Anarkali of Aarah movie review: Swara Bhaskar champions this fiesty film with a message
Writer-director Avinash Das’s film Anarkali of Aarah is not a comfortable watch. It starts with the bawdy song and dance numbers associated with the fame, (or infamy) and adoring fan following, for Anaarkali Aarahwali, and expands to the themes explored in this drama.
Das takes us deep into small town Bihar and works hard to deliver a kind of authenticity that makes you almost feel the dust under your feet. Sure you are often distracted by the over-dependence on songs, which do not move the narrative along, but you make concessions there since this is a film about a live singer.
Swara Bhaskar breathes life and soul and defines chutzpah as the feisty singer who remains scarred by memories of her childhood but wears her trade proudly on her blingy blouse sleeves.
Her over-made up Anaarkali walks the streets of Aarah with a swagger that comes from knowing you are queen bee. This is a town of double standards where the men revel in Anaarkali’s songs replete with double innuendos. But for all Anaarkali’s strength and determination, the men around her let her down, showing neither spine nor any real purpose.
An enamoured young man Anwar, for example, follows her around like a lost puppy but shows no bite, while the head of the music troupe Rangeela (Pankaj Tripathi), pathetically flip-flops. Indeed most of the men who encounter Anaarkali become enamoured by her but Das gives none of them a complete graph.
The privilege is reserved for Anaarkali only, and fortunately Bhaskar’s energetic and whole-hearted performance fills in several of those blanks space with equally commendable support from Tripathi, Mishra and Vijay Kumar, who plays the local head cop.
Anaarkali’s peaceful existence is shaken when the powerful university Vice Chancellor (VC), played by Sanjay Mishra, outrages her modesty publicly. Her equally public reaction is humiliating for the VC and as the local forces begin to close in around Anaarkali, she’s forced to run away from Aarah.
She doesn’t go far and she doesn’t hide much. The climax ties everything up too tidily including delivering a social message on women’s rights (there’s even a placard-waving NGO group protesting these troupes). But it’s not preachy in the least. To Das’s credit, he works in the right balance in Anaarkali’s character of someone who exactly knows her position in society, is not ashamed of her profession but is confident and strong enough to know that there are boundaries and it’s as much her right to draw those, even if it is in the dusty streets of the chauvinistic hinterland.
Swara Bhaskar has you rooting for Anaarkali with all her strengths, weaknesses, loneliness, talent and flaws.