Boom. Female anger explodes on the Hindi cinema screen in full frontal glory in Pataakha (2018). Who other than Vishal Bhardwaj for the job? The writer-director tackles women’s energy head on, by exploring a tempestuous relationship between two sisters, Badki and Chutki, with black humor. The mad hatter concept suspends the viewer straight into disbelief, thankfully with no hint of an apology for the fights.
I was the only audience in an empty theatre. Years ago, it was Luck By Chance (2009), Zoya Akhtar’s fantastic debut, which she hasn’t been able to surpass since. No surprises there, that the box office has little to garner from angry female leads. Pretty much like Republican Senators, who ignored the anguish of Christine Blasey Ford and anger of female protesters to confirm Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination.
According to expert Taran Adarsh, Pataakha collected 7.64 crores in its first week. Sui Dhaaga (2018), which released the same Friday, crossed 62.5 crores. Hardly a surprise, that. Nothing gets the cash registers ringing better than a woman who radiates good old manipulation, docility, and subordination.
Walk in with a stash of popcorn and Coke then to experience the messy goodness of Genda ‘Chhutki’ Kumari (Sanya Malhotra) and Champa ‘Badki’ Kumari (Radhika Madan) who are fiery, gritty, and spunky from start to finish. The movie starts with a paisa wasool mud scuffle over a beedi, sparked by their neighbor Dipper Naradmuni (Sunil Grover) and doused by their single father Bechara Bapu (Vijay Raaz). The relationship is fragile and competitive as they battle over clothes, a sticky forced-marriage, a smartphone, and even television. Dipper, the meddlesome Naradmuni, regularly snitches and pits them against each other, with wicked glee.
Badki and Chutki are authentic, scruffy, and imperfect as much as they are wild, spontaneous, and unpredictable. They rule their surroundings with confidence and abandon. The fury of a woman, usually confined and restrained, finds a visual arena to manifest itself externally in color. Love, love, love. Without Ranjan Palit’s colorful camerawork, this would not have been possible.
A dynamic first half shows their childhood and young adult romance. They both find men of their choice in charming romances — Chutki meets Vishnu (Abhishek Duhan) in a field and Badki encounters Jagan (Namit Das) near the river. Meanwhile, a lecherous old man, Tharki Patel (Saanand Verma) tries to score one of them as his wife, in exchange for a loan to Bapu. The girls are in a dilemma; Dipper eggs them on, but also saves them.
Post interval and wedding, the pair is confined to the same house, after they unknowingly marry brothers. After a promise to their father, they also feel obliged to stop fighting and settle into the routine of domestic life. Until they don’t. Dipper sets them off again, this time they push their husbands into a family fight. The reason behind their combustible equation is revealed in the end.
The story is fresh and straightforward, with crispy dialogue, laughs, twists and turns. Vishal picks Charan Singh Pathik’s short story Do Behnein, based on real-life antics of wives of his brothers, published by Sahitya Kala Academy. The siblings’ divide is even compared to that between feuding neighbors India and Pakistan. The songs Pataakha, Balma, Gali, and Naina Banjare adorn the narrative seamlessly. But why jar the flow with Hello Hello, the Malaika Arora item song?
The movie rests on the excellent performances. Saanand Verma plays creepy well. Namit Das and Abhishek Duhan make a mark. Sunil Grover is superbly layered with his grey shade character. Vijay Raaz scores perfect, balancing his daughters’ energetic fights with restrained ease. Sanya Malhotra is back with a bang and Radhika Madan makes sterling big screen debut. The actors are flawless; they hold their own individually and are crackling together.
Pataakha is super fun and entertaining. It could have been more, and falls just short of achieving greatness. Yet the importance of the red carpet it rolls out to normalize anger in women is noteworthy. Pity the audience isn’t biting.
3.5 out of 5
Pataakha. Writer & Director: Vishal Bhardwaj. Players: Sanya Malhotra, Radhika Madan, Vijay Raaz, Namit Das, Abhishek Duhan. Music: Vishal Bhardwaj. Theatrical release: KYTA Productions, Vishal Bhardwaj Films.
Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women, and social equity.
This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor, Geetika Pathania Jain.