Love triangles are boring. Mainly because they are so darn predictable. You know there will be heartbreaks, you know the person in the middle of this mess will be conflicted. You know there will be a loser bravely wiping tears of rejection at the end.
The women are so steeped in glassy-eyed (almost sinister) prettiness, that they end up being mysteries to be unravelled. The men are either lost puppies or silent Ramji types.
Bollywood has given us enough Hum Dil De Chuke Sanams for us to be able to make such predictions. Anurag Kashyap’s Manmarziyaan is a love triangle as predictable as Delhi-Noida traffic, you wait for hours but nothing moves. And when you do reach your destination, you are little more dreary, a little more defeated.
But here is the thing. Kashyap, a man who refuses to be governed by the diktats of conventional storytelling, chooses to make this film about character studies. He WANTS to deconstruct the prototypes of love triangles, and he wants to do that desperately. Storytelling be damned.
Therefore, in Taapsee Pannu’s Rumi (ironically named after a mystic poet), we see a fully-realised female protagonist. She is not an enigma that needs to be mythologised. She is an assemblage of quirky character traits, a young woman testing the boundaries of her world. But most importantly, she is the protagonist of the film. The eyes through which we see the world Kashyap has created.
Like Tanu in Tanu Weds Manu and countless other predecessors, Rumi is an oddball that only small towns can throw upon you. She is constantly snapping at people around her, taking them for granted and manipulating them to do her bidding. In the almost claustrophobic Amritsar kothi that she calls home, her being almost bursts out of every crack on the weathered wall.
She is gorgeous, yes, but she is also acutely aware of the effect she has on men. The only thing that foxes her is the way the man she loves, Vicky Sandhu (Vicky Kaushal), treats her. He loves her to bits, is addicted to her, but won’t commit to marriage. He is just not ready for the “responsibility”. Rumi acknowledges and respects that fact. But she doesn’t know how else to take the relationship forward.
Rumi’s predicament should make us question the way we, as a society, decide the course of a relationships, especially for women. Rumi, who is in no way a doormat, is eventually squeezed into a salwar kurta and presented in front of a prospective match after Vicky ditches her with a tray of samosas and chai in her hand. “I will marry any ullu ka pathha you choose,” she rages. For that’s the only way she can exercise her agency. By letting the elders of her family to decide her fate. Make no mistake, Kashyap wants you to soak in that fact. The crippling lack of choice that most Indian women have. In a later scene, in a clearer state of mind, Rumi is made to ponder at the cesspool of emotions she is restricting herself to. “Maybe now that my mind has cleared, life will have other options for me,” she says.
In contrast, the men of Manmarziyaan are wrapped in mystery. You know what Rumi’s convictions and battles are. The audience is taken into complete confidence when it comes to her, but Vicky, the mercurial ‘loser’, seems like a mystery. He is a bumbling a**hole, a man-child governed by desire. We are given tantalising glimpses of the workings of his mind, but never do we see the going-ons from his perspective.
In a crucial scene of the film, Rumi and Vicky are in a jeep, all set to elope. In the middle of the highway, Rumi confronts her lover with the all-crucial question. What do we do now? What’s the plan? He has no answer. Heck, he doesn’t even have his wallet with him. An exasperated Rumi shoots a volley of questions at him. Tries to coax answers out him, but his face only registers betrayal and shock.She then offers to run the show. “Leave it on me then. I will figure it out,” she says. No answer. “You have hurt me with these accusations,” is his petulant reply. Rumi has given up on understanding him by the end of this scene.
Similarly, Robbie, the other prototype in this triangle is never given the reigns of the narrative. He is the strong, silent man who seems to hold within himself an ocean of calmness and Rumi is bemused by his ability to remain “in character” unfailingly. Kashyap tells us that it’s an act. But it’s upto Rumi to call him out. “Kya aap bachpan se Ramji type ke the?(Were you a goody-two shoes from the very beginning), she asks.
As Manmarziyaan wobbles to a contrived conclusion, you at least have one thing to be happy about. Rumi actually has a character arc that’s not problematic. Like all good heroes at the end of a journey, she is now ready to take on the world with vigour and wisdom.
Thank you Anurag Kashyap and Kanika Dhillon for not letting Rumi down.