Gehraiyaan (2022) Review: About The Complex Impulses and Motivations of a Ethically Conflicted Youth
When I saw the trailer of the film Gehraiyaan (2022) for the first time, I was sure of two things; first, was that it was going to be a beautiful film to look at. And second, that I really, from the bottom of my heart, hoped that all hadn’t been given away in the trailer. And Shakun Batra did deliver on both. Nevertheless, there are things about this film that irk me, frustrate me, and at times, want to sit the man down and have a talk. But, oh well. What else can us “reviewers” fantasize about?
Alisha is a young woman, in a tired relationship with a childhood friend, and waiting for something to come and make her life better. Struggling to pay rent, launch her app, and handle an absent self-involved partner (Karan), she meets Zain, who is her rich cousin Tia’s (rich?) fiance. Alisha’s financial insecurity is beautifully portrayed through her short sentences, unnecessary clarifications, and awkward and defensive postures. Yet, sparks fly when Zain shows interest in her. Sparks of that something that could make her life better.
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As the film begins, it is difficult to sympathize or care about any of these characters or the not-so-ethical affairs they get involved in. It made me question the beginning of the film; Batra and his writers get right into it with Alisha and Zain’s dreamy affair, giving us no time to understand these characters in-depth, or all too well for this to be a film about exploring the taboo of infidelity. There’s just a haunting presence, of a memory that we see through Alisha of her mother. Within the first hour of the film, Alisha and Zain have an affair, Karan proposes to Alisha, she and Zain try to break it off, Alisha breaks up with Karan because he is a self-involved idiot, and Alisha has a confrontation with her father.
As I checked the time stamp on my stream, I wondered what would happen in the rest of the hour and a half of the film. Getting out of a relationship and getting into another was just the tip of the iceberg, the real conflict lies ahead when these characters are hit by logistical realities of life. The scenarios in Gehraiyaan start changing so fast, that you find yourself feeling different levels of emotions for its characters at different points in time, summed up by symbolic but repetitive shots of sea waves.
Many believed and expected that Gehraiyaan (2022) would be a complex romantic drama. Another exploration of the emotions and identities hiding under people’s projected images to their loved ones, something like Batra’s last, the highly acclaimed film Kapoor and Sons. I believe they are the ones most disappointed with the film. Because it’s not. Gehraiyaan isn’t about romance or just complex emotions and when it does try to venture into that realm, it’s when the film disappoints the most.
The facade of the little romance between Zain and Alisha’s, Alisha’s, all too safe, emotional conversation with her father, and the whole idea of “leaving the past behind” that is so forcibly pushed by Tia’s uncharacteristic monologue towards the end; all seems misplaced. There is danger lurking in the film in the form of background music, in fights that always come too close to getting violent, in Alisha’s anxiety, and in the past involving her mother. The metaphor of the beautiful waves becomes clear, only in retrospect after one has sat through at least two hours of the film.
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Gehraiyaan (2022) is a film about the complex impulses, desires, and motivations of a modern-day ethically and spiritually conflicted youth. It’s also an exploration of the dangerous subtexts of money and desire that exist in the modern structures of love and family. It doesn’t seem to be a film about taking masks off of people, but more so about tearing off the very fabric of one’s personal understanding of right and wrong in the relationships we have with people around us; what it would take for us to be pushed off the ledge and right into the terrifying waters of “I did what I had to do.”
Deepika Padukone delivers with Kaushal Shah’s beautiful cinematography while Siddhanth Chaturvedi’s performance as Zain leaves you wanting. As I watched the end of the film, all that came to mind was Sam Mendes’ American Beauty. And it made me realize what was lacking in Gehraiyaan that Mendes managed to accomplish; an exploration of this beautiful, creepy, terrifying presence with an unabashed fearlessness. There is a lack of consistency in the film where the emotions try to take the center stage sometimes, and that throws the audience off and causes a disconnect from the film.