Mumbai, July 21, 2023- Films based on marital discord or on relationship issues have been made a dime a dozen, all trying to look at the cracks in the intimate bond between a man and a woman from a new — often not-so-new — (or, claiming to) and different perspective.
In ‘Bawaal’, Director Nitesh Tiwari (‘Dangal’, ‘Chhichhore’) attempts to explore yet another side to marriage in which the man is more concerned about his public image rather than his personal, and refuses to see reason.
For him, all that matters most is the impression people have of him as an infallible perfectionist. So far so good.
A loser all the way, he seldom falters or else his well-cultivated facade of faultlessness could misfire. But that the chinks in his armour could have a detrimental effect and ruin him is not something he is prepared for.
Ajju or Ajay Dixit (Varun Dhawan) lives in Lucknow with his parents (Manoj Pahwa and Anjuman Saxena) and despite being a school teacher makes every possible effort to project an image of himself that’s diametrically opposite of who really is.
As the thick-skinned only child of his parents, Ajju lives off his father, who is both soft towards him and also reprimands him frequently. And so, he goes flexing his muscles at a gym giving gyan to eager- beaver admirers who take in every word that he pretentiously utters. In his class too, he gets away with highfalutin gimmickry of words while all along taking least interest in his job as a History teacher. And he couldn’t have asked for a more sycophantic friend (Parth Sidhpura), who not only thinks the world of him, but is forever enthusiastic to massage his ego and make everything easy for him.
Meanwhile, when Ajju falls for the pretty Nisha Dixit (Jhanvi Kapoor), he must marry her, not because he falls for her, but marrying her can raise his social status.
Just when his life seems perfect, his world comes crashing apart when on the wedding night itself he finds out about Nisha being epileptic as she lay on bed trying to control her seizure. Embarrassed that such fate could have befallen him, he is unable to face his friends, goes through the roof and decides to stay away from Nisha.
Refusing to consummate his marriage, he leaves her broken and has no qualms about making her a domesticated doormat as he goes out drinking with buddies every day.
There is more coming his way. His self-worth gets bruised in class when he fails to answer a question asked by a student, and, in turn, the boy makes fun of him. Ajju in a fit of rage slaps the child not realising that he is the son of the local MP (Mukesh Tiwary). Feeling slighted by his son’s insult, the unwavering parliamentarian decides to ask the principal to suspend Ajju for a month.
Snubbed, but not to be outdone, Ajju hatches another plan to extract money from his doting father to go on a honeymoon with Nisha just to let people think he’s going on holiday and will miss school.
He chooses Europe as his destination from where he promises to complete the history lessons on World War II that he says he had left unfinished before getting barred from school. Not just this, he goes live on his mobile visiting all the war memorials and tutoring his students from Europe!
Herein lies the twist in the tale. In both writing and direction, the film manages to raise the blandness and narrative predictability of a time-worn subject such as a troubled conjugal relationship to the level of art. And the script continues to underscore and wring different shades of Ajju’s mood out of him.
Jahnvi Kapoor may have been raw initially, but with each of her films, she seems to have decided to grow as an actor. And she does, besides lending dignity to Nisha. Varun Dhawan, on the other hand, doesn’t have quite the range to pull off a slightly complex character, but the two do have an easy onscreen chemistry, which is among the many positives of the film! It’s the chemistry that adds a refreshing dimension to the narrative.
Cinematographer Mitish Mirchandani captures the beauty of the historically exquisite bylanes of Lucknow. Mithoon and Tanishq Bagchi deliver some hummable music, albeit in the background.
When the many elements of the plot are pieced together, ‘Bawaal’ emerges as a competently made film that gives a potentially predictable plot a refreshingly new twist and manages to hold the attention of the audience till the very end.
Film: Bawaal (Amazon Prime Video) Duration: 144 minutes
Director: Nitesh Tiwari
Cast: Varun Dhawan, Janhvi Kapoor, Manoj Pahwa, Mukesh Tiwary
Cinematography: Mitesh Mirchandani
Music: Mithoon, Tanishk Bagchi, Akashdeep Sengupta; Score: Daniel B. George
Rating: **** (Agency)