Exactly at what point in time does a motion picture become an emotionpicture? Bawaal leaves you bewildered in a good way. It is ambitious audacious and not afraid to take risks.
It is risky , yes. But then cinema that plays it safe is guilty of ignoring the rudimentary rule laid down by the great filmmakers: every film should have something to take home beyond entertainment. Contemporary cinema seldom does.
But Bawaal does. It tells us much about mending a fracture relationship and the relationship between history and interpersonal dynamics. Writers Nitesh Tiwari, Piyush Gupta, Nikhil Malhotra, and Shreyas Jain put their heads together for a story that takes you along from Lucknow to Paris, and beyond without making a song and dance of it. Although the film visits four European spots—Paris, Normandy, Berlin and Auschwitz—it does not wear a touristic look. For this, credit must partly go to cinematographer Mitesh Mirchandani who treats Europe as a character rather than a showstopper.
Transparency of narration has always been director Nitesh Tiwari’s forte. In Bawaal he keeps the tonal inflexions so delectably upbeat and colloquial , it almost seems like a rom-com .
Until the larger picture kicks in. Going with the tone of the narration, the lead players rein in their performances giving us a portrait of a broken(though not irreparable) marriage in scenes that are written with unmissable affection.
For Varun Dhawan, playing Ajay a self-deceiving self-important wastrel of a school teacher in Lucknow, this is a role so unheroic it makes you wonder about the sea-changes in the definition of a screen hero(that history lesson, some other time).
Dhawan sinks into the role of the jerk who thinks the sun rises and sets from an orifice in his body. Janhvi is the callously-treated wife Nisha. They take turns sleeping on the floor and the bed. They have probably never had sex, though we are not given details on their infertile relationship.
Nisha is quiet patient and wise. The character has been designed to make Varun’s Ajay look even more like a gasbag than he actually is. The couple’s road to salvation is paved with some pungent adventures abroad and sobering lessons on history.
Bawaal is a far more relevant work that its airy tone suggests. It takes on multiple themes pertaining to the wars that are fought geopolitically and emotionally; rather than complicate the storytelling with lessons from the past as they impinge on the present, Bawaal keeps the tone accessible and war. Nitesh Tiwari wants you to share the experience.
You know it will finally work out for Ajay and Nisha. You want it. They are played with such endearing fidelity. This is easily Varun and Janhvi’s career-best. As for Nitesh Tiwari, I am not too sure Bawaal matches the humanitarian spirit of Dangal. But then, that’s not even where Bawaal is going. The characters are not ambitious. They just want to find a place where they can breathe without wondering if the gas cylinder was switched off before they left home.