Nearly 16 years ago, Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna had reignited the heated Silsila debate — should Bollywood glorify and romanticise infidelity? Back then, it was Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukherjee as Dev and Maya. Look at the comment section of Gehraiyaan songs or Insta posts, you’ll realise most of India has moved on. The Shakun Batra movie, which also has infidelity and cheating on partners at its centre, nuances the debate. Plus, the fact that it released on an OTT platform like Amazon Prime Video probably helps — you don’t have to sit uncomfortably between your parents in a movie hall, like you did in KANK. But while the Karan Johar movie gave a glimmer of hope for the cheating couple, Gehraiyaan plainly tells you love doesn’t win.
This isn’t about cheating in marriages unlike in KANK, most urban millennials don’t jump to marry; this isn’t about “bold scenes” for shock value — it’s life as we know it, with a twist in the end.
The film, starring Deepika Padukone, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Ananya Pandey and Dhairya Karwa, leaves you with questions — it not only makes you feel uncomfortable, but also brings a dilemma, can you judge people after knowing their story and struggles? And that is where director Shakun Batra shines — he continues his style of exploring complicated multi-layered characters, loaded with complex human relationships, touching on mental health. Remember Kapoor & Sons (2016)?
But there is a nagging problem with Gehraiyaan — for the most part, it is predictable, and we don’t want to see women defined by their relationships anymore.
Bold, not bold
When the first few trailers and teasers were released, the audience lapped it up — they said Gehraiyaan looked ‘international level’, India finally had a good mainstream ‘domestic noir’, and that Indians deserved complex human stories, not just masala films.
Gehraiyaan follows the story of Deepika Padukone’s character Alisha and Siddhant Chaturvedi’s Zain starting an affair during a getaway trip with their actual partners — as it progresses, you know it won’t last, no matter how good the music. It doesn’t help that Zain is in a relationship with Alisha’s cousin Tia (Ananya Pandey). The plot revolves around emotional infidelity, chaos, anxiety, hatred, love and unpredictable human behaviour. It comes with an interesting twist though, which also is the only striking point of the movie.
The opening scene tells the viewers that it’s going to be an emotional roller coaster ride and is an attempt to start the dialogue about toxic relationships. “Pain”, “stuck”, “helplessness”, “letting go of the past” and Valium — the medication of anxiety, stress — play an integral role in the movie. As does the bleak Mumbai sea. The dynamic between Alisha and Zain is based on grief, pain and childhood trauma. The flirting between the duo, just minutes after they meet, however, appears extremely calculated and forced.
The direction is minimalistic and the camera work feels like the audience’s vantage point, it isn’t disruptive or intrusive. But this is a Bollywood film with a big budget after all — there are yachts, beach houses and the glamourous Mumbai lifestyle, even though Batra clearly wanted to adhere to the formula of ‘less is more’.
The intimacy in the movie isn’t surprising, but different in terms of what we have seen in Hindi cinema sex scenes. It was also the first mainstream Hindi movie to hire an intimacy specialist — a concept that gained fame most recently due to Netflix’s Bridgeton series.
In a recent interview, Padukone mentioned how she had to revisit an unpleasant past to play her role.
“I want to say bold but I also don’t want to say bold because of the way we understand bold in our films and in the characters that we’ve seen. I’d say raw. For me this character is a lot more raw, a lot more real than some of the other characters that I have played just emotionally, completely stripped, completely naked in that sense, completely vulnerable,” she said.
A millennial movie
Gehraiyaan is also an extremely millennial movie — there’s openness about vulnerability, anxiety attacks and dilemma about putting yourself first. There’s no black and white character or relationship — that’s where all the actors shine.
The lead characters all reel with the cons and cost of a fast life — quick money and an elite lifestyle. Padukone’s Alisha, a yoga instructor, is both deep and dark, and burdened with the trauma of watching her mother suffer. She stresses that she doesn’t want to end up like her and suffers from bouts of anxiety throughout the movie. Her decisions are questionable but her fear of not being to get out of a stagnant relationship is understandable. She is scared but bold when it comes to questioning the male characters. The men she dates treat her as a pushover. She does fight back and emerge victorious in some way.
Pandey’s Tia, on the other hand, is also dependent on men, but can easily be manipulated and is somewhat protected due to the privilege she was born into.
Siddhant Chaturvedi’s Zain is a selfish man, who will go to any extent to fulfil his dreams – from using women to abandoning them after making multiple promises. Some will dislike Zain, but you can’t call him a pure villain. Batra somewhere justifies his dark side – a child who is unable to move on from domestic abuse. Whether he met the fate he deserved is something that viewers will continue to think about after the movie ends.
Karan Arora, played by Dhairya Karwa, is the simplest character in the movie and is the only one who gets his happy ending. He shines among other complicated characters. Naseeruddin Shah’s role is a hidden gem. Batra does a good job of showing the audience the generational gaps that exist.
Gehraiyaan is definitely watchable and relatable, but the chances of you watching it more than once is meagre. Even though you will keep tapping to the soundtrack, from Doobey to Beqaaboo. The ugly side of infidelity, no matter how spicy the romance, is the most predictable part.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)