Main maaroonga toh mar jayega tu, dobaara janam lene se darr jayega tu.” This line that the hero fires at the villain in Marjaavaan‘s climactic moments comes from an arsenal of rhyming bombast that he uses from the opening minutes of this exhausting film. Thankfully, there is an arsenal of adjectives in the English language to match his weaponry. Dated, loud, cliché-ridden, preachy, unimaginative, boring, flat – that is what Marjaavaan is.
Take the slotting of the characters for one. Each comes from a checklist that Bollywood in earlier decades felt compelled to cover exhaustively in most scripts. Virtuous hero, virtuous woman who exists solely for him to fall in love with her and thus give her the requisite qualification for the post of heroine, villain without a single redeeming quality, other woman in the ‘golden-hearted tawaif’ mould whose unrequited love for the leading man survives every trauma thrown her way – you will find them all in Marjaavaan.
As if these Neanderthal formulae are not enough, there are more. The bad guy is a dwarf in a film that clearly sees a disability as nothing but a source of drama. The hero is a “lawaaris”. A glamorous woman pops up to do that thingie called an ‘item song’ with dance moves that include spreading her legs wide, thrusting her bottom out and wiggling it, and going down on all fours to lift her bottom again and wiggle it – gosh, there is no originality even in the objectification of women in Marjaavaan.
And while it is a relief to get a break from the Islamophobia that has been a regular feature of Hindi cinema in the last couple of years, there is no joy in returning, as Marjaavaan does, to an era when the co-existence of religious and linguistic communities was not treated as a fact of life but as a cause for sugary sentimentality and in-your-face messaging on secularism.
Oh, and then there is the fact that while the nice guy speaks in verse, the bad guy reels off “what is the height of (optimism, etc)?” kind of jokes and the female protagonist speaks in riddles.
Considering all this, it is appropriate that Marjaavaan’s soundtrack is dominated by remixes.
Sidharth Malhotra plays Raghu, the handsome orphaned foster child of the gangster played by Nassar. The latter’s son Vishnu (Riteish Deshmukh) has always resented his father’s love for Raghu, that resentment made worse by his crushing complex about his congenital short stature. Their life-long enmity is heightened when Raghu falls in love with the mute Zoya (Tara Sutaria) who tries to reform the children of the neighbourhood by steering them towards music and away from an otherwise inevitable life of crime. Rakul Preet Singh stars as Aarzoo, the sex worker who is devoted to Raghu.
Marjaavaan is written and directed by Milap Zaveri whose career has so far been built primarily on writing comedies, some of them largely harmless fun (such as the Varun Dhawan-starrer Main Tera Hero), many of them crude (case in point: Masti, Grand Masti). For this film, Zaveri ditches high-decibel sexist humour in favour of high-decibel sermonising. Perhaps in a bid to sound intelligent and relevant, at one point in Marjaavaan he has the hero yelling “mandir banega aur masjid bhi blah blah blah”, but in the absence of any political depth, that pointed allusion to the Babri Masjid imbroglio makes zero sense. In a more well-thought-out film it might have meant something that Zoya is a Kashmiri Muslim girl and she is assembling a troupe for a music festival in Kashmir. Here though it means nothing.
Marjaavaan is so hackneyed that even the usually restrained Malhotra is driven to intermittent over-acting during its two-hours-plus running time. Deshmukh hams his way through playing Vishnu. Ms Sutaria is bland.
Singh does better than her colleagues with the little acting she is required to do in her limited role. Her primary job here is to look hot, but she is not allowed to do that well by the photography, wardrobe and other departments who, for some reason, collude to highlight her protruding rib cage through much of the film – this inexplicable treatment meted out to an otherwise lovely-looking woman will hopefully spark off a debate on the impossible thinness required of Hindi film heroines these days. As for the great Nassar, his performance in Marjaavaan is a textbook example of how even the finest of actors can be reduced to embarrassingly strained performances by bad writing and direction.
Maybe the line Raghu should have delivered is this: “Yeh film dekhega toh mar jayega tu, dobaara koi bhi film dekhne se darr jayega tu.