SIMRAN. Director: Hansal Mehta. Players: Kangana Ranaut, Hiten Kumar, Kishore Shahane, Sohum Shah, Rupinder Nagra, Aneesh Joshi. Music: Sachin-Jigar. Hindi, Gujarati and English with English sub-titles. Theatrical release (T-Series).
Praful Patel (Ranaut)—Praf to her friends, please—has a somewhat unconventional outlook when it comes to her job, living arrangement, vacations, spending money and, as we learn, how to settle her debts. Living in Atlanta and on the market for a new house— more about how to pay for that house in a minute—Praful takes up a friend’s (Joshi) offer to visit Las Vegas on a shopping and a gambling junket. What starts out as an opportunistic fun-filled extended weekend in Sin City turns into something quite different. In Simran, however, force-fitting the American dream into pretty much absurd, anachronistic choices—while it sounds promising—falls short in the delivery.
Simran, coined from the pseudonym that Praful’s alter-ego is christened with after she starts her banking career—robbing banks that is, in the hopes of settling the afore-mentioned debit and fending off Vegas loan sharks—and which, in turn, is borrowed from the name of the obedient-daughter heroine from Dilwale Duhania Le Jayege (1995)—is, of course, the opposite of the namesake that Praful takes on. In an embodiment of the modus for female leads in Hindi movies, especially female leads in love, that Simran was in love but also strictly mindful of not opposing anything her parents said, including not confronting her father’s vehement disapproval of Simran’s boyfriend.
Praful’s Simran, on the other hand, is unbending, unruly and fiercely independent— to the point of being reckless—in her willingness to go against the values her parents, especially what her father (Kumar), cherishes. Praful’s Simran lives her life pretty much as if it were a month of Saturdays on the lam—exceedingly carefree, secretive, aloof and steal-from-Peter-to-pay-Paul. Simran would be a remarkable alternate-grade downward spiraling social-suicide run were it to be unfurled with the same flair as, say, Hollywood’s Thelma and Louise (1990).
Director Mehta is no stranger to groundbreaking scripts that exorcize stranger-in-a-strange-land demons. His last at-bat was the superb Aligarh (2016) which captured the ostracizing of a single, older gay man after he is exposed for a same-sex tryst. In Simran, however, while there is the mock unshackling of parental and familial controls in Praful’s attempt to escape traditional patriarchy, the execution is over-saturated with scenes of defiance. What is also lacking is a sharp script that gets to the nitty gritty. There is no voicing—spoken or otherwise—of why Praful does what she does. Hoping that her arrest—if she is ever arrested—happens away from the prying eyes of the “Indian community” just about sums up her dilemma and the script’s many booby-traps.
Sachin-Jigar’s music, with evocative Vayu and Priya Saraiya lyrics, grows in a nice way. “Single Rehne De,” with Shalmali Kholgade and Divya Kumar has Gujarati-Hindi lyrics linked to a dance beat in an exaltation of perpetual singlehood. There is also “Langdi Hai Thaai” with Jonita Gandhi and Guru Randhawa in juxtaposing Indian roots with western values in a celebratory wedding party song. Arijit Singh and Aditi Singh Sharma’s tandem versions of “Meet” are laid back whispers to retrained, silent love. The highlight of the album is Sunidhi Chauhan’s “Pinjara Tod Ke,” a heartfelt, down tempo ode to flying the coop. Chauhan infuses a melancholy note within the harmony.
For touches of realism, the dialog between Simran, her parents and friends nicely veers between Gujarati, Hindi and English. The staging in Atlanta and Vegas is also eye-catching and not incongruous—though why someone with a job in room service with a large hotel would be able to afford a $400,000 mortgage is not thoroughly explained other than as a ruse to pile on Simran’s sizable debt. Throw out traditions, avoid a fresh-off-the-boat suitor (Shah), toss out the conventional terms of agreement for repayment for pretty much anything, deliver a kick in the groin to her mean boss (Nagra). Deflect. Deny. Mislead. Never hesitate. Steal. While it is packaged as the perfect desi-American heist story, the contents amount to an unfulfilled date with a broken dream.