By Subhash K. Jha, Bollywood Hungama News Network
Somewhere in the second-half of the acutely heartrending evocation of the tragedy that underscores the glamour of the fashion world, all dialogues cease, as Madhur Bhandarkar, in that intimately inimitable style of his, records Priyanka Chopra's character's descent into hell. It's as though the music and the zing have suddenly decided to go out of her life.
This is where we realize the truth about all works of art. The sum-total of Bhandarkar's vision is far greater than the captivating components that characterize his protagonist's journey to painful self-realization.
If we go right down to the basic issue of morality in Bhandarkar's cinema then all his protagonists reach a stage in their life when they cannot look themselves straight in the eye. That moment of 'reckon-in' in Fashion is steeped in a windswept dereliction that reflects itself effortless in Priyanka's face.
Yup, this is her moment of glorious reckoning. It's her character Meghna's journey from the innocent aridity of Chandigarh to the fruitful corruption of Mumbai's modeling world that defines the resplendent rhythms of Bhandarkar's cinema.
This remarkably resonant film is arguably Bhandarkar's most accomplished work to date, though Page 3 comes close in terms of etching out even the smallest of characters with a deft sensitivity that connects them to a world far beyond the one his camera captures on screen.
Mahesh Limaye's cinematography is a little predictable in its bustle-and-bristle images. Couldn't the visuals have avoided the 'clutter' cliches on urban lifestyles? Fortunately, the storytelling is anything but predictable.
Screenwriting has always been the greatest strength of Bhandarkar's cinema. Fashion is exceptionally skilled in its writing. The screenplay (Bhandarkar, Anuradha Tiwari and Ajay Monga) conveys a lived-in 'overheard-at-a-party' kind of conversational tone where every sentence seems the opposite of bombastic.
Rhetorics and high-drama are exchanged for fearless transparency in the characterizations and conversations, so that what we eventually look at is not a tantalizing dekko at the beau monde but a breathtaking map of a heartbroken humanity who occupy the upper crust of the urban social order and eventually have to slow down on their fast tracks to wonder, 'Is this really worth it?"
By the time ramp queen Meghna Mathur reaches this self-searching stage , Fashion becomes not a macro-cosmic view of the ramp walk, talk and shock, but a story of two women, one who already 'has-been' there (Kangaa Ranaut) and the other who just about saves herself from catastrophe in the nick of time.
Indeed the sequences between Priyanka and Kangna are the goosebumpy highlights of this bumpy beguiling journey into heartbreak and desolation. In a sequence such as the pre-interval one where the ousted ramp queen Kangna confronts and warns the new ramp rani Priyanka in a restaurant loo, or later after they bond (oh so beautifully that you feel a lingering lump in your throat) when Kangna urges her new soul-mate to grab a second chance, the screen splits wide open to reveal the dark fissures that are hidden just beneath the seamless splendour of the glamour industry.
Whether it's sexual or emotional, Bhandarkar has never flinched from telling it like it is. Fashion shocks us with its brutal forthrightness on matters of the heart and pants.
Samir Soni performs a very complex tight-rope as a closet-gay designer who balances a lover with his mother's demand for a wife with a marriage of convenience with a stunning model friend played Mugdha Godse.
Mugdha is the female discovery of the year. With a figure that could launch thousands of cola sips and face that registers a spectrum of emotions, she gives a compelling consistency to her goodhearted model's character .She neatly offsets and balances Kangna familiar-yet-compelling traumatic act, done here at a gut-wrenching decibel.
What Kangna does in Fashion, no other actress can do. But there're no surprises in her performance. She has done it. We've seen it before.
Priyanka catches you completely unaware. Her transformation from the khati-peeti girl from Chandigarh to the super-ambitious super-model, who dumps boyfriend and conscience to pursue her dreams, is achieved with a gentle subtlety and bridled passion. This is Priyanka's coming-of-age film. She looks like a zillion bucks. And acts like a woman who connects with the darkest most desperate human emotions without wallowing in them.
Every character is written to accentuate the specific actor's grace in the given space. Even by the overall high-octane caliber of performances Kitu Gidwani and Ashwin Mushran stand out. Harsh Chaya's 'gay lisp'(?) was the only annoying appendage in the otherwise-immaculate casting.
Also, the ramp walks could have been done with slightly more elan and subtlety. Yeah we see the best models strutting and pouting as the flashes go berserk. But what else?
Eventually the evocative screenplay decides to give its fallen heroine a second chance. But that seems more like cinematic liberty than an effort to define the straight-from-the-hip quality that we encounter in most of the journey from dimmed lights to damned souls...Madhur Bhandarkar takes us through a labyrinth of emotions, some devastating in their gut-level directness. But at the end we come away with a film that gives us something to hold on to permanently even as the characters on screen lose practically everything worth holding on to.
A truly outstanding film and one that brightens your Diwali in ways that don't show up on the surface.