Pataakha movie cast: Vijay Raaz, Sanya Malhotra, Radhika Madan, Namit Das, Saanand Varma, Abhishek Duhan
Pataakha movie director: Vishal Bhardwaj
Pataakha movie ratings: 3 stars
Somewhere in rural Rajasthan, two sisters are born fighting, and they keep fighting. With everything they’ve got: imaginative ‘gaalis’, fists, kicks, wrestler-style moves. Their fights are the stuff of village ‘tamasha’, with people gathering and cheering, as the two beat, punch and fling each other to the ground, and have to be pulled apart, mostly by their hapless father.
It took me a while to fully get into the film. Why do these sisters look as if they do not bathe for days on end? Their matted hair and unwashed faces distracted me, as did their thick accents which feel faux in the beginning, making their rat-a-tat-tat dialogues quite incomprehensible in places. Why are they fighting in the first place?
But soon enough, it is clear that everything is working to a design. Vishal Bhardwaj’s Pataakha, based on Charan Singh Pathik’s short story Do Behnein, has managed to pull off a rousing parable.
Bharadwaj, who has also written the film, doesn’t waste a second in centre-staging the two sisters Badki Champa (Madan) and Chutki Genda (Malhotra) and their animosity, which simmers all the time, bursting into flames whenever things spiral out of control, with a little nudge from the sisters. And there’s nothing that their loving father Bapu (Raaz) nor the respective men in their lives (Duhan and Das) can do which will change things.
This is a wonderful ensemble cast. The village rich guy (Verma), festooned with gold chains, who lusts after the two feuding sisters; the Naarad Muni type ‘family friend’ called Dipper (Grover); the googly-eyed ‘vaid’, the wise old ‘daadi’; the two who play the lovers-cum-spouses of the two sisters; Raaz, pitch–perfect as the father, all work in tandem.
Bharadwaj’s touch with names is in evidence here too. One of my all-time favourites, Billo Chaman Bahaar, from Omkara, is almost trumped here by Dipper, called thus because he has a lazy eye, which keeps ‘dipping’. And in the way Genda is called ‘Marigold’ by her besotted lover.
The girls take some getting used to: you have to suspend disbelief to take these dusty, filthy-mouthed sisters seriously. But once they start settling into their roles, you cross a hump, and then you swing, as they do, from one fight to another, as they cross from their parental home to their marital ‘aangan’, and discover, to their horror, that they are together again. Both Madan, who is quite a sparkler again in her upcoming Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota, and Malhotra, have their moments, even if they make you want to reach out and wipe the grime off their faces, and tell them to calm down, enough already.
This film reminded me a little of Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola. Clearly, Bharadwaj has a thing for cows. Matru had a hallucinatory pink one; here there are your regular ‘desi’ ones, which Badki loves. But unlike Matru, Pataakha doesn’t lose sight of its suitably nutty comic tone (there’s a nice sly dig about ‘swacch Bharat’). Who doesn’t know that homes can be the most vicious battle-grounds?
I’ve always maintained that Bharadwaj is great with set-up and dwindles as a finisher. Happy to be proved wrong this time around. Pataakha’s ending is a cracker. Why do Badki and Chutki fight? The no answer is the answer which powers this parable, which keeps referring in a fairly simplistic one-track manner to India and Pakistan whenever Badki and Chukti are at each other’s throats. Like the two sisters, why do the countries fight? Why did they start in the first place? Why can’t they ‘do jhappi’ and forgive each other their real and imagined sins and live happily ever after? Bharadwaj’s placing Israel-Palestine, and North and South Korea in the same forgive-and-forget category is a huge stretch, but what are movies for if not for wishful thinking?