‘Manmarziyaan’ review: Not Just Love, Actually

LICH rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) (This rating is only a snapshot. The details are in the words.)

It’s when they’re on the lam wanting to start a new life somewhere far from Amritsar, that Rumi (Tapsee Pannu) makes Vicky (Vicky Kaushal) stop his riotously redesigned jeep on the highway. This critical scene is where you get a glimpse into Rumi’s mind and her assessment of their thus far passionate, slam-bang relationship. She grills him about his future plans for them, while he’s content with having taken the shattering step (for him) to run away with her. Beyond that and the gas in his vehicle’s tank, he’s got zero-idea about how and where to proceed. Rumi’s instinct has kicked in earlier at a roadside eatery when, having cleaned off his meal, Vicky tells her he has no money to pay for it.

Welcome to Manmarziyaan (The Heart’s Wish), director Anurag Kashyap‘s sly look at relationships and what makes them tick. On its surface, the movie’s a relook at Sanjay Leela Bhansali‘s loud ode to love and the B.O. Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, shifting its geography from the dunes of Rajasthan to the Golden Dome of Punjab. Underneath though, it’s a simmering look at the tempests of stormy love and the sedate comfort of marital life; of the choices people make to succeed in relationships or make others fail in it. And it’s about the sneaky manipulations that set and reset the course of a love triangle where no two sides are alike, but there’s one side that morphs the shape and size of the geometrical wonder that’s come to represent love stories for decades onscreen.

Tapsee Pannu is on top of Vicky Kaushal. And the movie.
Tapsee Pannu is on top of Vicky Kaushal. And the movie.

Rumi and Vicky’s romps in her terrace room are abetted by her cousin sister Kiran, sniffed upon by Kiran’s mother Kimmy (Ashnoor Kaur and Vishavpreet Kaur, both superb); Rumi’s daarji (grandfather) played with astute patriarchal gentleness by Arun Bali prods her and she gives Vicky an ultimatum: come to my house with your parents and ask for my hand or I marry the first man my family proposes. There’s marvelous tension here between the couple, their animal-like attraction trumping familial needs every time. But Rumi knows time’s running out and she’s willing to give Vicky some more chances to salvage their relationship, while he still sits on the razor-blade of uncertainty, willing to be cut up than commit. And in walks Robbie Bhatia (Abhishek Bachchan) with his parents and their man Friday Dilip (Neelu Kohli, Swairaj Sandhu, and Vikram Kochhar, all terrific). A complete contrast to the swaggering Vicky, Robbie the-banker-from-London is immediately fascinated by Rumi’s photo and her reputation, while the marriage fixer Kakaji (Saurabh Sachdeva, very good) is more worried about his reputation and leg.

Manmarziyaan is director Kashyap in fine form and his modern take on the modern version of love stories strides the screen with aplomb and energy, pumped up by composer Amit Trivedi‘s rhythmic and pulsating score—note how the musician even does a suspenseful take on the Punjabi beat with a DJ-mix for a late-night elopement scene. The director is restrained to the point of tantalizing you: in a telling shot, he chooses a T-shirt that shows the middle finger rather than get into a bloody hockey-stick brawl. There is violence elsewhere, but it’s all emotional—the fiery pumping of blood through his movie’s veins that threatens to knock you breathless, but that always keeps you conscious for its next delicious round of relational musical chairs. He keeps the drama high and unflagging, but they’re all in the small bylanes of community living; he thrives on keeping you anxious, as in when Vicky’s escorted out of the house by Rumi’s family: the camera follows them from the top, adding to your nervousness. Even the climactic scene is a revelation: a five-minute walk sans any music but a tête-à-tête between two people with the benefit of hindsight with them. But is that all that it is?

Abhishek Bachchan is all intensity and thought.
Abhishek Bachchan is all intensity and thought.

Aided by top-notch writing from Kanika Dhillon, Kashyap uses the sharp scissors of editor Aarti Bajaj to cut scenes that run into each other without warning to throw you right into the emotional turmoil that roils its characters. He uses social media as a deadly tool to manipulate his characters’ moods and their manipulations to keep each other on the edge. And together, he and his team tell you that love isn’t sleeping on a bed of roses but letting the other one decide which side they want to sleep on.

Vicky Kaushal and Tapsee Pannu are highway stars.
Vicky Kaushal and Tapsee Pannu are highway stars.

The director uses his actors with such amazing insight, you can’t think of any other trio who’d have done justice to his complex,  simmering take. Vicky Kaushal is amazing, all bluster and boisterousness and it’s as if he shot up a vial of Punjabi beats every time he faced the camera; watch him let go in rhythmic abandon; or his flustered hurt when Rumi ticks him off; or when his moment of final epiphany descends into his eyes. Abhishek Bachchan is marvelous and you wonder why you don’t see more of him every year. His sensitive portrayal lights up the screen even when his chances are being dimmed; every small gesture, move, and intensity in his eyes speak volumes for what he’s bet on this relationship—and movie: all in or all out.

Tapsee Pannu and Abhishek and Bacchan walk the talk.
Tapsee Pannu and Abhishek and Bachchan walk the talk.

And Tapsee Pannu is the zinger anchor of this project, her role the most complex of them all, the side of the triangle that decides enough is enough, that it’s time for a recast. Her opening is a besotted one but as she progresses, she spews such fiery emotions and certainty, she stuns you. She straddles her worlds of Vicky and Robbie with equal parts molten lava of passion and icy glacier of detachment. And when she does thaw in the therapeutic drinking sessions on Robbie’s terrace, you can almost see the non-existent ice melt in her neat whisky shots. When she gives in to her heart over her mind and vice-versa—very neatly shown by Kashyap through the motif of a pair of twins (Poonam and Priyanka Shah) to convey the dance of emotions in Rumi’s life—you understand that, too. But her act is also one that’s of relational guile, one that you realize long after you’ve exited the cinema hall. She does it so smoothly with her wily cohort of writer and director, you fall for it too. Because in the end, just falling in love isn’t enough. It’s also about knowing exactly when to reel in your line after you feel the tug—in the other person’s heart.

LICH ratings chart
1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5): Don’t bother
2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5): Not too great
3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5): Worth a watch
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5): Very good
5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5): Drop everything else NOW

Manmarziyaan (2018) on IMDb

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Manmarziyaan is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) There’s hints of sensuality and Fyaar.
Anurag Kashyap Running Time 2h 36min
Writer Kanika Dhillon
Stars Tapsee Pannu, Abhishek Bachchan, Vicky Kaushal
Genres  Romance, Drama

Watch the trailer of Manmarziyaan here: