Their haystack hair, rough and coarse, with dry texture and pale colour. Their not so pearly whites, dirty, disfigured, discoloured teeth that flash unabashedly challenging vanity and our decade long conditioned ideas of beauty. Their language, foul and filthy, rooted in culture sounds blasphemous yet so musical. Their personalities, fierce and feisty, impulsive and explosive hint at their vulnerability.
And this offers a foil to last week’s Tatti Gul Julab Chalu’s lazy attempt at showcasing small town life.
Off late, small towns have been trending in Hindi films. Most of them add a tanne or a manne in name of research and characterisation but only a few films manage to bring out the real essence of rural India. Pataakha is gritty, gruesome and gorgeous.
Based on Charan Singh Pathik’s short story Do Behnein, the film is set in rural Rajasthan where Champa (Radhika Madan) and Genda (Sanya Malhotra) are two sisters who can’t stand the sight of each other.
The first half is a beautiful insight into their worlds, their likes and dislikes, their ambitions and their love stories and how they both eventually land up getting married into the same household, leading to a second half that delves deeper into their love hate relationship and how that controls their lives in a funny tragic way.
The first half despite being rooted into patriarchy never celebrates it. Genda’s boyfriend (Abhishek Duhan) first attacks her but never manhandles her. Champa’s boyfriend (Namit Das) despite being a pervert, evetnually comes across as a man genuinely in love. And their father (Vijay Raaz) is helpless and exhausted. He disciplines his daughters, for their bad behaviour but never for their gender.
The second half however loses fizz. The sister’s rivalry, that seemed fun and harmless in the first half, pushes the siblings to do things unimaginable. Their clash is not explained or explored much and hence it becomes difficult to buy into their post marriage war that leads to severe consequences. Even their medical conditions that are explained as hysterical aphonia and hysterical blindness sound nothing but hysterical. But thankfully it all concludes into a firecracker of a climax that explains how the sisters’ well being comes from their constant bickering. War helps them exist, peace perishes them.
Vishal Bhardwaj is an intelligent filmmaker who layers his stories with symbolism. He gives Charan Singh’s short story a new meaning by equating the sibling rivalry with India Pakistan relationship without quite preaching it. And it’s done smartly where a neighbourhood friend is the meddler (like British) who constantly divides and controls. The sisters’ mother in law is also referred as America. Some of the lines are also cleverly written with ample word play. For instance, Genda’s husband worried about his wife’s eyesight, asks the doctor, “Reports toh sahi ‘dikh’ rahi hain, par usee ‘dikhai’ kyon nahi de raha?” The doctor replies, “Wahi toh ‘dekhna’ hain!”
Pataakha is like a course book in film making, in storytelling and mostly in great acting. The lead pair Sanya Malhotra and Radhika Madan are a delight to watch. There is not a single moment of vanity or awkwardness. They blend in with the rural setting, with the household chores and the cattle, like they belong there. Their vulgar jokes, their boisterous body language and their unabashed, unapologetic portrayal of Champa and Genda show what fabulous actors are made of. I particularly liked how they cringed their noses and clenched their teeth to emote. It bends my mind to see how effortlessly they adapt the local dialect, the accent and completely own it. Full marks to Vishal Bhardwaj too for sticking to the local language so beautifully.
Everyone in the film is a class apart. Sunil Grover’s portrayal of a nosy, plotting meddler is nothing less than endearing. There is a moment when he asks the wedding band to play and then he breaks into a cheap, vulgar pelvic thrust dance move, living the gross flamboyance of Dipper. Vijay Raaz is as always controlled and clever. Abishek Duhan and Namit Das offer ample support as Genda’s and Champa’s husbands.
Patakha has its problems. There is an unnecessary item number and the second half becomes unbearably slow. Despite all these problems, the fabulous performances by everyone in the film makes it worth a watch.