It begins with a literal bang, and yet Vishal Bhardwaj’s Pataakha is a slow-starter. Not in terms of action, of which there is plenty. In fact there are no quiet, introspective moments in a film ruled primarily by the mercurial tempers — and fists — of two untamed sisters. But in terms of the fact that for the longest time, you’ve no idea why these two protagonists are baying for each other’s blood.
Adapted from Charan Singh Pathik’s Do Behenien, Pataakha begins by introducing us to Champa (Radhika Madan) and Genda (Sanya Malhotra), who live in a tiny village in Rajasthan with their miner father (Vijay Raaz). The two sisters seem the same in essence, but have dreams as different as can be. Champa wants nothing to do with school and wants to start her own dairy, while Genda just wants to speak perfect English and become a teacher. In the first half of the film, Badki and Chutki (as they are called) are either fighting, or building up to it. And a near-constant bystander (and instigator) in their brawling, is the Langda Tyagi of Pataakha, Dipper (played to perfection by Sunil Grover). He’s content to stay in the sidelines, as long as there are enough fireworks to keep him entertained.
If a caustic, sharp political commentary on the noxious India-Pakistan relationship was Vishal’s motive, he hits it out of the park. At no given point in the film does the high octane resentment and anger between the two goes away. The tension is never released, just temporarily put on hold. Neither Badki nor Chutki want to be close to each other, but fate (and marriage to brothers) constantly conspires to do so. Vishal doesn’t even bother giving a cause or sound reasoning behind their hatred. He’s long since decided that they fight each other simply because they love to.
In the end, when we’re seemingly given a ‘resolution’, it is the final nail in the coffin Vishal’s chiseled to perfection. Who are you even laughing at? Your own hatred towards a nation? Howl-arious.
Radhika Madan is exceptional as the elder sister who bullies, teases and suckerpunches anyone who bothers her, or her sister, without hesitation. Sanya Malhotra is as amazing as she was in her first film. Thankfully though, she has much more to do here, than she did in Dangal. Vijay Raaz as the perpetually exhausted father of two somewhat unhinged daughters, is strangely restrained even when he is distraught. A combination only he could have managed. It is Sunil Grover however, who you’ll keep thinking about long after the film’s done. To play a character who creates drama for no rhyme or reason, despite getting nothing but love in return, couldn’t have been easy to play, but Sunil Grover manages it effortlessly.
Can we all just agree to agree that we do not deserve Vishal Bhardwaj and his particular brand of cinema, that’s delightfully weird, meta and replete with clever little jabs at the powers that be, that it leaves you feeling smug just because you got it.