Subliminal symbolism and understated allegories in Bollywood are rare and hardly ever utilised. We still mollycoddle the audience with too much information and in the process stretch out the narrative. Sriram Raghavan who gave us the masterpiece ‘Andhadhun’ last year, says,” I trust my movie grammar and understanding. That ‘ok, this is obvious. We don’t need to show it. We don’t need to say it’,”. Of late however, a new flock of storytellers have emerged who are challenging the status quo and allowing the audience to stretch their brain cells a bit. Imtiaz Ali did it with ‘Tamasha’, Sriram Raghavan has made a career doing it over multiple films and now we have the refreshing longhand of Kanika Dhillon. Manmarziyaan last year and Judgementall Hai Kya have put the spotlight on her distinct style of writing which is an amalgamation of character centricity and narrative devices.
In Judgementall Hai Kya, there is a climatic scene where Rajkummar Rao stares into the multi-reflecting mirror, while Bobby (Kangana Ranaut) lies down in Sita’s costume and the audience gets the symbolic reference to ‘Raavan’s’ dashavatara as Rao’s character lets out a devilish grin. That scene immediately transported me 4 years ago when I was watching ‘Tamasha’, and in one ruminating scene, we catch ‘Ved’ (Ranbir Kapoor) staring into a 3-way mirror with a deadpan look. Both scenes have symbolic value which wasn’t spoon fed to us by narration. Ved in Tamasha was a middle-class Indian conditioned to be someone who was alienated from his true self. However, the reflection in the mirror seemed to reference the multiple facets of his being, one whom he left in the island of Corsica during his rendezvous with Tara and the other which society wants him to become and he is half way there.
Kanika Dhillon uses numerous such tropes to subliminally convey states of minds of her characters. In Manmarziyaan various sets of twins, 3 or 4 of them, appear at different junctures of the story. The twins represent emotional dilemma in the mind of Rumi ( the absolutely brilliant Taapsee Pannu). For most of the movie she is one step behind her heart. Only towards the end does one of the twin girls seem to hide behind the other one, signifying that finally Rumi seems to be at ease internally and knows where her heart will lead her to.
In Judgemntall Hai Kya, Kanika uses a placard holding guy on the street to direct Bobby’s character. One of the placards says ‘Udne Main Buraai Nahi, Aap Bhi Ude’ (There’s no harm in flying, You too should fly). And we see Bobby’s imagination go overboard as she tries to decipher the hidden motive of Keshav. Later on , the same placard guy holds up ‘Kar Saamna, Matt Bhaag Tu’ (Face it, Do Not Run) as Bobby decides to confront Keshav.
A story with plot drivers and hidden meanings always makes us contemplate much more than any ‘masala’ flick does, especially those which serve stories on a platter. Andhadhun leveraged word of mouth marketing through it’s open ended storyline. Game Over (another brilliant Taapsee starrer) made us connect the dots as we swung between what is real and what is not. Even the box office dud, 2016’s Wazir, tried to use chess as the symbolic set up of Amitabh Bachchan’s character’s fight and his eventual sacrifice (pawn sacrifice) during the act of revenge. Such movies keep us on our toes and they encourage dialogue. Kanika Dhillon seems to be following the same trail. Her dialogues, her characters and the interplay make for engaging viewing experience, although somewhere Judgementall Hai Kya copped out in a predictable finale. In a recent interview she put it best, “everything starts moving when I am able to see my characters clearly. They then organically lead or respond to the story or the universe I want to create,”. She sure knows how to create a universe and we cannot wait to watch what she serves us next!