By Subhash K. Jha, Indo-Asian News Service
Film: "Ankahee"; Starring Aftab Shivdasani, Ameesha Patel, Esha Deol; Directed by Vikram Bhatt; Rating: **
It's the Other Woman's fault...always. She's the home-breaker and the disruptive force creating havoc in doctor Shekhar's (Aftab Shivdasani) life.
This is Vikram Bhatt's cathartic voyage into the damned world of infidelity. Though "Ankahee" deals with situations, feelings and positions that aren't comfortable to contemplate, the director brings a certain freshness and élan to the dynamics of the extra-marital relationship.
Unlike Mahesh Bhatt's "Arth" to which Vikram's film pays homage, "Ankahee" tries to tell the story of betrayal and redemption from both the husband and wife's point of view. "Arth", if one may recall that classic, restricted itself to the wife's point of view.
Ameesha Patel, looking frail, lovely and vulnerable, gives her best shot to the wife's role. The script provides her generous space to put forward the bereft and betrayed wife's case.
Esha Deol has the author-backed role. Seen completely from the outside (a la Smita Patil in "Arth"), her character gets its jittery edge from the actress' untapped layers of provocative and impassioned uncertainties.
But it's the husband's take on the unfaithful mistake that provides the most interesting fulcrum to the murky yet mollifying triangle. As played by Vikram Bhatt's favourite actor Aftab Shivdasani, Shekhar is a weak-willed but noble soul who betrays his utterly devoted wife for a glamorous and unhinged woman who shrieks shouts whines and whimpers, all at once.
Esha's portrayal of the Other Woman is shockingly denuded of sympathy. We see her as a basket case alternating between rage and depression, forcing the man to his knees, making you wonder why the hell would a decent guy get involved with a hysterical 'manic depressive' (as certified by the film's in-house shrink played by a totally miscast Amin Hajee).
Initially the doctor-actress relationship reminds you of Vijay Anand's "Tere Mere Sapne". That's before Vikram Bhatt gets seriously explorative about infidelity. The way he uses spaces between the man and his wife as their marriage comes apart at the seams is truly a sign of maturity in the mellowing director.
Pravin Bhatt's camera goes for sighing long shots to denote a state of alarming estrangement between the couple. Vikram Bhatt's fascination with "Arth" becomes evident in sequences such as the one where the wife lands up at the hyper-strung actress' place to plead for her marriage through a closed door.
More originally, there's a sequence where, to cover up for his unfaithful sojourn in Goa, the guilt-ridden husband screams, "Why do you have to be so devoted to me? Why is it always about me?"
Girish Damija's dialogues catch the tenor of a suburban relationship without losing their cool intensity. That goes for the rest of the film, which is at once anxious and laidback, agitated and calm. The synthesis of serenity and neurosis gives the narrative a cutting edge.
What you miss are those spatial expanses that separate a feature film from a soap opera. To preserve a sense of intimacy, Bhatt shoots most of the film in confined spaces with glimpses of the outdoors lending a strange feeling of curbed freedom to the narration.
What cannot be doubted is the director's integrity of purpose. The characters' anguish rings true quite often, thanks to routine references to Mumbai's newspapers and rendezvous points.
The cast is sincere and dedicated to the task of making the triangle look convincing. More peripheral characters would have connected the plot to a larger social context.
There's an interesting cameo by an actor playing Esha Deol's devoted man Friday who observes his benefactor's lapse into paranoiac passion with stoic grief. You will find such mute and loyal observers all over the film industry.
"Ankahee" courts silence on many occasions. Pritam's background score is mildly evocative. But the songs try to be unnecessarily trendy in their intensity.
Bollywood.com Rating: 2