Movie Review : Anaarkali of Aarah (2017)

Rating : 3.5/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2017
Running time : 2 hours 3 minutes
Director : Ashwin Das
Cast : Swara Bhaskara, Pankaj Tripathy, Sanjay Mishra, Ishtiyak Khan, Mayur More, Vijay Kumar
Kid rating: PG-15

Anaarkali (Bhaskar) is a poor orchestra singer-dancer in the small town of Aarah. When Dharmendra Chauhan (Misra), a local political bigwig, takes a shine to her, she must tolerate his attentions. Things however come to a head, when he, in an inebriated state, manhandles and assaults her on stage during a performance. Everyone thinks that this is par for the course for a nautch dancer such as she, but Anaarkali is outraged at Chauhan’s treatment of her. What can she do alone, against the well-connected Chauhan?

Anaarkali of Aarah has a feminist message, similar to that of Pink, although they are vastly different movies: No means No. Anaarkali sings bawdy songs, along with the requisite pelvic thrusts and suggestive dance movements. She lives independently, makes her own sexual choices, including a relationship with her married orchestra owner Rangeela (Tripathi). She is no wide-eyed ingénue, we are told, but, regardless of her lifestyle or her chosen profession, retains the right to consent.

This is a great message, and well-portrayed by director Das. It is an interesting set-up, and we, the viewers, are primed pretty well to be on Anaarkali’s side. Bhaskar, the wonderful actress that she is, has us eating out of her hands, despite her character’s flaws. While the story’s premise is believable, I was a little surprised at the lengths Anaarkali goes to thwart Chauhan’s plans for her; one would expect her to be attuned to patriarchal views which treat women as property – to be done with as they please. This is India (not that that matters – such views exist across the globe), and she obviously isn’t living under a rock. Also, in some scenes we see that her mother, who was also a nautch girl, is at the beck and call of similar men – a plight not hidden from the then teenager Anaarkali.

The ending seemed a clichéd – a fanciful, feel-good cop-out of an otherwise insoluble problem. Do Anaar’s troubles end after the denouement? Probably not. The system is corrupt, and for a single young woman of “questionable” character, justice might as well not exist.

This was still a pretty good film. It works the human moments – the dalliance between Anaar and Rangeela, the tenuous ties between Anaar and Anwar, and Anaar’s own helpless outrage. It offers up little quirks – a policeman named Bulbul. It emphasizes the hypocrisy – Chauhan’s “respectable” wife and daughter sitting with him watching a nautch girl crudely strut her stuff, in the name of entertainment, at a University event.

Props where they are due – to the fantastic cast. Bhaskar, whom we last saw in the lovely “Nil Battey Sannata”, is just as fabulous here; I watch films just because she is in them. I’m glad that she is getting lead, meaty roles worthy of her mettle. Tripathy as the street-smart Rangeela, Mishra as the lascivious Chauhan, Vijay Kumar as corrupt policeman Bulbul Pandey and Ishtiyak Khan as the golden-hearted admirer Hiraman round off this delectable star cast.

Kidwise: Anaarkali’s performances which we see a lot of in the first half, are filled with extremely suggestive dance moves, and crude, innuendo-laden language. While these are portrayed in a straight-forward matter-of-fact way, it might not be appropriate for younger viewers.

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