Kuchh Bheege Alfaaz (2018): Film Review
It's one of the most cliched romantic tropes - two people become each other's confidants by an exchange of letters, emails, texts, or in this case, phone calls. Mistaken identity, revelation, concluded by the eventuality of meeting in flesh. There exist more creative renditions of the story - The Lunchbox being notable in recent times - but Kuchh Bheege Alfaaz is not one of them. This film is meant to be old-school only to be garnished with modern spins. In an attempt to show how variations can be met to keep up with a changing world crazed over social media, the film instead stays afloat because of the simplicity with which it handles complex human emotions. Barely stays afloat, that is, since it owns no spirit.
The film is about Alfaaz, a reserved, poetic RJ, and Archana, a chirpy girl with leucoderma. There is an interesting dichotomy between the modern ways of Tinder and WhatsApp, and the classic, arguably old-timed, radio. This is balanced between the two leads, with Archana, who is a fan of Alfaaz's radio show but at the same time able to pull him out into the more modern world. Romanticizing WhatsApp and "forwards" doesn't work, no matter how realistic it is. The director, Onir, seems to have sought to modernise the tale with elements of realism, but he misses the fact that forwarded messages are not something the young upper-middle-class population delves in. This is also true for using slang such using "forward" as a noun. The bulk of WhatsApp messages Archana receives in the morning is over-the-top. If that wasn't enough, another "millennial" element is Archana's profession - I don't know if meme-generating companies exist, but their idea, at least as portrayed in the movie, seems pathetic.
The story is set in Kolkata, and the setting is enhanced with the trams and the constantly audible disturbances in the background. The noise, while grounded in reality, is prolonged through all the outdoor dialogue, making the mood mundane and bland., without emphasis on any key moments. The mood is dependent solely on dialogue and acting, and one wonders if that is enough at all times. There are some exceptions, including the sequence when the leads are on their way to meet each other and the fluttering excitement of their minds plays out along the song Pehla Nasha, an endearing use of the song, but dying out too soon to leave a lasting effect.
This movie doesn't have an original soundtrack, only the use of three classics. Ajeeb Dastan is one that is not successful since the capacity of the song to be used to portray wide ranges of sentiments is incongruent with what is happening on the screen. Nevertheless, the use of older songs works well with the backdrop of radio serving as the mode of connection.
The film does take us back into the old-school romance with the music, but the overdone modernisation is compensated for by the humble and authentic characters which keep the film from becoming irksome. It succeeds at portraying the different mindsets of the two leads and how one complements the other. Archana is chirpy and funky; she makes memes for a living. Even though she has been hurt before because of her appearance, she still pursues relationships. She has friends, a mother she's close to, is open to dating, wears colourful clothes, and lives on a bustling street. Her room is filled with objects and is warmly lit. Alfaaz's apartment, in stark contrast, is lit cold and bland and barely has any furniture. The light he sleeps under is sharp, white - like an interrogation chamber - as if he's placing himself under constant scrutiny. While not visually appealing - which I believe is a requirement in poetry-driven love stories that ought to provide beautiful escapism - it depicts how he doesn't allow any colour or excitement into his life because he is haunted by his past and all the blame he showers on himself. His mental state doesn't allow love, thus his unrequited-love stories on the radio. He lives in a skyscraper, isolated.
So when he finds someone willing to break in, who rants to him about "his" (or RJ Alfaaz's) loveliness and appreciates him unconditionally, he learns to work through his guilt. He turns off the light. More unnoticeably, Archana too has deep-rooted self-doubt hidden from her outward flamboyance. She knows she deserves more, so she puts herself out there, but the insecurity of her appearance restricts her from committing to who she cares about. But the eventuality that they meet does come about. The characters actions seem to be guided by natural, complex, utterly plausible emotions. What is sad is that the driving emotion - love - sits limp and unexciting. One wonders how the film leaves you so untouched. Perhaps it is the slow-paced narrative, the lack of subtext, or perhaps its failure to include any passion. The beautiful cast is failed with its limited room to display its flair.
There's the attempt to treat the cliched story with care and depth. The backstories are unique and the dialogue authentic. The modern spin is peevish, but the story works plainly and sweetly. Yet, it fails to deliver a refreshing take than one expects with the use of the overdone storyline. It doesn't utilize all that is possible with visual and auditory storytelling. What could have been a lapse of poetry and connection remains an unenergetic attempt to mix the quaintness of poetry with the dullness of WhatsApp.
© 2019 Reya