Many will recall (perhaps with a little bit of help) the iconic moment from the 90s blockbuster Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (Aditya Chopra, 1995) where Raj leaves in a train which is slowly gathering speed when Bauji lets his daughter Simran to board the proverbial train. The act is accompanied by the most famous words of advice and permission ever uttered on Indian screen (“Jaa Simran jaa………jeele apni zindagi”) which were all about a father’s approval of a daughter’s right to live her life of choice. Cut to 2017 and there is this Hansal Mehta film called Simran named after the female lead character from DDLJ. The decision regarding the title is a conscious one as the Hansal Mehta film quotes the DDLJ scene playing on TV.
In a way, Simran is built upon similar ideas but the film looks as these notions from a rather secular and cosmopolitan outlook, better suited to the contemporary global context. It turns the idea of the ‘Bollywood daughter’ into a flesh and blood person, thanks largely to the idiosyncratic performance by Kangana Ranaut.
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The plot of Simran also resonates with faint echoes of DDLJ but taking interesting turns and detours and a different perspective. The film follows Praful Patel (Ranaut), a 30-something divorcee working in the housekeeping department in a hotel in Atlanta, Georgia. Her father is a shopkeeper who is rude and short-handed when it comes to his daughter’s independent plans such as getting a place of her own. The only plan the parents are interested, which involves Praful, is to get her remarried to a committed student of MBA called Sameer. Praful finds a temporary escape when her friend plans a bachelorette party in Las Vegas. However, the all-paid-up trip weighs heavy on Praful’s wallet and conscience when she spends all her savings in a bout of Baccarat gambling. Along comes the fabled moneylenders of Vegas and thereon Praful’s life takes an unexpected turn.
As far as the idea or even the story goes, the film has a refreshing take on the ‘rebellious daughter’ narrative. The sheer parallel idea of going against societal norms and overstepping the legal bounds has exciting ramifications. Among other things, it almost places the subject with respect to the larger power structure, be it as a woman within a patriarchal system or as a citizen within the capitalist-democratic legal framework. The film also attempts to address the issues such as morality, gender roles, community and identity and the way these lead to sexism or xenophobia, all within very mundane, familiar and everyday territory.
Having said that, the viewing experience of the film never turns out as stimulating because of an evident lack in narratorial skill. Neither among the aforementioned tendencies are explored properly in a coherent manner; they just seem to be bubble bursts of ideas recurring from time to time within a very loose narrative. The entire weight of the film comes to reside on the able shoulders of Kangana Ranaut who carries it with equal measures of ease, comfort and panache, delivering a compelling performance as a lovable and bumbling girl with a thick Gujarati accent and a no-nonsense attitude to go with it. In fact, she turns the character into a real person with eccentricities and moments of vulnerabilities without letting go of her agency, even when the screenplay has next to nothing to offer.
The sloppy craft becomes more palpable in the second half when the film loses all its momentum and scenes keep unfolding one after the other without offering any insight, rather just in order to reach the finish line of closure. With Praful’s character more or less established in the first half and well explored by Kangana Ranaut, these scenes occur like stray incidents which interfere with the balance and economy of the overall narration. A horribly shot and edited chase scene towards the climax and an assortment of paper-thin cartoonish American characters hardly help the cause, turning the film with a promising premise into an experience with little impact.
However, there is another tendency in this film which can be mentioned for its possible relevance and even for the sake of posterity, which will again draw a parallel with DDLJ. The Aditya Chopra film in a way marked the beginning of a tidal wave of ‘Punjabization’ of Bollywood which has managed to last over two decades. It led to an appropriation of the Punjabi culture in the popular domain and thus glossing over the darker and brutal chapters of Punjabi history such as the violent suppression of Khalistan Movement or the 1984-Anti Sikh riots, both being instances of a state endorsed pogrom. With Simran and Patel ki Punjabi Shaadi releasing side by side, this just might be the baby steps towards a ‘Gujaratization’ which can play an instrumental role in effacing the memory of Godhra incident while replacing ‘satsreekal’ and ‘sarson da saag’ with ‘kem chho’ and ‘thepla’ within the larger Bollywood lexicon. Frankly, the last Simran was a Punjabi from the old world while this one is a Gujarati with a more modern outlook!
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