As I shuffled my feet while making way out of the theatre, the first thought after watching Filhaal was: It would be interesting to see what Meghna Gulzar could do with a fresher subject.
She has promise. All she needs is a more original premise.
For her maiden venture, Meghna gives us subtly shaded emotional vignettes and glossy, silken images. She, however, choses to meditate over the oft-attempted (but rarely successful) subject of surrogate motherhood. Just last year, we witnessed Chori Chori Chupke Chupke on the the same subject --- with much less sophistication.
For the sake of argument, Meghna could point out that the couple in Filhaal, unlike in Doosri Dulhan or Chori Chori Chupke Chupke, don't hire the services of a concubine to bear a child for them. True. But it's not such a radical difference.
Here, shutterbug chatterbox, Sia (Sushmita Sen), despite being unmarried, volunteers to lend her womb to her best buddy, Rewa (Tabu) because she cannot see the latter pining for a child: A miscarriage left her unable to have children.
Sia and Rewa's bold plan gets a hesitant nod from Rewa's husband Dhruv (Sanjay Suri). Sia conceives after some strictly scientific laboratory experiment. The pregnant Sia has a swell (no pun intended) time, except her no-strings-attached boyfriend, Saahil (Palash Sen) is very miffed.
Rewa, after her initial euphoria, begins to wilt when Sia slowly becomes the cynosure of all eyes. Dhruv's increasing involvement in Sia's pregnancy and Sia's 'I'll brook little interference on how to nurture my baby' to Rewa's constant Mother Hen begin to gnaw at Rewa's insides.
A feel-good film with an unhurried exposition and a certain lyrical charm for most of the first half, Filhaal draws a major portion of its dramatic sustenance from the the emotional tug-of-war between Rewa and Sia as they both struggle to come to terms with their rights over the child.
The tension is subtle, but effectively built --- unnecessarily diluted by a surfeit of songs, though. Also, the ease with which Sia walks away from the baby and accepts Sahil's long-pending proposal makes you wonder. What was all the hue and cry about?
Meghna Gulzar's narrative style is innovative: Juxtaposing a series of flashbacks without overemphasising the shift in time. Going by some of the reactions to the film, I am afraid it might leave a large segment of the paying audience baffled. Meghna, who has also written the story besides directing it, pens unconventional characters.
Ironically, the high level of sensitivity invested in most of the characters --- Sia's mother and father hem and haw but then come around to accepting their daughter's bold decision --- takes a little believing and deprives the film of some drama and credibility.
Also, Meghna doesn't quite blend in the subtext of Sia being a working woman into the main plot. Consequently, it stands out like an a self-conscious extra finger. While she lavishes affection on the scenes of female bonding, she hasn't harnessed the brimming tension of the all-male scene when Dhruv and Saahil meet (against a noisy traffic background perhaps to reflect their state of mind), after Sia agrees to bear Dhruv's child.
Tabu successfully lays bare the inner turmoil of her character on screen. Though her wringing of hands just before she cries or pushing her nose in the midst of a scene (probably to lend a casual air to her performance) --- are gestures that threaten to assume the mantle of mannerisms. Barring these, she is excellent.
If I were to single out her best scene, it would be the one where she laments about been denied the privileges of motherhood and the accompanying joy of the experience.
It is a pleasure to see Sushmita Sen in bloom. She springs a surprise and proves a serious contender to Tabu. Sen makes a complex, larger-than-life role seem convincing. What's more, she makes it seem as easy as a veteran model's nth appearance on the ramp. She energises the film with her ebullience.
Sanjay Suri has travelled some distance from the squeaky clean young hopeful of Pyaar Mein Kabhi Kabhie to the mature actor of Filhaal. He holds his own despite the presence of two author-backed women.
Singer Palash Sen is earnest but lacks screen charisma. He seems like a beached fish in Dil ke sannate picturised on him. His rendition of the song bears professionalism but he is better heard than seen.
The soothing background music caught my ears. On checking, I learnt the credits go to the relatively unknown Hasan Shaikh and Brandan Cooper.
Gulzar gifts his daughter with a beautiful number, Aye zindagi, yeh lamha filhaal jee lene de; pehle se likha kuch bhi nahin, roz naya kuch likhti hai tu, tuned mellifluously by Anu Malik and emotionally sung by Asha Bhosle. The rest of the songs don't distinguish themselves and fall short of expectations.
The director also choses to leave her signature with a pronounced and seemingly intentional emphasis on lilac and myriad shades of the blue-purple family throughout the film. Art director Nitin Desai and the assortment of dress designers and cinematographers seem to be hand-in-glove in lending the hue to the clothes, walls, furnishings, even the hospital. Is Meghna is planning a trilogy of blue, red and white films, a la internationally famous filmmaker, Krzysztof Kieslowski?
Meghna Gulzar is a thinking, feeling director with, I'm sure, more to offer. With Filhaal, we will have to settle for just so much.
Moments in Time: The Filhaal special