ANAARKALI OF AARAH (2017)

I have a Bihari friend who even though younger than me has a knack for sharing titillating Bihari stuff every now and then not only with me but every possible person who gives him an ear. Referred to as “Hawas ka Pujari”, one of this guy’s trump cards to draw people’s interest in his dirty talks is showing them titillating Bihari songs of orchestras. Songs with titles like “tani leke dekho”, “debu k na ho” or for that matter, his favorite “Thermameter” (spelled exactly that way). He practically introduced me to something that I didn’t know existed. Basically what these orchestras perform is softcore titillating numbers that border on being entertainment and porn at the same time.

Anaarkali of Aarah chronicles the story of Anaarkali (Swara Bhaskar) a performer who is in many ways similar to what my friend showed me and who specializes in singing titillating songs but is a toned down version of the orchestras that have now found a new footing in front of crowds who are lusting for more. She is someone who, in spite of her image of being obnoxious and borderline immoral, has a lot of respect for her music. However, she is nothing but a piece of meat for most of the people who turn up at her shows. One such individual is the VC of a local university who abuses her on stage one night. And thus begins Anaarkali’s fight to get justice from a system and society that would not stop at anything to prove her wrong and safeguard the man who has wronged her.

a real Bihari titillating orchestra performance

Anaarkali of Aarah is an affecting and important film that has a lot going in its favor. To start with, it gets the tone and mood perfectly right. Even though, Anaarkali is portrayed as someone who is not of loose morals. She may sing in front of a kinky crowd but she values her morals and her body. She may share a bed with her agent but she does so only if she wishes to do so. So when the VC forces himself upon her, she rightfully hits back and just goes on to show that she is not a commodity but a human being with her own choices and chastity.

I loved this line that the film takes. A woman doesn’t have to be a virgin to be left alone by the oppressors. She can be a recluse too but refuse to sleep with someone she doesn’t want to. That doesn’t give you the right to ravage her life just because she is a recluse. That’s the path the film takes and as the story goes on, we find out how far she goes to protect her modesty and to avenge the wrong that has been done to her.

We also see through the film, the limits to which her oppressors go to get her to do the VC’s will. They destroy her home, they put her jail on false charges of prostitution and when she skips town, they even put a case on her of kidnapping a guy who willingly came with her. But Anaarkali keeps fighting till a time comes when she is forced to reconsider her path.

Swara Bhaskar is brilliant as Anaarkali. She exudes such confidence in both facets of the role that it becomes hard to take your eyes off her. She looks the part too. Her mannerism, her diction and her performances in the scenes involving song and dance routines as well as the ones where in the drama unfolds are phenomenal. I feel that she hasn’t got her due in Bollywood thus far but soon she will. She shares a terrific camaraderie with two characters in the film. First with Pankaj Tripathi who is a natural and then with Ishteyak Khan who has a smallish but significant role. The character played by him shows us the contrasting views of a different group of people who are also from Aaraah but look at Anaarkali as an actress and singer and not as a nautch girl.

The film grabs your attention for almost 2/3rd of its runtime. It goes a bit haywire in the last act where some really conducive coincidences happen that actually didn’t have a place in a hard hitting and realistic film like this. I had a feeling that the writers were in a hurry to wrap up the script and just added some random coincidences to put the issue to rest. That’s never a good thing.

Having said that, this is still a very watchable film about a very interesting and colorful character that is taken straight out of real life. While some will enjoy Anaarkali’s never say die attitude, the other will either love the music and tempo of the film or enjoy the almost satirical negative character of the VC played so well by Sanjay Mishra.

Rating : 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)  

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