I went to see Woh Lamhe as part of my holiday experience (whenever I'm back in India, I will try to see at least two films in a cinema, and don't even try counting how many I see on television) Funnily enough, I went to see this particular one on Karva Chauth, that classic festival that remains an all time Bollywood favourite for songs, family gatherings and situations of love and separation. Since on this auspicious (?) occasion, people tend to stay at home with their families, I had the somewhat dubious privilege of sitting in an almost empty theatre to watch the latest offering from Mahesh Bhatt.
Woh Lamhe stars newcomers Shiney Ahuja & Kangana Ranaut, both of whom were also seen earlier this year in the moderate hit, Gangster. The film is a fictionalised account of the real life relationship between Mahesh Bhatt (the producer of this movie) and erstwhile Bollywood star Parveen Babi. Bhatt himself claimed that this movie was his way of "letting her go", after Babi's death in her Mumbai apartment last year. (Though it has to be said that the story has been rehashed several times, including in the classic, Arth).
To be fair though, in many ways, the Bhatt - Babi love story has been one of those almost mythical stories that have evolved in Bollywood. Something everyone knew, but nobody ever talked about. Babi's rise to success, from a newcomer from Junagarh to everyone's heart throb, her sudden illness, which many thought was drug addiction, and finally her disappearance for several years, only to return to the spotlight a ravaged, depleted woman.
Woh Lamhe tells that story, in a slightly fictionalised & updated form. Kangana Ranaut plays Sana Azim, an established Bollywood star from Junagarh(!), in an abusive & exploitative relationship with another film star. She meets struggling filmmaker Aditya Garewal at an event, Garewal provokes her to get some attention, and finally, many twists and turns later, the two end up working on the same movie. Garewal's intentions are only to use Azim as a stepping stone to success, but he ends up falling in love with her. The rest of the movie deals with the trauma of finding out that Azim is suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, and how the relationship flounders until finally Azim dies at the end of the movie, having successfully attempted suicide.
Now, this is not the most happy of films to watch - in fact, it can get quite heavy at times. Having said that, I was pleasantly surprised by several things about this movie. The script is decidedly mature, dealing with several issues, including schizophrenia, marital/relationship rape, and adult relationships. The script is reasonably tight, and the editing doesn't really make the movie seem too long. The soundtrack is also pretty good - I've been humming "Kya Mujhe Pyaar Hai" and I think its going onto my iPod very soon. More importantly, the songs aren't forced into the script for the sake of it, which makes them seem more natural.
Finally, a word about the lead pair. Both Kangana Ranaut & Shiney Ahuja are fairly new to the screen, and taking on such an emotionally fraught film can't have been easy. Having said that, both are reasonably good at their roles, but are definitely still young actors. Shiney is best when he doesn't speak - he can emote quite well with his eyes, but his dialogue delivery lets him down. He will have to learn that there is more to verbalising than shouting, and more importantly, trying to tone down the gruffness in his voice. Otherwise, he runs the risk of sounding like a Jat munda from inner Delhi. Ranaut is also quite immature as an actor, but doesn't shy away from getting into character.
Overall verdict? Probably deserves a 3/5 rating, with a good soundtrack, tight editing and clean dialogues.
Image courtesty Apun Ka Choice