In an early scene in Hansal Mehta’s Simran, the protagonist Praful Patel (Kangana Ranaut) is visiting a bank manager. Seeking a modest loan to buy a home in Georgia’s Minority Housing, Praful’s life is uneventful – much like her ordinary clothes and the sleepy town she resides in. In her conversation with the impeccably dressed banker, we do feel a slight Queen hangover. The film soon establishes Praful’s family circumstances and later with an unexpected trip to Las Vegas we, eventually, warm up to the character’s natural reflexes.
For starters, Simran is not one film that wastes time. It makes no bones to portray frustration and aspirations of the middle-class Indian diaspora living in the United States. In a brief phase of instant richness, we see Praful splurge it out like a queen. She gets hold of all the expensive dresses she couldn’t afford earlier. Praful also makes it a point to return the generosity that a cap seller had earlier showered her with. Simple, everyday middle-class things! Equally endearing is her bonding with the affable bartender. One that seems a tad too long, or maybe too eventful, the first half is where Simran accumulates all its merits – an unusual premise, a spellbinding lead performance, some neat cinematography and an atmospheric music score.
Terming the second half ‘silly’ would be a little unfair to Ranaut’s skills and also for what the film attempts to say. The film isn’t a specific genre piece and the lead character is fabulously gender neutral. At points in Simran, we guffaw on how all of Praful’s idiosyncrasies might have otherwise been done by a man in an ordinary Hindi film. Would her naysayers have labelled those novice bank robbery scenes as ‘silly’ or ‘idiotic’? I doubt. Of course, Praful’s shenanigans as the notorious “Lipstick Bandit” is hard to digest in this day and age of paramount security in financial institutions. The authorities and the peacemakers are mere powerless spectators in Simran whose only job is to appear on television. Even amid these ill-defined heists, Simran does show flashes of brilliance, of empathy that any middle-class soul would relate to. Case in point is the scene where the aged cashier gets a cardiac arrest upon being threatened by the lead character.
Praful also meets a possible suitor through the family. One who speaks shuddh Hindi, words like anumati and sampoorn are commonplace for Sameer (a fantastic Sohum Shah). Predictably so, he aspires to build a religion-based mobile application and the man is as regular and acceptable as any hardworking, small-town guy would be. It is just that we don’t seem to decipher his instant liking for Praful. Yes, it could be her good looks but Sameer also mentions about cerebral stuff on Praful’s way of being. Wait, wasn’t it just their second meeting? They have never even conversed over the phone. The confrontation and the pre-climactic twist involving him, therefore, are plain unconvincing.
Competently executed in parts, Simran unwittingly falls prey of its own writing anomalies. It can’t be denied that the film appears quite opportunistic – milking Ranaut’s skills as a comedienne to optimum. As a result of this overt humour-coating, we fail to make a connection with Praful’s actual misery. It would have been a different case altogether if the writers didn’t want us to feel for the protagonist!
However, I must add that I truly enjoyed the final scene where Praful gives her parents a serious suggestion. That’s also when we feel how there was more focus on her dual personality bit – an essential clash of Simran and Praful.
To the film’s credit, the writers (Apurva Asrani, Kangana Ranaut) makes sure that the primary plot twists come out very well. The dialogues are uniformly fabulous and the local Gujarati flavour is spot on. Praful meeting the middle-aged Gujarati gentleman in the casino or her wooing the white guy – all of them ably reflect her inherent simplicity. It’s also interesting how Praful keeps a strong moral stance on her relationships. She refuses sex when she has to, and also explains why making boyfriends isn’t a character flaw, but a skill. The connecting scene involving a Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge scene also doesn’t come out as a forced integration. Later in a brawl at Praful’s workplace, we see a book called ‘Women changing India’ sheepishly placed. With a protagonist who operates out of naivety and subscribes to Youtube videos that explains ‘How To Rob a Bank’, Simran is all about these tiny human touches that establish Praful’s thought process and consequently that of the social segment’s.
Needless to add, Kangana Ranaut hogs almost all frames and is phenomenal all through. All controversies and polarized opinions get dismantled like nine pins as we watch this acting virtuoso liven it up as Praful. With a perfectly chosen supporting cast, the acting department is one of Simran’s biggest strengths.
Director Hansal Mehta seems confident as he establishes Simran’s transformation. However, his conviction weans off quickly as the film assumes new contours – of relationships, heists, workplace harassment and more. As the weirdly executed final chase unfolds, we feel as if Mehta was in a hurry to finish off the filming process and head back to India. In the bargain, we miss out on a lot of quirks that could have made Simran spicier. Throughout the latter half, I was thinking of how an element of surrealism could have rendered magic to Praful’s foolhardy. Simran is too matter-of-fact and hence making the humour feel very ‘inserted’.
To close it, Simran is illogical, but who said an illogical plot can’t translate to affecting cinema? Mehta and his writers simply miss the balance and this is exactly the point where we realize that this is anything but a Wes Anderson film.
P.S.: I would really want to know how the initial draft of Simran’s screenplay looked like. The unabridged version by Apurva Asrani, that is.