedly one of our finest actors, into a whimpering, crying mess of a woman. Considering much of Bhatt’s work as director have featured strong women even when it wasn’t fashionable in Bollywood, this film really makes no sense. Hashmi’s talent is wasted like Balan’s tears, while Rao shines in his brief psychotic role.
What the film could have been, and which it briefly is, is about a woman, who, despite her over-bearing reality, breaks free from tradition, follows her heart and triumphs. Instead, she stupidly walks with her suitcase into the sand dunes.
No, this is not an incomplete story. It’s just a badly told one.
Hamari Adhuri Kahani
Starring: Vidya Balan, Emraan Hashmi, Rajkummar Rao
Director: Mohit Suri
Stars: 2 out 5