Yun Hota To Kya Hota: A Review

Yun Hota To Kya Hota

Whenever a successful actor turns director, there is a always a great danger of the resulting film turning out to be vanity fare – see Mel Gibson/The Man Without a Face, Braveheart; Kevin Costner/anything he’s ever directed. So it was with the slightest smidge of trepidation that I approached Yun Hota To Kya Hota, the directorial debut of everyone’s favourite survivor of 70s Indian parallel cinema Naseeruddin Shah.

I needn’t have worried. Not only is YHTKH not a vehicle for any technical/philosophical grandstanding on the part of the director, it also, unlike this year’s painfully contrived Oscar winner Crash, shrewdly avoids the pitfalls that tend to befall a film with an ensemble cast playing out divergent narratives that come together at the end.

The film brings together four separate narrative threads, all involving characters aiming to find passage to the US of A, each for his/her own reasons. Tilottima Punj (Konkona Sen Sharma) is a newly wedded bride whose husband Hemant (Jimmy Shergill) goes off to America the day after their wedding while she is left behind with his dysfunctional family to await her visa. Salim Rajabali (Irfan Khan) is a dubious stockbroker whose criminal involvements as well as passion for a fickle older woman (an against-type Suhasini Mulay) drive him out of the country. Rahul Bhide (Ankur Khanna) is an earnest young man with dreams of going to med school in America, even as he gives in to a quiet, budding romance with free-spirited Khushboo (Ayesha Takia). And finally, there is Rajubhai Patel (Paresh Rawal) an ‘event organiser’ who moonlights as an immigration agent to the talent he takes overseas for shows, and whose long-dormant romantic (and fatherly) feelings are awakened when his long-lost love Tara (Ratna Pathak Shah) pleads with him to take her daughter Payal (Shahana Goswami) away to greener, American pastures.

Each of the stories, all set against varied Mumbai backdrops, is absorbing on its own, though one wishes the ones involving Rajabali and Tilottima had been as detailed and well-written as the other two. But Shah keeps the dialogue and characters real, which is what his stories require. There is no sense of larger-than-life on display here; the characters’ situations may be compelling, but they are hardly unique, and that is what makes them at once familiar and unpredictable. These people could be anybody – our friends, our family, our neighbours, us.

Whatever element one may find lacking in part of the narrative is compensated handsomely by the uniformly excellent cast. Konkona Sen Sharma in particular is absolutely luminous; her quiet, desperate loneliness is played with an endearing honesty. Irfan Khan, as always, has his intense mojo in high gear, all but burning up the screen whenever he is on it. In a small but significant part as Khan’s mother, ace choreographer Saroj Khan may not have great histrionic skills, but she looks the part so perfectly that you have to admire Shah’s casting acumen. Ankur Khanna and Ayesha Takia are both minor revelations in their respective parts, especially Takia who is blossoming into an appealing performer (see her also as a young widow in Dor). It is also nice to see Ratna Pathak Shah, the director’s wife, make a screen appearance after so long, and this is no nepotistic move – she is brilliant as Rajubhai’s ‘one-that-got-away’.
Which brings us to Paresh Rawal who seems to be Bollywood’s reliable, go-to guy for these lower-middle-class chalta purza kind of roles. Well, he might be given similar roles all the time but it doesn’t work to either his or the film’s detriment because Mr. Rawal is apparently incapable of giving a bad performance. As the fast-talking Rajubhai, a man who probably would like to believe that he is a cold, hardened, cunning profiteer but is really just an old-fashioned majnoo, Rawal pretty much steals your heart. Watch his moon-like face in the scene at the American consulate when Payal starts to sing an old Gujarati song: this is the kind of subtle performance that the screen was invented for.

Many people will probably take issue with YHTKH’s admittedly controversial denouement, but the preceding 1 ½ hours, despite some flaws, are so engrossing and well directed that it hardly matters. This is one actor-turned-director vehicle that you need not be fearful of.

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