Saturday, January 15, 2022

Bob Biswas and the Mythology in Sujoy Ghosh's Films

In Bob Biswas, Sujoy Ghosh brings to life the story of the eponymous assassin from his film Kahaani. Abhishek Bachchan plays Bob, who wakes up from a coma but has forgotten everything. He learns that he has a wife, Mary (Chitrangada Singh), and two kids. His past life starts to come back to him gradually when one of his associates forces him to kill another target on their hit list. The film shows Bob's struggle to accept that he was a killer in his life.
Bob visited a homeopathy pharmacist Kali Da (Paran Bandopadhyay), to get a Nux Vomica (a pistol with a silencer). At one stage, Bob asks Kali Da about his mental dilemma, where he says that he does not know if he should continue to do this work. Kali Da tells him, "Yeh to jibon, Bob Babu. Yeh sab pehle se likha hua hai. Hum sab vahi kaam kar rahe hain jiske liye hume banaya gaya hai." He then narrates to Bob the story of Kaliya Daman. After Krishna defeated Kaliya, he asked the serpent how much poison he had in him as he had killed numerous people. Kaliya replies, "You did not give me anything else." The poison was given to him by God, and that is his job, and he does not know anything better. It is God who only creates and God who only destroys. This is the theme that also runs through the character arcs of Kali Da and Bob. Kali Da is named after Kaliya Nag. He has an endless supply of Nux Vomica, also called poison fruit. Kali Da rationalizes Bob's killing of people by using the same philosophy. Bob kills because someone has to do the job, and he was made to do this one. Towards the end, Bob again points at the picture of Kaliya Mardan before he goes on a killing spree of the suppliers of the blue drug.
There are other references related to religion in the film. Bob's wife is named Mary after Mother Mary. At one stage, Dhonu (Pabitra Rabha), the chowmein selling-henchman, even says to Bob that Mary is like Mother Mary who can solve all his problems. Mary tells Bob that he is like an angel from heaven who came into her life after her first husband's death. When Bob undergoes a crisis of conscience, he even goes to the church, where the priest makes him realize that one has to pay the debt for their sins.
This mythology is not the first time we have seen it in Sujoy Ghosh's films. Mythology has always been a part of almost all his films. In 2019, Ghosh adapted the Spanish film Contratiempo to make Badla. Set in Scotland, Badla told the story of Naina (Taapsee Pannu), an entrepreneur accused of murdering her lover Arjun (Tony Luke). She hires a lawyer Badal Gupta (Amitabh Bachchan), to defend her. Using a series of conversations, Naina and Badal try to understand the details behind the events leading to her eventual arrest. Though Badla is the remake of another film, Ghosh added different elements from the Mahabharata in it.
Early in the film, Badal says that just as Sanjay was the eyes of Dhritarashtra in the Mahabharata, Naina will be the eyes through which he will learn about the events of the murder. He keeps quoting other instances from the epic fable that fit their particular situation throughout the film. When Badal discovers Naina's guilt in the crime, he compares Naina to Duryodhana and says, "Tumne toh Duryodhana se bhi gehri chal chali hai." You outdid even Duryodhana in playing a trick. In the end, when the truth is revealed, Badal again brings up the Mahabharata and says that it was the story of the revenge of Draupadi. Badla makes a mother Rani (Amrita Singh) as the driving force of the film, making it a tale of badla similar to the revenge of Draupadi. Rani is likened to Draupadi, who works with her husband to plot revenge for her son's death. The Mahabharata was the story of power where the five Pandavas, even with their smaller army, could defeat the might of the hundred Kauravas with tact and strategy. Likewise, Rani worried about the immense power of Naina, who had the wherewithal to do anything to protect herself. In a meeting, she tells Naina that those who are blinded by power are unable to see their own downfall. Rani had limited ability, yet she was able to defeat Naina. Just as Abhimanyu was trapped in chakravyuh in the Mahabharata, Naina was trapped by Rani in the chakravyuh.
Ghosh's love for the mythological fables was also seen in his two short films. In 2017, Ghosh adapted a short story written by Satyajit Ray to make Anukul. The film is the story of a robot Anukul (Parambatra Chattopadhyay), hired by a Hindi teacher Nikunj Chaturvedi (Saurabh Shukla), as domestic help. Nikunj's brother Ratan (Kharaj Mukherjee) is against the robots as he was replaced by one of them at his job. Anukul has the theme of following one's duty even if it means going against the others, as mentioned in the Gita from the Mahabharata. At one point, Anukul is reading the Gita but cannot understand it. He wonders about the identity of the blue-colored man on the cover. He learns that he is Lord Krishna, a God who cannot die. Anukul then compares himself with Krishna as he cannot die too. Further, he wonders why Krishna asked Arjun to kill his brothers and family. Nikunj educates him that it was Arjun's duty as a warrior. Dharm sab se upar hota hai. Even if it means going against your own. Later, Anukul applies this learning to do something against Ratan to help Nikunj. He follows his duty of being a robot. Anukul is an adaptation of the story of the brothers from the Mahabharata set in a futuristic time. 
In 2015, Ghosh made another short film Ahalya where he provided a modern interpretation of the legend of Ahalya from the Ramayana. According to Hindu scriptures, Ahalya was a beautiful woman seduced by Lord Indra, who had an eye upon her for a long time. Indra had come disguised as her husband Gautam and tricked her. Ahalya sees through the disguise but goes ahead anyway out of sexual curiosity about Indra. Once Gautam came to know of it, he cursed Ahalya for infidelity, following which she was turned into stone. She was eventually liberated from the curse by Lord Rama.
Ghosh's short film Ahalya begins with an inspector Indra Sen (Tota Roy Chowdhury) arriving at the home of an aging artist Goutam Sadhu (Soumitra Chatterjee), to investigate the case of a missing man named Arjun. Indra meets Goutam's beautiful wife, Ahalya (Radhika Apte), instantly feeling infatuated by her. He sees a bunch of realistic-looking dolls on a mantlepiece. One of the dolls looks identical to Arjun. A stone, encased in glass, is also placed there. Goutam tells Indra that the stone in the glass case has magical qualities and that anybody who touches it turns into whosoever he wishes. Balking at the story, Indra tries to test the stone's powers and disguises himself as Goutam. He goes upstairs, but Ahalya is not able to recognize him. Taking advantage of the situation, Indra proceeds to have sex with her. But then, something happens where he turns into one of the dolls. Ahalya is a contemporary take on the story where the man turns into a stone (doll) instead of a woman.
Ghosh's best film Kahaani also has its share of themes from the Mahabharata. The suspense thriller was the story of a pregnant woman, Vidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan), who comes looking for her missing husband in Kolkata. She meets police inspector Rana (Parambrata Chattopadhyay), who helps her in her mission. Rana's formal name is Satyoki. Vidya tells him that she knows that Satyoki was Arjuna's saarthi (charioteer), another name for Krishna. This small reference takes another meaning in the climax when Vidya's identity is revealed. Rana realizes that, like his name Satyoki, he was also Vidya's charioteer all along. The film's script further explains the significance of the characters' names from the Mahabharata. Vidya is also likened to Durga in the film. Vidya becomes Durga at the end, where she kills the man responsible for her husband's death. Even in the film's poster, she is shown to resemble Durga. In Kahaani 2, too, there was a connection to Durga. Kahaani 2 is about another Vidya (Vidya Balan) and her daughter Minnie (Tunisha Sharma), who live in West Bengal. The story takes a turn when Minnie is kidnapped, and Vidya has an accident. Inderjeet Singh (Arjun Rampal) is the policeman assigned to the case. It is revealed that Vidya's real name is Durga Rani Singh, and she tried to tackle the social evil of child abuse.
Even in one of his earliest films Home Delivery: Aapko... Ghar Tak, Ghosh added something from the Mahabharata. The film was the story of Sunny Chopra (Vivek Oberoi), who is writing a script for filmmaker Karan Johar. He hoards freebies all the time. Once a new delivery guy, Michael Burnett (Boman Irani), is sent to deliver pizza but ends up providing a vital life lesson to Sunny. At one stage in the film, Sunny asks Michael's opinion of a character as he is stuck finishing his script. He describes his hero as someone in a dilemma. His hero has to decide to either go against his family or go against his friends. Michael compares the situation of Sunny's hero to Karan from the Mahabharata, who had supported his friend Duryodhana as he had helped Karana when his family turned against him. When Karan Johar calls Sunny, Micheal answers his phone and explains the same idea. Karan loves the idea and praised Sunny for incorporating the same in his script.
In 2009, Ghosh made Aladin which did not have any Indian mythological element but was inspired by a famous fable from the Arabian Nights. Barring Jhankaar Beats, where Sujoy Ghosh paid tribute to R.D. Burman, all his films have had elements from a mythological tale or a fable. These tales have portrayed different conflicts of life for ages. Filmmakers adapt those stories to bring out new stories. This is how art evolves and brings new facets to age-old tales.

Dialogue of the Day:
"Hamara karz hamari parchhai ki tara hai. Kitna bhi bhaago, lekin apni parchhai se kaise bhaagoge."
—Father, Bob Biswas

Friday, December 31, 2021

Atrangi Re—Love Me Little Little

Anand L. Rai's Atrangi Re opens with Toofan Si Kudi where Rinku Sooryavanshi (Sara Ali Khan) runs towards the Siwan railway station. "Thaath se thitholi hai, risk mein rangoli, toofan si kudi udi," the lyrics describe her. She dazzles everybody with her colorful gait, like a swirling storm. All this happens during a literal rainstorm. Rinku makes another futile attempt to run away from her home after failing twenty-one times earlier. She is 'aashiqui me jalta hua koyla,' burning with a deep love for her secret boyfriend whose identity she refuses to reveal to anyone. Tired of her shenanigans, her family members kidnapped a Tamil doctor S. Venkatesh Vishwanath Iyer, also known as Vishu (Dhanush), and forcefully married him to Rinku. 
Neither Rinku nor Vishu wants to be in this forced marriage; thus, the two decide to go separate ways once they reach Delhi. But something starts happening to Vishu. He asks Rinku to come along to Madurai to attend his 'real' engagement. Things don't turn out as planned, and his engagement is called off. An upset Vishu returns to Delhi. He is not upset that his engagement did not happen. He is upset that he is not feeling bad about it. Because he has fallen in love with the ladki hai yeh Rambha, karti hai Zumba Rinku. She, however, is waiting for her lover, the magician Sajjad Ali Khan (Akshay Kumar) to return from Africa. It is a bit like Saawariya, where Raj (Ranbir Kapoor) falls in love with Sakina (Sonam Kapoor), who is waiting for her lover Imaan (Salman Khan). Saawariya ends when Imaan returns, and Sakina starts a life with him, leaving Raj heartbroken. Atrangi Re starts like Saawariya but then takes a different turn when Sajjad arrives at the interval.
It is revealed that Sajjad does not exist in reality. He is present only in Rinku's imagination. There is some kind of Electra Complex at play here where Sajjad is the manifestation of her father in her mind. Rinku sees him as her boyfriend. Sajjad came to life to help her deal with the trauma where her parents were killed in front of her. She holds on to her childhood memories as she never received the love in life from her toxic family. And then, it all starts to make sense. The title Atrangi Re that had implied a hint of weirdness and madness. The casting of Akshay Kumar as Sajjad, who is nearly thirty years older than Sara Ali Khan. The first meeting between Rinku and Sajjad where she goes and jumps in his arms, like a daughter running to her father.
It was from here that Atrangi Re went further into unchartered territory. Vishu and his friend Madhu (Ashish Verma) start treating Rinku using their own methods. They give her some tablets that cause some involuntary actions in Sajjad. He cuts himself. He falls from the tree and so on. They believe Sajjad to be like an invading virus that tablets can help cure. But none of these tricks really work. In fact, Rinku started to take more care of Sajjad. And, then, Atrangi Re uses the power of love to cure Rinku.
There are two ideas of love presented in the film. Rinku believes in the love that is larger than life. The one where people have to fight for it. Jis love me chaar-paanch ka sar na phoote, gharwaale kutte na ban jaye, seher me badnaami na ho, mohalle me chappal na chal jaye. She finds that larger-than-life love in Sajjad by virtue of seeing it in her parents, who had to fight their entire family to be together. They ran away from home. Rinku's story is the same. A Thakur girl in love with a Muslim boy. Sajjad is a magician. He can do anything. He walks on fire. He arrives with the sound of trumpets and plays the dholGarda uda diya is his anthem; garda represents something huge. He dresses in attractive colors. The other side is the quiet, shy, and unassuming love that manifests in Vishu. He is not the Love Ka Thalaiva. He finds love in the little things. Like when Rinku agrees to come with him to Madurai. Like when Rinku wears his sweatshirt. He literally sings Little Little. Love me little, little, little. He is a doctor whose love will help heal Rinku. He stands up for her when needed because she is his wife. I did not think the film advocates that either of them is better. Rinku, as she says, wants both of them. Each has his own role. The former helped her survive; the latter helped her heal.
Then comes my favorite part. They all travel to Agra, where Sajjad would perform a magic trick to make the Taj Mahal disappear. Vishu and his friends go along with the charade to keep Rinku happy. However, the trick fails. The Taj Mahal does not disappear. Rinku is disappointed and dejected. Her hero has failed. She starts crying as it reminds her of her father, who failed while performing a similar magic trick. The entire sequence happens in front of one of the greatest symbols of love—the type of love that Rinku believed in. I was reminded of Rai's last film Zero where Bauua Singh (Shah Rukh Khan) could move the stars on his fingertips. He elopes on his wedding day, leaving his bride Aafia (Anushka Sharma) at the altar, and runs to Bombay. At a party there, he tries to perform his trick of moving the stars in front of the ladies. He could not move them even one bit. The star Babita Kumari (Katrina Kaif) tells him that when you break someone's heart, even the stars won't listen to you. Bauua lost his essence because of the way he behaved with Aafia. The hero had failed there, too.
Like Bauua could move the stars, Sajjad could change the weather simply by snapping his fingers. After the failure of his trick, Sajjad calls Rinku and tells her that he is still the same. It was she who had changed. She does not wish to see him anymore as she has found Vishu. It is the hero in her mind who has changed. And, thus, we see that Sajjad is dressed the way Vishu does. He used to wear the clothes of a magician. Now, he has dressed in checkered shirts and sweaters, the same clothes that Vishu is wearing. He is gradually getting replaced with Vishu. At this point, Sajjad knew it was time to leave. There is a fabulous climax at the railway station. Sajjad does the magic trick one last time and goes forever. Rinku does not need to run anymore and comes back to Vishu.
Atrangi Re is so weird and wonderful that I could not stop wondering where it would go next. I have liked this one the most from all the earlier films of Anand L. Rai and Himanshu Sharma. Their characters are often unlikeable because of their arrogance. These characters are not also able to move on in life. The guilt of the horrible things they did to their partners or the inability to accept the death of the relationship makes them come back. In Raanjhanaa, Kundan (Dhanush) reveals the identity of Zoya's (Sonam Kapoor) lover to her family, leading to his death. He feels guilty and takes refuge in spirituality, as portrayed in the song Tohe Piya Milenge. He visits a gurudwara, a mandir, and a dargah to seek inner peace. A wise man tells him at the bank of Ganga that he will not find solace by sitting there. He goes back to Zoya's life to ask for forgiveness even if she does not want him anymore. In Zero, Bauua does the same thing. He leaves Aafia at the altar, but he comes back begging for forgiveness. His dilemma is shown in the song Tanha Hua where he gives his money and clothes to performers on the streets to assuage his guilt. In Tanu Weds Manu Returns, Tanu (Kangana Ranaut) and Manu (Madhavan) get separated. Manu finds Datto (Kangana Ranaut), who looks like a carbon copy of his first wife. Manu is not marrying Datto; he is marrying a nicer version of Tanu again. In Atrangi Re, Rinku holds onto the love that she received when she was young. She never let go of her father and invented his spirit Sajjad as her boyfriend. Manu found a lookalike wife; Rinku imagined a lookalike father. 
Rinku also comes across as unlikeable, as she is cut from the same cloth as the feisty Tanu. She calls herself acid, who can burn everyone. She threatens to kill her family members. She is no damsel in distress. She says she is "channt" because her family members would have killed her if she were not. We see this contrast with the love Mandy (Dimple Hayathi) got from her father. When Vishu calls Mandy from Bihar, his father feeds her food from his own hands. After Rinku is married, she does not cry even once. On the train, she is the one who gets food for Vishu. We have seen that the hero usually does this bit in films. She flirts with Vishu while he gets shy and conscious, saying that someone will see them together. "Ab humari line bhi tum hi bologe," she tells him. Initially, it is hard to read why she is doing all this if she is in love with Sajjad. But, gradually, the film reveals all.
Many other scenes keep reminding us of the writer-director duo's previous work. The expansive balconies and the verandahs are reminiscent of their earlier films. Children make an appearance in the final moments Raanjhana and Atrangi Re. The poster of Raanjhana where Zoya hugs Kundan is also seen as a scene in Atrangi Re. In Tanu Weds Manu Returns, Tanu dances at her husband Manu's wedding on Ghani Bawri. Manu is remarrying someone who looks a lot like his first wife. In Atrangi Re, Rinku dances in her husband's engagement. The hero's friend is also a staple in the films of Anand L. Rai, whose job is often to provide advice to his friend and comic relief to the audience. In Raanjhana, Kundan's friend Murari (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), who was as much a ranjhanaa in his friendship, goes to all lengths for his friend. He was more a Sudama than a Murari (Krishna). He literally goes mad when Kundan dies. In Tanu Weds Manu, Manu's friend Pappi Ji (Deepak Dobriyal) was always with him at all stages of his life. In Zero, Bauua's friend Guddu (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) was with him through thick and thin. In Atrangi Re, Vishu's friend Madhu plays a significant role in his life and often gives the most absurd advice to him.
Atrangi Re would not have been the film if not for the music and lyrics of A.R. Rahman and Irshad Kamil. The songs are woven splendidly in the film. After ages, I have enjoyed a song, such as Chaka Chak, which is sung and choreographed beautifully. There are no disco lights in the studio. There are no glaring camera lights. It is shot in natural light in a courtyard. The lyrics talk about a girl saying to her lover that she is the best for him. She has her flaws, but she is ok with that. Achhi bhi hun, buri bhi hun. She is also openly talking about her sex life in front of everyone.

Palang tootata pehli raat,
Sara mohalla karta awaaj,
Hui chaubaare mein barsaat,
Kaun wahan tha kiske saath.

My scandalous ways
are the talk of the town.
My personal life
is what creates a buzz.
Tere Rang is another beautiful composition. The song was already depicted in the film, but it takes an altogether new meaning when it plays in the climax. Its initial beats are similar to Manmohini Teri Adaa from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Its lyrics are based on Radha-Krishna's story and talk about being merged with the color of the lover. It is the time of Holi. Everyone is playing with colors. The woman wants to meet her lover, but she avoids getting colored by anyone else. She stops the kids. She stops her family members. She stops the people on the streets. The only person she allows to put color on her is her lover. Tere rang ranga, mann mehkega. The hand movements of the two lovers in the song are reminiscent of Zoya and Kundan's in Tum Tak from Raanjhanaa. Further in the song, there is the depiction of Muharram. Sajjad is flagellating himself with chains as part of the procession. His lover wants to meet him, but her family does not allow her. She starts flagellating herself, again, becoming like him. Tere rang ranga, mann mehkega, tann dehkega. There are two more nice songs in the film, both by Arijit Singh—Rait Zara Si (also part of the background score) and Tumhein Mohabbat Hai.
Sara Ali Khan as Rinku is spunky, especially in the first half, but has a lot to improve in the scenes that involve crying. Her attempts to cry do not seem natural; they seem effortful. Akshay Kumar has a small part which he does well. There is no moralistic grandstanding that appears to be the hallmark of his recent performances. His casting is age-appropriate in hindsight. However, it is Dhanush who is simply marvelous as Vishu. He does not even need to speak his lines because he communicates through his emoting. He says in Tamil, but we can understand his feelings. "Ab main hi pehle jaisa nahi raha, toh kuch bhi pehle jaisa kaise hoga." His performance makes his character better than the way it is written.
In another charming scene, Vishu asks Rinku to come to Madurai if she feels like joining him. She plays with words to ultimately make him speak his heart out. He wants her to come along with him, and she agrees. He expresses his joy by doing a little dance when he is alone but is caught by Rinku. Later, when he finds out that Sajjad resides only in Rinku's imagination, he again expresses his happiness and relief when he dances alone in the toilet of the railway station. His dancing reaches a pinnacle in Little Little. There is tremendous grace and delicacy in his dancing. In Raanjhanaa, too, Kundan danced on the streets when Zoya agreed to meet him.
One issue with the screenplay was that Vishu's love for Rinku happens far too suddenly. There is not enough time in the script to develop his feelings for her organically. Within two to three days of knowing Rinku, Vishu starts experiencing life-changing love. I wish there were more of the flirtatious banter between them. Like the one where her mangalsutra gets tied in his thread. She tries to make him conscious. "Hai Vishu Babu, itna drama." It is reminiscent of the scene from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam where Nandini's (Aishwarya Rai) mangalsutra gets stuck in Vanraj's (Ajay Devgn) blazer.
The film is not interested in going deeper into issues of mental health. One particular scene clubs different mental issues, such as Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, under one category, which I felt was gratuitous. It belies any basic understanding of these issues. For instance, at a later stage, Vishu pays money to spectators for clapping, which makes more sense. But, other than that, I was fascinated by its daring. At one point, Vishu picks up Sajjad, and all his friends even pretend to perform surgery on him. When Vishu comes dancing with a horse, Rinku makes fun of non-existent people, unaware of her own vision to see non-existent people. It is so bizarre and yet so captivating.
Atrangi Re is a film framed in colors. Pankaj Kumar's cinematography has beautifully used lights and colors throughout the film. The film has many other tiny details. Early on in the film, Rinku breaks bottles at the railway station. Later, Vishu also breaks bottles when he tries to compete with Sajjad. A character initially wonders about the existence of Sajjad. He says that he is probably a ghost which makes sense later on. In another blink-and-miss ghost-related moment, when Sajjad returns, he watches Bhoothnath Returns. Atrangi Re also tries to keep us away from the climactic surprise by showing little girls at different points. Initially, a young girl watches Rinku throwing bottles at the railway station. When she comes home, a little girl looks at her. It is a clever trick by the filmmakers as the little girl in Tere Rang turns out to be Rinku. Another interesting thing is that Sajjad's full name Sajjad Ali Khan is similar to Sara's real-life father, Saif Ali Khan.
Lights
Cinematography
Little Girls
Bottles
Ghosts
In the film Paheli, a ghost falls in love with a woman. He said, "Aurat ke dil me jo preet hove, woh hu main." He is the yearning that resides in a woman's heart. The ghost masquerades as the woman's husband, and then, he actually, becomes the husband by merging with him. In the final moments of Atrangi Re, Rinku describes Sajjad as someone who always gives in love and does exactly what the girl asks him to do. I kept thinking that Atrangi Re will also end somewhat like Paheli. However, it ends more movingly, making it magical. There are two similar shots that we see. Rinku is being held in the arms of Vishu, the same way Sajjad held her as a kid. She found love in her father but now finds love in her husband. "Meri wife waapas aa gayi," celebrates Vishu. She has healed. Films show different forms of love. Atrangi Re shows the form of love that can heal.
Trivia:
1) Sajjad reads Superstar by Ved Prakash Sharma.
2) The film has some interesting ending credits. 
3) Sajjad's fire sequence was reminiscent of Akshay Kumar's Khatron Ke Khiladi fire stunt.
4) Antardwand also dealt with the issue of groom kidnapping.
5) The song Rait Zara Si talks about sand slipping through the fingers which we also saw in the wonderful scene between Sid and Deepa in Dil Chahta Hai. Plugging my book on the film available to read here

Other Reading:
1) The Oedipus Complex in Films—Link
2) The post on RaanjhaanaLink
3) The post on Tanu Weds Manu ReturnsLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Ab main hi pehle jaisa nahi raha, toh kuch bhi pehle jaisa kaise hoga."
—Vishu, Atrangi Re

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Ahista Ahista—Fall In Love Gradually

Early in his career, Imtiaz Ali had written one of the episodes of Star Bestsellers called Witness that had shades of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's White NightsIn 2006, Shivam Nair adapted Witness on the big screen in Ahista Ahista with the story and the screenplay credited to Imtiaz Ali. The story was based around Ankush (Abhay Deol), who made a living by acting as a paid witness at Delhi's marriage registrar bureau. One day, Megha (Soha Ali Khan), who has run away from her home in Nainital, comes to the bureau to marry Dheeraj (Shayan Munshi). Due to unknown reasons, Dheeraj does not show up at the registrar's office. Megha is left dejected, and Ankush helps her eke out a living.
A relationship gradually brews between Ankush and Megha. He starts falling in love with Megha ahista ahista. He takes a loan of ten thousand rupees for her and then decides to find a job at a bank to earn enough money to repay his loan. In his interview, he is told that speaking English is a requirement for the job, and he promises to learn it. This time, Megha helps by teaching him English. He starts to dream of a future with her. Ankush might be one of the few Imtiaz Ali heroes who want to work at a day job. From Aditya in Jab We Met to Ved in Tamasha, Ali's heroes are stuck in their vocations that bind them. They are forced to wear a tie. On the other hand, Ankush wants to work at a bank so that he can come out of vagabond life. He wants to wear a tie, and in one particular scene, he even kisses it.
Ankush hopes to move up in life as he is aware of the class differences between Megha and him. When he initially takes her to a friend's place, he frankly tells her that he helped her only because she was a girl. He feels proud to help someone of her stature. He further remarks, "Tumhare jaise ladki ke saath mera to koi chance nahi. Tum toh class wali ladki ho naa." He had no chance with someone like her. During his interview at the bank, he reiterates that the job is crucial for climbing the social mobility ladder. He wants to emulate his interviewers and become a dignity-wala aadmi. Ankush believes Megha will help take him out of the "gutter." He is a "mamooli" boy, while she belongs to the upper class.
Dheeraj, however, returns all of a sudden. Neither does Ankush inform Megha about him nor tell Dheeraj that he knows Megha. He lies to Dheeraj that Megha has passed away. One of his friends advises him that he should not be worried if he trusts Megha that she loves him. Therefore, he should speak the truth to Megha. If she decides to leave him, she had never loved him in the first place. Ankush replies that he is not a Hindi film hero who will let go of the girl and cry on a song. He will fight for her. He tries his best but ultimately realizes that his friend is probably right. Ankush is honest about his feelings. Perhaps, that is why Megha also did not react harshly when she found about it. She understands his reasons for lying.
In the end, Megha decides to be with Dheeraj. There is again a lot of grace with which Ankush accepts it. He realized that Megha never really loved him. She had agreed to marry as an ehsaan to return the help he gave her. He was confusing friendship for love. He does not become angry or bitter like Devdas. He simply walks away from her life. In the film's last shot, he walks into the crowd and becomes a part of it once again. Their story started and ended at the same place. It is a sad end to Ankush's love story where he does not get to wear the tie, but there is also a relief that he will be fine. He assures her that he will not break in life. He acknowledges that she has helped him a lot in life and positively changed him. They helped each other when they were together. He had wanted to be a dignity-wala aadmi. He might not become a dignity-wala aadmi belonging to the rich upper-class man, but he did become a dignity-wala aadmi in a different way, walking away with self-respect when it was time to let go. There are many ways to fall in love, but there are also many ways to be out of love. He chose the path of dignity.
On the first night of their meeting, Ankush takes Megha to Nizamuddin Dargah. This sequence is also reminiscent of Rockstar that Ali directed in 2011 where Jordan (Ranbir Kapoor) finds refuge for a few days in the same place when he has nowhere left to go. Interestingly, in 2007, Ali directed Jab We Met that also had shades of Ahista Ahista, where Geet (Kareena Kapoor) runs away from her home to marry Anshuman (Tarun Arora), who refuses to marry her. Aditya (Shahid Kapoor) is grateful to Geet for helping him understand the meaning of life when he was going through a difficult break-up. He helps Geet to get her life back after Anshuman rejects her. He falls in love with Geet. However, Anshuman comes back, and Geet is willing to forgive him. But, unlike Ahista Ahista, Geet chooses Aditya and not Anshuman. At one point in Jab We Met, Geet and Aditya go to a hotel. She reminds him that she is a girl and he should not take advantage of her. A related conversation happens between Megha and Ankush in Ahista Ahista when he takes her to his friend's place. He tells her that she should not worry as he is not looking for any physical relationship in return for his help. In Jab We Meet, Geet advises Aditya to flush down the pictures of his ex-girlfriend in the toilet. This scene was also present earlier in Ahista Ahista where Megha flushes down all the pictures of Dheeraj when he does not return.
Ahista Ahista and Rockstar
Ahista Ahista and Jab We Met
Ahista Ahista is yet another Imtiaz Ali-written film where the women are often left in vulnerable positions. Megha is left stranded all alone in the city. She has no money and no place to go. The station-master had mentioned in Jab We Met 'akeli ladki khuli tijori ki tarah hoti hai' when Geet missed her train. In Highway, Veera (Alia Bhatt) is not scared after she is kidnapped and, in fact, she becomes friends with her kidnappers. In Tamasha, Tara (Deepika Padukone) loses her passport and money and is left all alone on an island in faraway Corsica where no one even understands English. In Jab Harry Met Sejal, Sejal (Anushka Sharma) goes on a Europe trip with a man she does not know. In Love Aaj Kal (2020), a drunk Zoe (Sara Ali Khan) is left stranded in the middle of the night in Delhi after an altercation with a guy who had been trying to hook up with her. For another woman, these would have been dangerous situations, but these women manage to make these circumstances a memorable (or an unforgettable) one for themselves.
Ahista Ahista also incorporates flowers at different stages in the film. It opens with a child giving flowers to a newly married couple. Later, in a lovely scene, Megha is sitting surrounded by flowers. Towards the end of the film, Ankush brings a bouquet of roses for Megha but does not give it as Dheeraj is with her. There is also a lot of Delhi in the film. Places, such as Qutub Minar, Nizamuddin, Red Fort, and Connaught Place, frequently appear in the film. In one beautiful scene, Ankush talks to Khala (Kamini Khanna) and the camera pans to depict the stunning Jama Masjid in the background.
Some bits that did not entirely work for me, and appear a bit dated now. The sequences between Ankush and Khala are irritating. The character of the phone booth owner, played by Brijendra Kala, who is only interested in sex, felt out of place. Abhay Deol looks far more sophisticated than his character Ankush, which was not the case in the characters of Witness. He does not appear to be the mamooli guy. I guess that may be more because I watched the film fifteen years later, subconsciously, affected by his image in the repertoire of his work where he has played off-beat sophisticated characters. 
There are some nicely done scenes in the film. There is one scene in the old-age home when Ankush comes to meet Megha. They have to pretend that they do not know each other. Thus, they talk via an older person sitting between them, which is endearing. Then, they have the first kiss, which is slightly awkward but feels realistic. It just happens, and it is not a big deal. I also liked the way Ankush confessed his feelings in front of the Father (Sohrab Ardeshir). But the most memorable moment for me was when Megha sits in the Nizamuddin Dargah, he asks a dua for her. He does not know her, yet he prays for her. It is a beautiful moment where he is praying for a stranger. Irshad Kamil's qawwali Aawan Ankhiya plays that says, "Aawan ankhiyan, jaawan aankhiyan, hijra mein tere saawan ankhiyan." The poet's eyes yearn to see the lover. His eyes became drenched with tears, like the monsoon, due to the separation from the lover. In Jab We Met, Kamil writes, "Aaoge jab tum, O Saajana. Angana phool khilenge, barsega saawan jhoom jhoom ke." When the beloved will return, the flowers will blossom and the rain will pour down. Words often remain similar but the emotions they can bring out can be so wonderfully different. And, that is how they make us fall in love with them gradually. Ahista Ahista.
Trivia:
1. Imitiaz Ali had directed an episode in the series Rishtey called Highway that told the story of an affluent girl abducted right before her wedding and then became attached to her kidnapper. In 2014, Ali made Highway with the same theme as his episode in Rishtey. Ali had wanted Highway to be his debut film, but somehow, things did not work out for him. It was only quite later that he made the film even though he had the story ready from the early 2000s.
2. A poster of Shakti Samanta's Jaane-Anjaane can be seen in Ahista Ahista.
3. D. Santosh plays Ankush's friend Pipni in Ahista Ahista. He was also Girish in Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year.
4. The song Aahista in Sajid Ali's Laila Majnu had a line, "Mere hona aahista aahista." The lyrics of Ahista Ahista and Laila Majnu are by Irshad Kamil. 

Other Reading:
1) Television in Films—Link
2) Fyodor Dostovesky in Hindi Films—Link

Dialogue of the Day:
"Aawan ankhiyan, jaawan aankhiyan, hijra mein tere saawan ankhiyan."
Ahista Ahista