Hindi cinema today finds itself at the crossroads. While the trope of aspirational stories of youth set in the Hindi heartland has already been done to death, the idea of escapist romcoms continues to be most redundant. Under the circumstances, the OTT platforms are providing storytellers with the kind of freedom needed to break new grounds. When Dirty Picture came out about a decade back everyone hailed it as groundbreaking and commended the boldness with which it tackled the taboo subject of sex. But, unfortunately, sex continues to be a taboo subject to date. Ever since the trailer of ‘Gehraiyaan’ was released, the film has been in news for the intimate scenes between its leads, Deepika Padukone and Siddhant Chaturvedi. However, with a director like Shakun Batra helming the project, one can be sure that the intimacy wouldn’t be there merely for grabbing the eyeballs. Now, Batra may not have exercised the same level of boldness had the film been intended for a theatrical release as an A-rated film starring a top actress isn’t ideal for the Indian box office. That’s precisely where an OTT release has proven to be a game-changer, allowing him to push the envelope and shoot the film in a certain way.

‘Gehraiyaan’ revolves around Alisha Khanna, an ambitious 30-year-old Yoga instructor who finds herself trapped in a six-year-long relationship that is becoming more and more suffocating with each passing day. Her situation is made worse by the constant roadblocks that she is encountering in her career. Also, memories from her troubled childhood keep returning to haunt her on a regular basis. But, things take a dramatic turn with the arrival of her cousin, Tia (brilliantly essayed by Ananya Panday) and her fiancé, Zain (another wonderful performance by Siddhant Chaturvedi), with whom she instantly connects, only to realise that her life and situation isn’t as unchangeable as she thinks it to be. Trying hard to resist the attraction at first, she eventually gives in to the temptation, embarking upon a tantalising journey of forbidden love that’s rife with excitement and danger in equal measure. Both Alisha and Zain choose not to grapple with the reality of their complicated situation. And get lost in each other’s arms, turning a blind eye to the impending storm.

As part of establishing a new culture for actors to feel safer while shooting intimate scenes, Shakun Batra opts for an intimacy director. While, it’s an increasingly common practice in the West, it’s something very new to Indian cinema. The idea is basically to make the actors more comfortable and safeguard their emotional and psychological health during scenes that demand a certain level of intimacy.

As far as ‘Gehraiyaan’ is concerned, Shakun picks none other than Dar Gai—the acclaimed director of films Teen Aur Aadha and Namdev Bhau—for the task. In her own words, “In dance, it is rehearsals, intimacy direction has the same rules—including workshops, that will make you comfortable with your own mind and body. We need to be able to prepare our actors to create a safe zone for themselves, and when the partner can come closer and closer to them.” And the various scenes as well as dance sequences in the film clearly highlight Dar Gai’s success at doing her job to a tee.

Now, Shakun Batra had demonstrated a certain flair for a story about relationships gone sour in Kapoor & Sons (2016). In ‘Gehraiyaan’, he again brilliantly tackles a similar subject matter involving an estranged family and its well-kept secrets. Alongside Zoya Akhtar, Shakun is undoubtedly the best filmmaker in the country when it comes to telling stories dealing with family estrangement. He also comes across as someone who has studied world cinema. As a matter of fact, his films seem to be greatly influenced by the works of European arthouse filmmakers.

Certain segments of ‘Gehraiyaan’ are likely to remind viewers of films of Michelangelo Antonioni, particularly L’Avventura (1960) and L’Eclisse (1962). Also, there are shades of Woody Allen, Terrence Malick, and Nuri Bilge Ceylan in the manner in which Shakun and his team of writers choose to tell the story of ‘Gehraiyaan’.

‘Gehraiyaan’ is far from being a perfect film but the courage shown by the creative team to push the boundaries certainly needs to be commended. Deepika Padukone delivers the best performance of her career to date in the film. The chemistry that she shares with Siddhant Chaturvedi is easily the highlight of the film. Alisha is a character that perpetually finds itself in a rather dark space, much like Deepika’s character Veronica in Cocktail (2012). Alisha’s follies are right there in front of you and yet just like Veronica, it is difficult to dislike her. Also, the character harks back to Deepika’s own bout with mental illness in real life. Despite its flaws and sombre tone, ‘Gehraiyaan’ keeps us hooked with its refreshing tale of love (at least as far as Indian cinema is concerned) that offers a heady cocktail of romance, thrill and mystery.

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