Pataakha, opens with two sisters flinging the choicest gaalis at each other with gusto. Their hair unkempt, teeth stained, and nostrils flared, the siblings are ready to plunge head-first into a good fight. Nothing and no one is spared.
Picture this: The duo are engaged in an intense fight, digging their nails into each other, pulling each other’s hair, kicking wildly, rolling on the ground. It’s only after their father comes in having to exert all his power to physically separate the warring sisters that they let go.
They have a friend too, Dipper (Sunil Grover), who like us enjoys these raucous displays of anger and hate. He eggs them on and then only slightly helps them out of a sticky situation, doing just enough to endear himself to us.
It’s an absolutely delightful start because I don’t remember the last time Bollywood gave us two sisters who got their hands dirty while fighting! Or even women who are unafraid to look unappealing.
The film’s determined eagerness to not please, to not prettify, is actually the most refreshing thing about Vishal Bharadwaj’s latest directorial venture Pataakha!
Based on Charan Singh Pathik’s story ‘Do Behene’, the first half is a lark. Badki or Champa Kumari and Chutki or Gainda Kumari can’t stand each other. They will fight over beedis and have one-upmanship when it comes to who falls in love first.
They also have separate, very special dreams of their own on which they don’t give up even after getting married another first for Bollywood?
Badki wants to own her own doodh ki dairy and Chutki wants to teach in a school, but circumstances conspire and these very legitimate dreams seem quite distant.
Vishal Bharadwaj is known to tackle some very strong political issues in a spirited and quirky way. He tried that in Matru ki Bijli ka Mandola where he spoke about capitalist greed against the backdrop of a small Haryana Village.
Through Pataakha, we are transported to the dusty lanes of a small gaon in Rajasthan. Ranjan Palit’s cinematography has brought out the authentic rural gusto and the actors spewing the local dialect with such fervour that at places we find it difficult to keep pace.
The sparring sisters are often referred to as India and Pakistan! The suggestion is that the sisters, just like our two countries, fight like cats and dogs, and yet their existences, in a twisted way, are entwined together.
In a flowing, freewheeling style, the narrative takes hold of us Radhika Madan and Saniya Malhotra deserve full credit.
From allowing the gaon-wala grime and dirt to resolutely settle on them, and for never letting their hold on the characters slip, Badki and Chutki are special.
Sunil Grover gets in his magical touch and imbues Dipper with trademark humour and hilarity, but the one who completely wins us over is Vijay Raaz, as a father resigned to his daughters’ fate. He does such a fine job of mining the weariness and exasperation on his face.
Yet Pataakha is also very uneven and erratic in the way it spreads out in the second half. The sisters have been fighting from scene one and somewhere along the way, those spats become repetitive and unsurprising.
The climax is revealed to us by Dipper in the scene preceding it, making the denouement a little flat! And the whole political messaging equating sisters to India-Pakistan is repeated so often that it seems a little laboured.
Pataakha isn’t without its flaws. But the novel and adventurous streak of the film gives us plenty to cheer.>