(An edited version was published in The New Indian Express)
Raabta’s meet-cute between Shiv (Sushant Singh Rajput) and Saira (Kriti Sanon) is unique in some ways. It’s meet cute – as in the textbook definition of the couple meeting for the first time – only for us. They talk and get along like they’ve known each other for generations. It happens in a bakery where she works and he is the customer. There is no Hi or Hello. She asks what took him so long. And he replies like it is a question he was expecting. It works to an extent considering the context of Dinesh Vijan’s film that deals with reincarnation and a romance across different eras. They sense a connection (Raabta’s tagline is as unimaginative as the film itself – “Everything is Connected”) and they play along. There is no introduction or getting to know each other and such contrivances. Their relationship, in other words, hits the ground running.
But the film never moves. The crafting of the modern romance (the film is written by Siddharth-Garima) is interesting enough for a while and that’s mostly thanks to Rajput’s spirited turn. Shiv’s character is written to be an insufferable flirt but Rajput somehow makes you buy into his charms and that makes a large part of the film inoffensive. Nothing about the film is fleshed out or ornamented with detail. We don’t know why all of this happens in Budapest (or maybe we do but seriously, why?). The comet Lovejoy references don’t amount to much. Saira is Saira because in the story from another time, she was Sahiba. There is a psychedelic castle in the middle of nowhere that doubles up as a clinic with a shrink/masseuse/fortune teller named Hidimba. Saira at one point becomes Rapunzel, wearing princess like clothes but locked up in a castle in the middle of the sea. She stands in front of the mirror and talks to her parents (who passed away when she was a toddler) giving it a Mirror of Erised vibe. Every time the film takes itself too seriously, we yearn for Shiv to be back in the thick of things to pump some much-needed life into the proceedings.
Shiv is the only person who hasn’t got the memo about how life altering all of this is. And that’s a relief. If rest of the film is on a ventilator, the story of the past is dead on arrival. It’s filmed in such laborious fashion that one cannot make any sense of it. There is no context for time or place. When is it? Where is it? Who are these people? Nothing. People talk in monosyllables but talk in a way that suggests that they are saying something deep. With films like Raabta, it is not about the plot or material. You can make films like these out of nothing but you need a crafty, assured filmmaker to make it imaginative and engaging. The one line plot here has immense potential for action, heroism and even the frowned upon Indian genre of masala. Just look at what S.S Rajamouli did with a film like Magadheera. For the centuries spanning difference, you just have to look at Raabta or K.V Anand’s Anegan (which is a masterpiece compared to this mess) in Tamil. There is even an interesting gender role reversal subplot in there somewhere. Shiv being the man with a perennial glee on his face, spreading joy wherever he goes, bringing light into the drab life of Saira and helping her gain closure to her traumatic past. She even saves him from getting drowned. Twice. But Vijan is hardly interested in or inclined towards such things. He is happy cutting shots from the flashback between those of the present, holding our hand through it all, because, in his head, we are watching Cloud Atlas.