Film: 'Gehraiyaan' (Streaming on Amazon Prime). Duration: 148 minutes.
Director: Shakun Batra. Cast: Deepika Padukone, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Ananya Panday, Dhairya Karwa, Naseeruddin Shah and Rajat Kapoor.
IANS Rating: ****
'Gehraiyaan' is a slow-burn, captivating, noir drama that draws you into its immersive narrative, which tells us, "Life is all about choices. ... Let's put all this behind us and move on."
Shots of the deep sea and its rolling waves form a subtle leitmotif in the film that reminds you of life's mysteries, innumerable choices, and the momentum of moving on.
But are choices and moving on so simple? At least not for Alisha, a yoga instructor in Mumbai who is at the crossroads of her life. She has a strained relationship with her father, who lives in Nashik.
She is also haunted by memories of her mother's demise. Moreover, there are roadblocks in the way of her entrepreneurial endeavours, and the spark in her six-year-old relationship with Karan, an aspiring author, seems to have petered out.
But when she catches up with younger cousin Tia and her fiancé Zain, sparks fly between her and Zain. She gets drawn to him. Then, burdened with the uncertainty of their relationship, she tries to stay away from Zain. But eventually, after Zain convinces her that the feeling is mutual, she inevitably gives in to the relationship.
So far, so good, but when the plot abruptly shifts gear from romance to noir, 'Gehraiyaan' becomes an altogether less predictable, more volatile story whose twists and turns revolve around the selfishness of human beings and the desperate lengths to which it can drive people.
Craftily, the plot is tense on the brink of a psychological drama with its painful uncertainties, extremes of emotions, and the onslaught of hormones. The struggle to strike a balance is innately dramatic.
Director Shakun Batra's cleverness lies in fashioning from these ingredients a relaxed but stylish thriller in which suspense is accompanied by a scuffle for survival instinct and, perhaps toughest of all, hope.
Deepika and Siddhant, as Alisha and Zain, are sincere in their roles; attractive and responsive with an instinctive ability for calm expression and restrained emotions. They create a completely trustworthy pair of complementary forces.
Supporting them with equal fervour are Ananya Panday and Dhairya Karwa as Tia and Karan. They both are impressive and earnest.
Naseeruddin Shah as Alisha's laid-back dad, and Rajat Kapoor as Zain's cold and calculating colleague, are both stoically effective but perfunctorily limited by the script.
Mounted with ace production values, cinematographer Kaushal Shah's location shots, inland or over water, in Alibaug or in Mumbai, look grim and evocative, perfectly in line with the film's breathtaking rhythm.
Overall, 'Gehraiyaan' keeps you hooked till the end.