Malaal Review: A bizarre love story that never takes flight
Meezaan and Sharmin Segal make a mediocre debut in Mangesh Hadawale’s Hindi remake of 7G Rainbow Colony
Malaal means ‘grief’. It’s an essential Sanjay Leela Bhansali word — pristine, powered, worthy of a vintage typeface. The title meshes oddly with the film underneath, which affords unnecessary heft to a hopelessly mundane love story. The film is constantly aiming for a large-canvas treatment, often at the expense of local colour and depth. Only because it can. And, because this is ultimately a launch film.
Directed by Mangesh Hadawale and produced by Bhansali Productions, Malaal stars debutantes Meezaan and Sharmin Segal. Meezaan is Jaaved Jaaferi’s son; Sharmin is Bhansali’s niece. Together, they make the goofiest screen couple imaginable, keeping count of each other’s shirt-holes and stride lengths. Their romance blooms inside a Mumbai chawl; this is some sort of a period film — Titanic, Pardesh and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai are visually referred, so is Bhansali’s own Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. All of these films have a reputation for putting lovers through the wringer; even then, Malaal’s dramatic swerve is impossible to predict. This isn't necessarily a compliment, given how frequently it shifts moods and tones and character arcs.
Meezaan plays the hard-drinking, cricket-excelling hero — a newcomer who lands so strikingly between a young Sanjay Dutt and Ranbir Kapoor; I’m surprised he isn’t called Sanju. He is called Shiva, a tough-talking Marathi slug who takes a shine to Astha, played by Sharmin. Astha’s parents are North Indians, have fallen on hard times, and moved to Shiva’s chawl. There’s a brief buildup in the opening moments about anti-immigrant sentiments in Mumbai. A local leader (Sameer Dharmadhikari) is cultivating Shiva as his street thug. When Shiva’s mother parcels out hot poha for their neighbours, the gesture is reciprocated with littis. It’s a cordial exchange, yet Mangesh is meticulous enough to capture the discomfort of the characters with an unfamiliar cuisine.
These details are abandoned in the second half, where the film (remade from the Tamil hit 7G Rainbow Colony) becomes a traditional star-crossed romance. ‘Class’, as always, becomes the ultimate deterrent — not politics or cultural conflict. Mangesh is a fine director working with big set pieces, but struggles to render feelings economically. The lovers break into full-length songs choreographed around a missing locket, an accounting textbook, and a Siddhi Vinayak outing. There’s a heavy Marathi influence in the music; I found Udhal Ho particularly zingy, an excellent chain of dancers twirling to ‘Fu Bai Fu, Fugadi Fu’ in the chorus.
Malaal gets incredibly bizarre at times. Shiva has one condition to stop smoking and drinking — that his girlfriend take a puff and a swig. Fed up with his rioting, Astha promises to marry Shiva if he clears his exams. The next scene, she is bailing him out for slapping the examiner. I wonder if this is all a well-timed counterpoint to Kabir Singh haters, verifying how some men are better off as wastrels. The ending is a melodramatic sucker punch, though it lacks the necessary Bhansalisms to be sold effectively.
“Usko to chor diya,” Shiva declares mid-fight to Astha. “Magar tujhe nahi chor sakta.” The line’s a cliche, but she bites. Decades may pass, but Hindi film characters will remain terrible listeners. Some words of endearment are warnings, really.