Ahista Ahista

Reviewed By Abhishek Bandekar
Posted 08/18/06 20:57:38

"Always the bridesmaid!"
3 stars (Average)

One of last year’s cinematic joys for me was watching an obscure little teen romance that surprised me with its sincerity and oodles of cuteness oozing from every scene. The movie I’m talking about is Socha Na Tha, the starring vehicle for Abhay Deol and Ayesha Takia, a movie that sadly came and went largely unnoticed but has since found a cult following in the rental circuit and television reruns. Truth is, never did two debutantes have such chemistry, never did love seem so simple yet complex and never did a teen romance make me want the done-to-death genre to be revived. The biggest draw for you to venture into 'Ahista Ahista'(Slowly Slowly) then is that Imtiaz Ali, who helmed Socha Na Tha, is behind its story and screenplay(based on his original script, Witness).

Directed by Shivam Nair, graduating from television to film, Ahista Ahista stars Abhay Deol as Ankush. Ankush makes his living by offering himself as witness to aspiring couples at the Marriage Registrar, Delhi. The opening montage has got to be one of the most bittersweet openings as we see young twenty somethings begin a life of matrimony with fear and excitement but without any pomp or splendour and a paid best man as witness. Marriages shouldn’t occur like this, they deserve all the grotesque extravagance, but they do. And more so in a country like India where those in love often have to marry against the will of their parents. It is at this registrar that Ankush meets Megha(Soha Ali Khan), dressed in a white salwar kameez, with a circlet of jasmine tied neatly around her hair...eager with anticipation…looking elegant yet simple…waiting for Dheeraj(Shayan Munshi) to arrive so they can get married. Megha waits the whole day but Dheeraj does not show up. Ankush consoles the dejected Megha and helps her find a place for the night, assuring her that Dheeraj will show up the next day. He doesn’t, and a day of wait followed by disappointment breaks Megha down who feels used and betrayed. Her options look bleaker considering that she’s run away from her parents in Nainital. In a strange city, Ankush is her sole hope. With a little help from his friends that include a telephone booth operator, a wedding band trumpeter and a dimwit(Shakeel Khan as Zulfi); Ankush manages to get Megha a job and accommodation at an old age home. Over the next two months, Ankush begins to fall in love with Megha, a feeling that he is especially proud of. Megha acknowledges his liking towards her and reciprocates it, probably as gratitude for what he’s done. Ankush reads this as love, but before his happiness can reach its climax Dheeraj surfaces.

Normally a typical Bollywood script would have the hero sacrifice his love. Not here. The return of Dheeraj, whose disappearance could’ve been justified with a better reason, acts as a catalyst to force Ankush’s character turn a shade darker. Ankush denies any knowledge of Megha and goes to great lengths to dissuade Dheeraj from searching her, all the while continuing to court Megha. Having seen people get married for love but never experiencing it himself, Ankush becomes very possessive of letting go the one he’s found. This is the brilliance of the script. Imtiaz respects the characters that inhabit his world, and allows them to act as they would and not as they should! Human beings in nature are never all-white or all-black. Most, if not all, exist in the grey. Ankush is a lovable and sympathetic character but his actions, particularly his hurried proposal of marriage lest Megha find the truth about Dheeraj, are very suspect. Zulfi, Ankush’s best buddy with whom he shares a love-hate relationship, is another character whose ultimate act may shock the template that we are conditioned with but makes sense in retrospect. Notice the dialogues(Arif Ali and Rajiv Menon) as well, which apart from being rich in Delhi flavour are naughty, frank, pointless, insightful, sarcastic, hurtful and unhesitatingly real. The relentless banter of Ankush and Zulfi’s stern mother(Kamini Khanna), though overplayed, is naturally realized and one that will resonate with most middle-class families in Mumbai for its underlying love.

Shivam Nair makes a confident debut, though he doesn’t completely overcome his television past. The strobe slow-motions and the basic setting of the marriage registrar is very TV-ish. He shows promise however in his unhurried handling, guts to stick true to the story including the climax(sadly, an eminent(?) critic at has unprofessionally and deliberately given this away) and one particular scene when Ankush asks Megha to call her parents back home. Shivam chooses to not show us her conversation and keeps us in the dark alongwith Ankush. This displays great maturity and more importantly, the director’s belief in the intelligence of the audience.

Abhay Deol follows his comfortable debut with a performance that is definitely more demanding in its complexity and doesn’t fail. There is an air of Amol Palekar like unconventionality to Abhay that makes him endearing and affable. Soha Ali Khan shines in a role that is less showy. Her expression while waiting for Dheeraj at the marriage registrar is worth a million bucks, and strangely I’ve never seen such a look of simple expectancy on any of the heroines in big-budgeted melodramas who seem to have a habit of getting married. There is nothing mechanical about Soha’s performance and while on it, even her eventual dilemma is a much real one than those that face our damsels in the various love triangles, rectangles, polygons, etc. The supporting cast is impressive and faceless, which makes them more effective. Shakeel Khan stands out, and man can he run! Murad Ali needs a better agent, and fast.

'Ahista Ahista' is another obscure little film, made sensitively and with sincerity. It seems almost fated to have the same fate as that of Socha Na Tha. I’m hoping nonetheless that people opt for this over the usual 'sKANK'. Not all couples dream technicolour sunflower field dances and Swiss slopes. For some, love is just a walk around Delhi 6.

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