Updated: January 13, 2022 1:10:30 pm
A popular leading lady of yesteryear Hindi cinema, and her obsession with a director trying desperately for a hit. Sounds familiar? That’s exactly how the 1983 ‘Arth’, one of Mahesh Bhatt’s best films, pans out. In fact, almost all of ‘Ranjish Hi Sahi’, where Bhatt has a ‘creator’ credit, bobs along picking up on situations we know so well because they are part of Bollywood lore, documented by the tabloids and industry wags of the day.
The obsessive heroine whose life borrows so much from the real-life Parveen Babi. The director, who runs away from an ashram in Pune, to find himself in tinsel-town Bombay. That era, filled with crass producers, randy leading men, ramshackle studios, single-screen theatres, influential gossip journalists, long-finned Chevrolet impalas, and landlines. All of it has been painstakingly recreated. The nostalgia is on full display. But it is used as a lazy crutch, which turns even the few fresh strokes in this web series into the been-there-seen-it category.
It’s not as if the actors have not done their bit. This is a solid ensemble. Tahir Raj Bhasin is Shankar, the director who is contemptuously told to keep his ‘intellectual leanings at home’, and who embarks upon a complicated relationship with top heroine Amna Parvez (Amala Paul, an astonishing dead-ringer for the real Babi with a whiff of Deepika Padukone), which naturally alienates his loyal wife (Amrita Puri) and saddens his Muslim-mother-who-hides-her-identity, played by Zarina Wahab.
A particularly vivid act — the gold-chain-festooned-all-powerful-producer who ‘screens’ his film for Shivji, waiting for a sign from the above whether the film will work or not, and who loves demeaning young hopefuls — is a stand-out. Who was he in real life? Or was he a mix of several vile moneybags? After you’re done sucking your breath in and wincing, you wonder why there wasn’t more of such incidents — so representative of the outsized personalities that were part of moviedom those days.
‘Ranjish Hi Sahi’ is not just an ‘Arth’ pati-patni-aur-woh redux. Shankar’s mother, a Muslim woman never fully accepted by her Hindu husband, is also a character we’ve seen before. Remember Pooja Bhatt in ‘Zakhm’? That film is another favourite from Mahesh Bhatt’s arc. The eco-system which makes up the moving parts of the film industry has been part of so many other nostalgia-fuelled odes. How do you break the clutter? By giving us sharply drawn characters and fresh situations, that’s what.
Of those, sadly, there is a paucity. The listless plot, which stretches over eight episodes, doesn’t even name names. The ashram in Pune isn’t called Osho. Amar Akbar Anthony becomes Ajay Anwar Albert. Why this sleight of hand? By his own admission, Bhatt’s life is replete with so much colour and believe-it-or-faint moments that this should have been a tell-all to end all tell-alls. This ends up as just tell, in a long voice-over, and not show.
Ranjish Hi Sahi cast: Tahir Raj Bhasin, Amala Paul, Amrita Puri, Zarina Wahab
Ranjish Hi Sahi director: Pushpdeep Bhardwaj
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