It’s all in how you look at the film. The all-important commercial prospects are not up to the mark, but as with some films (“Mr. & Mrs. Iyer” for one, “Little Zizou” for another, “Finding Fanny” for a third), that’s not so important when such a film just had to be made. Every real story cannot be a “Hichki” or a “Raid.”
This time, Shonali “Margarita With A Straw” Bose is on surer ground, for she cannot change the real-life story of the Chaudharis. She thus cannot end a promising film in a very pseudo and thus vague open-ended manner as in that film—a finite and very optimistic conclusion shows that such happy or at least emotionally optimistic and gratifying endings can be real!
First things first: Priyanka Chopra Jonas’ performance is everything you dream for in a dream performance, so to speak! She is, in one word, stunning, way beyond pitch-perfect, nuanced and absolutely award-worthy. Incredibly, as Aisha Chaudhari, Chopra is so natural that she seems to have been filmed walking, talking, laughing, crying and berating in real life here, as if she was Aditi Chaudhari and did not know a camera was recording her! This is her best ever essay and she makes giant strides further after “Aitraaz” and “Baijrao Mastani,” which I feel were her tallest performances to date.
The narration by the pivot of the film, Aisha (Zaira Wasim) is decent, and lends the much-needed light tone to what could have been a serious film. Having said that, for a subject like this (unless this was true in the real story, which is very unlikely!), the over-harping on the sex-life of the parents from (almost) the beginning to (almost) the last frame is, again, very film festival- and global- oriented and can alienate many conservative Indian viewers.
For the n-th time, this reviewer would like to repeat that stories of importance to society must be watched by the maximum audiences (like a “Badhai Ho”) and filmmakers should be very cautious about not crossing that slim, unseen yet tangible “Lakshmanrekha” between audience perception and true modernity.
That apart, it is creditable that both Bose (in her previous outing) and Chopra (in “Ventilator” her maiden production in Marathi in 2016) have once again taken a medical issue and dealt with it in a largely entertaining rather tha depressing manner, and we would like to think it is just a coincidence that all three film titles are in English! Bose, for one, must be thinking in English.
The story is about Aditi and Niren (Farhan Akhtar) Chaudhari, who have a healthy son Ishaan (adult role by newbie Rohit Suresh Saraf) and lose a baby daughter Tanya because one of them has a dormant gene that leads to congenial immune deficiency. When Aditi becomes pregnant again, Niren does not want to take a chance, but Aditi, influenced by Christian beliefs, decides to go ahead. And the newborn Aisha becomes affected as well.
This time, the middle-class couple is determined not to let the child go, and move to London for very expensive and lengthy treatment. Finally, the girl is said to be cured and the family returns to Mumbai, but more trouble is in store. A possible side-effect of the treatment is fibrosis of the lung, an incurable condition, and Aisha acquires it. From here, it is a countdown to her end, but the Chaudharis cope with it in their unique ways.
The best parts of the film are the sequences between Aditi and Aisha, and the traumatic ways in which life moves for both Aditi and Niren, the man who is unshakeable in his role of an ideal father. Relationships, values, sacrifices, humor, tears and pain — everything about life and how invaluable it is, are highlighted by moments, lines and sequences. You laugh with the Chaudharis, you feel their pain, you empathize with how Aditi and Niren, in their enforced long-distance marriage, even get to suspect each other’s fidelity.
The film moves back and forth from 2015, when Aditi is already gone, and 1987, when it all began for Aditi and Niren, and 1997, when Aditi was born. Obviously, dramatic licenses have been taken, and apart from the sex talk, there must be elements added or dramatized. The morbid parts are thankfully minimized or eliminated, and the pre-climax party sequence is very well conceived, IF this bash did not happen in real life. If it did, it shows how solid the Chaudharis are.
From the rest of the cast, only the family members has a major role, and that includes the very expressive pet dog, who is raised by Aisha and now misses her. As Ishaan, Saraf is excellent, and Akhtar, like Chopra, is a natural. Zaira Wasim is the only one who overdoes things a bit and comes across as a shade too-good-to-be-true in her performance and commentary, so we hope that the real Aisha has been done justice by her (there is footage of the family shown in the end and Aisha is a girl of true grit).
As her friend, Karan has nothing much to do, and we missed the name of the actor who played that role. The actors who play the family members, doctors, staff and friends are real and good enough, and a special pat is in order for the female maid.
For the susceptible, this is probably a three-handkerchief movie. For the rest of the audience, it is a pleasant experience that could have benefited a lot by 15 minutes of strategic edits. And somewhere, maybe, I still missed a R. Balki at the helm, even if Bose does score better than before. He would have made this film a commercial hit and enhanced the reach of this real-life wonderful story of courage, compassion, confidence and cooperation.
Produced by: Ronnie Screwvala, Siddharth Roy Kapur, Madhu Choprea & Priyanka Chopra Jonas
Directed by: Shonali Bose
Written by: Shonali Bose, Nilesh Maniyar and Juhi Chaturvedi
Starring: Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Farhan Akhtar, Zaira Wasim, Rohit Suresh Saraf, Brian Nathan & others