Yeh Saali Aashiqui
Starring Vardhan Puri, Shivaleeka Oberoi
Directed by Cherag Ruparel
Yeh Saali Aashiqui is a film that chooses to stay many steps ahead of our expectations. For starters, one would hardly expect a debutant from a distinguished film family to start his career with a pitch-dark thriller where he is shown in far from flattering light (and boy, the cinematography by Pratik Shah is unforgiving).
But here he is, Vardhan Puri, consumed by a kind of death wish that comes to seasoned actors who are fearless in their quest for orginal and untried adventures. In his very first film Vardhan cracks it as Sahil a traumatized hotel –management recruit who looks for nothing but true love. He meets the devi from the Devil’s own private harem (newcomer Shivaleeka Oberoi).
What follows is a plot never seen before in Bollywood, as layer after layer of frightening psychological disorder, brutal betrayal and violent vindication are laid open in sequences that pile on the shock without caring for the repercussions.
By the time the film’s protagonist gets down to chasing his primary target of wrath, you begin the fear not only for his mental health but also for the stability and equilibrium of this film.
The finale is in a manner of speaking when things falls apart and all hell breaks loose.
What lies underneath is what concerns the co-writers (leading man Vardhan and his director Cherag Ruparel co-wrote this twisted homage to deconstructed love). The film’s pace never slackens even as the two principal players grow progressively embroiled in a game of mutual destruction. And the editing (Anirban Dutta) is as sharp as some of the instruments used by the characters to inflict hurt on one another.
To me the film’s achievement is in showing the other side of the gender conflict. If men can be deceptive and predatory, so can women. And hats off to debutante Shivaleeka Oberoi for carrying off a role so contrary to what our Bollywood leading ladies are expected to be. At times her makeup lets her down. But she is bang-on in expressing the subtle shifts of emotion in an unhinged mind, from despair to deception. She nails it.
Vardhan has chosen a tough role to begin with. His character struggles with demoniacal inner conflicts. And then the she-devil appears in his life. Puri clutches at his character’s throat and shakes it hard enough to give the unstable goings-on an anchoring presence. Vardhan has a bright future ahead.
I also liked some of the supporting cameos. Johnny Lever’s son Jessey Lever as the hero’s buddy and Ruslaan Mumtaz as Mitee’s moneyed and sensitive fiancé leave a mark. But this is primarily a compelling cat-and-mouse game between two characters who ought to be singing songs of togetherness, not running after one another with murderous intentions.
This is that unexpected dark thriller of the year where the boy meets the girl little knowing she is the woman from hell we all dread meeting. In this the era of the burgeoning MenToo movement when men are also being recognized as victims of sexual-emotional exploitation Yeh Saali Aashiqui is a bold step forward p. There is along show-reel towards the end when various men come forward to share their agony in the hands of an unscrupulous gold-digging women. Many would see this as a misogynistic manoeuvre. But it is actually not. This unusual and gripping thriller reminds us that awful things can happen in relationship to either the man or a woman.
Let’s not see only one of the sexes as a victim.