Kangana Ranaut’s film has a lot of laughs, but fails to have any impact
Film review: Simran is a lighthearted comedy and missed opportunity
Kangana Ranaut is one among a tiny percentage of Bollywood actresses who can carry a film on their own.
Ever since Ranaut won a host of awards for her turn as the titular character in the lovely 2013 comedy Queen, her worth has shot up by several thousand points. With Simran, the 31-year-old proves once again why she outranks her contemporaries, the likes of Deepika Padukone and Katrina Kaif, who, despite being categorised as A-listers, do not boast any single-lead blockbusters in their respective filmographies. Ranaut possesses a knack for portraying quirky, sometimes flawed characters who manage to find redemption on their path to self-discovery.
Simran is no different. In an inspired bit of casting, Ranaut portrays Praful, a middle-class Gujarati divorcee and a recent immigrant in the United States, who works as a cleaner in a hotel in Atlanta. She lives with her parents in a quiet suburb that is home to other hard-working Indian families, but her ambitions and delusions of grandeur set her apart from the rest. She admonishes her bewildered mother for referring to her job as that of a jhadu-pocha wali (charwoman). She has a string of unhappy boyfriends behind her, including her manager, who all want more. She constantly has shouting matches with her businessman father, whom she despises for his modest, barely successful, snack shop. She is only concerned about her pipe dream: to have her own flat, for which she is saving every cent of her meagre wages.
Then life takes a sudden turn: Praful agrees to a weekend in Las Vegas on an all-expenses-paid trip, thanks to a girlfriend who wants one last wild night out before getting hitched. It is in Sin City that Praful discovers her true calling – baccarat, as a way to pay for her expensive tastes and habits. The days there pass by as if in a trance: the nights are spent gambling, the days shopping and dining at fine restaurants. But soon reality hits: Praful emerges from the fog indebted to a vicious loan shark for a sum no less than $50,000 (Dh183,755). Worse, she loses most of the savings for her home.
Ranaut is competent as a shrewd young woman who is unashamed to go after what she wants. Praful does not find the need for a man or a moral compass. When she turns to a life of crime – her crudely staged bank hold-ups are hilarious to watch – she finds unbridled pleasure in it. Her confessions to the man her parents want her to marry reflects her devil-may-care attitude – she grins and laughs unabashedly as she relays to him her love for gambling and robbery.
Director Hansal Mehta sets up everything beautifully – the nuanced, fragile relationships between the three members of Praful’s household, the short-lived, phantasmagoric Vegas honeymoon, the swift and inevitable downfall. Perhaps the only thing missing is a sense of gravitas, because Mehta’s Praful remains, abjectly, a two-dimensional figure.
Everything is rather trivialised: her bank heists, her taking on an alias (“Simran”, with its dramatic Bollywood connotations, made famous by the 1995 Shah Rukh Khan film Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge), and subsequent undoing. Even the characters that populate the film are not spared. From the bank officials to Praful’s parents and the police, everyone serves as a prop for Ranaut’s comedic oeuvre.
But maybe this is exactly what Mehta intended: a lighthearted, self-indulgent comedy that’s meant to be enjoyed with popcorn and soda pop, then quickly forgotten. It is a pity, because the subject of the film is full of promise: a south-Asian female immigrant in America, whose follies and foibles, left unchecked, pave the way for punishable crimes, and whose fall from grace, instead of being plumbed for a few fleeting comedic moments, should have hit where it hurts.