By Rohit Vats, Hindustan Times
Thanks to its crew’s fight with the Censor Board Of Film Certification, Anaarkali Of Aarah didn’t remain as low-key as it would have been otherwise.
Now that it has crossed all the hurdles and is ready to impress the audience with its David versus Goliath approach, it may not appear to be a very polished product or a free flowing story to some, but it punches with all its might in the climax, and that’s where you suddenly realise its worth.
Why did we need to put out such a disclaimer sort of opening paragraph? Mostly because the mainstream Bollywood shies away from subjects that aren’t glamorous enough to impress the multiplex audience. Also because it’s a story that would require you to peel off the outer layer to fully understand it.
Anaarkali (Swara Bhaskar) is an orchestra singer in South Bihar’s Arrah. Don’t tell me you haven’t heard those countless songs in which the hero promises Arrah, Chapra, Ballia and Siwan in exchange of a couple of moments with his beloved? This was still putting it mildly.
She is poor, sings double meaning lyrics and is treated as a sex worker. Dharmendra Chauhan (Sanjay Mishra), the Vice Chancellor of a prestigious university, is one of her many admirers. He molests Anaarkali in an inebriated state during a show and a war breaks out between the two. While Anaarkali wants justice for her ordeal, the system thinks it’s the most natural accident that somebody like Anaarkali could meet.
Anaarkali Of Aarah takes a cue from last year’s Pink and takes the discussion forward. Kirti Kulhari said she was soliciting in the court because she thought this shouldn’t affect the verdict. It was about making or trying to make physical relationship with the victim without her consent. But they were educated, somewhat resourceful women.
Here, Swara Bhaskar can’t even afford a lawyer, leave aside a good one. She is on her own and the only way she could get her pride back, which may still be non-existent in the eyes of her immediate surroundings, is by naming and shaming Sanjay Mishra in front of everyone.
It’s clearly a life-threatening situation.
Director Avinash Das displays his understanding of the delicate social structure of Bihar, where pretention of being a morally righteous guy is more important that actually being one.
He very smartly makes the audience the third party, and then makes it difficult for them to stay neutral. Slowly and steadily the tide takes a turn in favour of the underdog.
This isn’t just an onscreen win. Its major off-screen implication is the popular acceptance of a deprived woman’s right to her body.
Das gets carried away though. Sometimes he pays tribute to Raj Kapoor’s Teesri Kasam via a Good Samaritan Heeraman. On another occasion, he makes his character say, “Desh ke liye khaa lijiye,” in an apparent playful jibe at a TV anchor.
But all these flaws don’t restrict him from driving his point home. Swara Bhaskar does the rest for him, with apt support from Pankaj Tripathi and Sanjay Mishra.
Anaarkali of Aarah brings forth a world that’s out of focus and needs our attention. Marginalised sections are fighting their own battles in this part of the globe and Anaarkali Of Aarah wants us to be sympathetic to them. Being privy to their emotions doesn’t seem a bad idea.