‘Kuchh Bheege Alfaaz’ is a layered and wonderful little tapestry of a film, which I completely missed out on its release back in 2018. The one relief in these days of Corona-enforced social distancing and lockdown is that it gives an opportunity to catch up on an ever burgeoning watch-list at home and take heart in simple pleasures as this movie. The term ‘poetry in motion’ is one which is used often enough now that it has become something of a cliche, but this is one of those few artistic endeavors which deserve the epithet. The lead actor himself, newcomer Zain Khan Durrani, is a bit of a poet himself and shares his Urdu poetry on Instagram regularly.
In the movie, ‘Kuchh Bheege Alfaaz’ is in fact the name of a radio show which has captured the heart of Kolkata’s night time radio audience. The show is hosted by RJ Alfaaz, an inscrutable young man who reels off soul stirring Urdu poetry on the show and spends his days seemingly otherwise unattached and distant. His apartment reflects his life – minimalistic to the point of almost emptiness while still incredibly good looking as it gazes over the skyline of the city. The city of Kolkata appears to be a good artistic choice for the film. A confluence of style and culture which delicately balances the charm of the old world while struggling to fit it into the newer designs of millennial angst; this can be a metaphor both for the city and for the characters in this film.
It especially explains well the other lead character of the movie, Archana, played by the criminally under-seen Geetanjali Thapa. The character has a skin condition called Leukoderma, but this is not something played up for intense sympathy. It is just another facet to life for her, initially accompanied by adolescent angst and now something she has come to accept (sometimes with humorous potential as she sees it). While deriving aching pleasure from the lines of Alfaaz’s poetry, she also sets herself up on blind Tinder dates, mostly with the hope of getting a laugh out of seeing people’s reactions on seeing her for the first time. She has a tender and close friendship with a colleague, who perhaps would like for it to be more but we know from the off that she is searching for something or someone to stir her soul from deep within. Her job is at a creative ad agency which creates memes that go viral, and though these don’t seem half as funny as they perhaps are intended to be, we get that feeling of restlessness she has with the job and office. The memes that the ad agency come up with are probably the only slight irritants in this otherwise immaculately observed movie.
Archana’s discovery of the real life Alfaaz has echoes of cinematic cliché in the serendipitous misdialling of phone numbers but the connection between them is intense and believable enough for us to forgive this contrivance. However, she is for all practical purposes ignorant of the fact that this stranger of coincidence is in fact the Alfaaz of all those soulful lines that grabbed her heart. Her desire to create her own viral memes in WhatsApp results in her using his poetic ditties to create endearing recreations of his words with her own artistic touch. She, who has made a habit of hiding her heart-breaking disappointment at most of the social interactions she has come across in a shell of peppy outward behaviour and nicety, and he, who distances himself from most social engagements outside of his radio show because of an obvious but hitherto unexplained tragedy, connect over their mutual sense of kindred souls opening up to each other. But in an age of instant reveals and tinder-ed searches for gratification, will their slow burning love come to a happy fruition? Or will the despair of pasts they can’t escape from throw an insurmountable roadblock?
The lead actors are unflappably brilliant and perfect for the roles they essay. Geetanjali Thapa is a name I came across initially in a small movie called ‘ID‘ which I saw at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival back in 2012, and is someone of whom I wish everyone can see more of in the movies, for, despite only a handful of films in her filmography, she comes across as a seasoned great in the way she captures the nuance and depth of any character she plays. For those wanting to see some more of her stellar work, I recommend Geethu Mohandas’ ‘Liar’s Dice’, an impressive movie of spare thrills and emotional heft, where she acted alongside Nawazuddin Siddiqui and more than held her ground. Zain Khan Durrani is an amazing find, exuding drop-dead good looks and yet retaining an earthly charm in his gait and performance. His play on the tortured poet who maintains a breezy exterior is on spot and I sure hope we see him more in the movies. The supporting characters are also well etched out, especially Mona Ambegaonkar as Archana’s feisty mother who has some interesting backstories of her own.
Apart from this, the cinematography is quite simply beautiful, capturing the allure and chaos of the old-world city of trams and by lanes as well as charming dwellings for its inhabitants. I also liked the lookback at the last decade in terms of social media content; it’s obvious that the movie plays to a time when the WhatsApp/Facebook themed soundtracks to our lives was on the cusp of exploding into the behemoths they have become now, and thus there is still that slight naivete in how the characters here approach their social profiles. Whether it’s in how Archana’s mother attempts to school her in the ways of the WhatsApp world or in how Tinder was still something of a novelty where one could go to have a harmless lookup and meet.
Onir, the director, is someone whose movies I’ve mostly loved, starting from his breakout film, the sensitive ‘My Brother Nikhil’, which portrayed the travails of a gay swimmer with AIDS without melodrama or preachiness. Apart from this, for those who want to check out some of his earlier work, I would suggest the hugely underrated ‘Bas Ek Pal’, a movie on the obsessions and tragedies that love and relationships can entail on individuals who indulge in the dark arts to get who they want, as well as the crowdfunded ‘I Am’, an anthology of four hard hitting stories on diverse themes. But, either way, do make some time for this little film if you’re in the mood for a carefully worked out emotional drama with undertones of the purest form of romantic love and companionship. It is a sensitive work which will resonate with anyone who has felt the aching pains and glorious highs of loves found and lost.