Now Barjatya rectifies all the mistakes in his first two historical hits MAINE PYAR KIYA and HUM AAPKE HAIN KAUN. The sweet, cloying coyness and almost-unbearable bonhomie of those two films and also Barjatya's HUM SAATH SAATH HAIN is here replaced by a far more fluent and fertile imaginative impulse, which irrigates nourishes and nurtures Barjatya's idealistic, almost utopian view of a joint family.
Gone is the amateurish home-video feel to Barjatya's earlier familial epics. Yes, there's plenty of singing (and not of a very high caliber, I'm afraid) but blessedly little dancing in the long but fulfilling and fluent drama of domesticated courtship. The simple charm of the boy-meets-girl story is laced with untold moments of absolute enchantment.
In his typical fashion Sooraj Barjatya weaves together moments between the couple as they move in and out of the domestic flock. Blessedly the joint family is kept at a far more manageable level here than in Barjatya's other films. No irksome broods of Mamajis and Buas to fill up the space in the fringes, so that the couple in love gets ample breathing-space to let their mutual feelings grow in leisurely grace.
The old-world charm of a yarn that weaves in and out of amorous arrangements within an arranged marriage is tremendously aggrandized by the lead pair who goes through the mellow motions of falling in love, in a spirit of artless adventure in an unexplored journey.
The external detailing of a small dusty town near Delhi is exquisitely canny the crowded gullies, the urchins running after Shahid's posh car when he visits his in-laws-to-be, the halvai ki dukaan and the night-time bustle compounded by distant sounds of old Hindi film songs Sanjay Dhabade's artwork is among the best I've seen in recent times.
The director's sincerity of purpose shines through in every shot of the crowded dingy but genial mohallah and every warm smile that the perennial Babuji Alok Nath throws towards his surrogate-daughter Poonam (Amrita Rao) as the sullen lady of the house (Seema Biswas, bang-on doing the balancing act between shrewish step-mom and practical mother) shuns the orphan girl.
The enchanting axis among the above characters, with a chirpy little sister (newcomer Amrita Prakash) thrown in for sisterly solidarity, echoes in shrill delight, the delicate balance between beti and parayi beti in Bimal Roy's SUJATA. But there's more here. Much more. Sooraj takes hold of all the strands of bustling emotions from his characteristic vision nad harnesses it into a narrative that is polished and absorbing.
Considering that a majority of screen space is occupied in watching the rich boy from Delhi woo the middle-class girl from the small town, there was every chance of the storytelling careening over with the weight of its insubstantiality. Every component in Sooraj's delicate vision holds together with remarkable fluency. The dialogues (Aash Karan Atal) talk in fluent but accessible Hindi about values that seem to have been lost in the melee of ruthless ambitions that drive families out of small towns.
Here's a film that takes us back to that almost-lost feeling of unadorned pleasures in a shaded crowded small town the bride and bridegroom's families sleeping on the floor together sharing games, banter and mutual respect as though dowry deaths were demons invented on another planet the small town girl refusing to wear her fiance's expensive necklace as it would look out of place in her home
Ironically an unholy fire precipitates a crisis in the last half-hour. That's when Sooraj Barjatya shows effectually how much he has matured and mellowed as a creative artise. The sequences where Prem marries Poonam as she struggles between life and death in her hospital bed are among the purest form of romance seen in our recent films. The drama at the end is handled with tremendous care.
Finally VIVAH is about the sanctity of marriage and the importance of commitment between two individuals. Yes, the central romance is naively visualized. But the sneaked tender moments between the engaged couple on the terrace and their stubborn resistance to 'modern' courtship games (no physical intimacy beyond a touch, no email or mobile connectivity) just makes you crave for an idealism that we've forfeited in the pursuit of concrete dreams.
Not ice cream, but kulfi, not I-pods but transistors. VIVAH works as a parable of artless values and also as a delicately structured romance between a couple that decides to fall in love after their marriage is decided by their parents. The supporting cast led by Anupam Kher and Alok Nath as heartwarmingly amicable fathers-in-law eggs on the central romance or maybe 'eggs' is not on here, considering this filmmaker adheres to a palatable vegetarianism of vision from the dining table to the editing table.
VIVAH predictably concludes with the couple's wedding and suhaag raat where the bridegroom tells his burnt wife, "Come let me do your dressing." Undressing is not what this film is about. Not even on the suhaag raat.