RJ Alfaaz in Kuchh Bheege Alfaaz
Film: Kuchh Bheege Alfaaz
Cast: Zain Khan Durrani, Geetanjali Thapa, Shray Rai Tiwari, Saheb Bhattacharjee, Mona Ambegaonkar
You'll like this if you liked: Before Sunrise
At the outset, let's just put it out there that Onir's Kuchh Bheege Alfaaz (KBA) isn't meant for multiplex viewing. Or for the larger mass of cine-goers who seem too kicked about male actors in their ganjis beating goons into a pulp and female leads being reduced to mere eye candies.
Having the opportunity to sit for a press screening, before a film is released for the public, alongside stalwarts of the reviewing world who emit stars at the turn of their magic wands (read: pens), is something I thank my lucky stars for each day. Yet, sitting through Onir's latest presentation wasn't something I'd be very thankful for. For I just realised I'm a misfit.
Onir's Kuchh Bheege Alfaaz starts off with a teenage girl reciting her own poetry at a school function — a girl we know nothing about until the climax but she keeps appearing through the film as an apparition of the sort of love we all felt once, but lost eventually. The narrative immediately moves to Archie (Archana, played by Geetanjali Thapa), a leucodermic in search of love in the unlikeliest of places — Tinder.
All this while, a soft, buttery voice tickles your earlobes — RJ Alfaaz, a late night radio show host where the radio jockey talks about lost love, plays retro music and belts out one shayari after another. He has a horde of fans and our Archie is one of them. "Orgasmic!" she throws herself into bed after a particularly bad Tinder date, finding some respite in his voice.
At this point, the film could have been a Guddi, only for Archie to realise that Alfaaz is nothing like she'd imagined — a sage, like the turtle who has all the wisdom in the world with a heart that holds a million secrets. But it doesn't. Through a series of unexpected events, Onir, like the all-powerful puppeteer, keeps banging their heads into this thing called ittefaq, until everything falls into place.
I'm not going to tell you what happens next or after that for that's essentially for you to find out when you buy that ticket. But I am going to tell you about Onir's ways. He uses a trope once fairly popular in Bollywood until SMS language took over the world — the language of love, loss and life, Urdu. Think Gulzar's simple words bursting with a million emotions, think Javed Akhtar's determined rhymes, and you will be transported to an era we rarely visit except for those drunken nights when someone suddenly plays Mera kuchh saamaan... the tempo drops and emotions brimeth.
The shayari is the only thing that will truly take you through this otherwise regular love story, if you are a fan of such things, that is. Zain's masterful voice and almost surreal diction deserves a round of applause in this, for if you aren't going to pronounce 'khubsoorat' with the same khubsoorati that it deserves, then you might as well just not. Geetanjali is me, she is you, she is the girl sitting next to you right now; the sheer ease with which she blends into Archie is magical.
The film's biggest vice is that it is slow, and in some places beyond revival. It was in those moments that I realised I was a misfit — refer to the second para of this article — for while I interpreted these moments as a lull before an emotional storm — exactly how Onir orchestrated them to be — most of the audience around me didn't. "Khatam karo," "Bas ho gaya," "What is this guy's problem, why is he brooding?" were heard intermittently, and all I kept doing was cancelling out those voices.
So will this work at the box office? Chances are it won't. Not because it is a drab film (although some of you may think that way), but because Bollywood and the Indian audience haven't sailed past the shore that Kuchh Bheege Alfaaz anchors its boat on. If My Brother Nikhil was ahead of its time, this is a bit after. Having said that, it will also be a test of whether we are still humane enough to feel such subtle emotions in a world that's plagued by FOMO.