Bepannah : Limitless possibilities of a good script
Color’s recent offering manages to do something impressive in its first innings – tell a story without trappings.
Watching Bepannah made me rewind to the last time I watched an Indian TV series with a compelling storyline. It took me a while to think of anything specific. This is not to say that our TV writers don’t get it right – it is just that the quest for success and ratings doesn’t allow them to sustain their ideas. We could probably have a few names pop up in this context for the credible script and ideas alone (maybe even for the first 20 episodes or so – before they lost the momentum) – but I can hardly pick two or three that have managed to stay true to their essence over the course of their runtime. I possibly missed writing in reviews for those few good attempts (which I am hoping to eventually get to someday :))- but here is some written applause for the one on air currently which, in my opinion, might be worth the hype.
Betrayal by their spouses from their presumably stable and long-standing marriages force Zoya Siddiqui (Jennifer Winget) and Aditya Hooda (Harshad Chopda) to re-evaluate their lives. The accident of Yash Arora (Zoya’s husband) and Pooja Hooda (Aditya’s wife) at the picturesque Mussorrie opens up a can of worms about their marriages, shaking the foundations of their idyllic lives. Aditya alternates between spewing anger and crumbling in stoic silence while Zoya tears up with loneliness and denial. They desperately trudge towards finding the path back to the elusive peace and normalcy that has been shattered so suddenly, but they must deal with unravelling mysteries about the accident, unresolved issues with their immediate families and confront the realities of their failed relationships before they can take a shot at it. Numerous confrontations ensue due to the strong opposing perspectives even as they learn to co-exist grudgingly and pull each other out of trouble and self-pity.
The steady pace of the story (credits to Prakriti Mukherjee), as well as the sharp screenplay (Prakriti Mukherjee, Koyal Choudhary and Ishita Moitra), has enough momentum to keep the viewer hooked to the turn of events. Add to this a set of lead stars, who seem to surpass themselves in every consecutive scene – and you have the almost perfect mix of content and popularity to sustain the ratings. Out of the shows currently on air, Bepannah provides lots of opportunities for subtext to breathe and develop in many of its scenes. The creatives (Cinevistas with Ameeta Devadigga leading the lot )involved seem to want to make the best with dialogue and the material they have been given on paper – eventually, many scenes end up having more than one note which makes it worth a revisit in many cases. All the characters are defined in zones of grey – including the leads – and the general air of intrigue is brought into the storyline with sudden unexplained deaths.
This is not to say that the episodes don’t adopt clichés – it’s just that the reaction of the characters gives it an interesting twist. The dialogues and acting help emphasize this very well at almost every point adding dimensions to the characters that might otherwise have to be highlighted in words.
For more than over two decades, Indian television’s favorite template theme has been the delicious “opposites attract” romance. Any story that starts from anywhere eventually leads to this after about 8 to 9 episodes. Strength associated with the majority of the female characters is established by the defiance of their romantic male counterpart – and is eventually dissolved in the background the moment she has his undying attention or love. If she still does manage to stay strong, it is probably because the romantic tracks did not work or character itself is heading towards a negative zone. Bepannah gives the leads and their surrounding characters a decently clean slate to begin with – scattered, unrelated worlds coming together because of a catastrophic incident. The past is quickly explained in a few scenes and the story concentrates on moving forward with established emotions and reactions rather than try to reveal them one by one in dramatic sequences. This makes room for lots of interesting connections. The supporting characters seem to hold a lot of mystery andunspoken objectives as well.The opinions of the sibling circle (Yash’s sister, Adi’s brother and Zoya’s sister) is charted out strongly. Aditya’s strong bond with his mother-in-law and Zoya’s protective instinct towards Yash’s unwilling sister (a spunky Vaishnavi Dhanraj) come across very well.
Most of the supporting characters seem to have a life of their own for a change –apart from helping to establish individual traits of Aditya and Zoya. Some decent depth is provided about their thought process at least in initial episodes which adds some mystery to the scenario. They all seem like suspects with motives.
Jennifer Winget makes Zoya step out of the looming Maya Mehrotra shadow beautifully. She adorns Zoya with a quiet confidence and defiant idealism. The script makes Zoya shaky in demeanor but spirited and unbreakable in faith– which sets up some classy confrontation scenes with the cynical Aditya. The tears thankfully seem more matter of fact – and both the script and Jennifer make you look past them very easily. You tend to sympathize more with Zoya and the scenes automatically aim towards making you loyal towards her – her pain is relatable, her approach to life is nobler. But it is the flawed Aditya Hooda who proves to be a scene twister – the writers use him like a ticking time bomb ready to explode at all odd points. Any scene – ranging from fun to nostalgic to suicidal – is effectively deviated from the norm just by Aditya’s unexpected reactions. He is a wonderful bundle of contradictions and sets off unprecedented fireworks with his volatile temperament. The dialogues seem to be more in line with what the audience might be thinking in their heads– most of them dripping with sarcasm and nonchalance. Harshad Chopda brings in his A game performance to the volatile Adi making him one of the most memorable characters we may see on Indian Television for a while. He packs a lot of variety into his act – moments of angst and bitter outbursts as well as heartbreaking minutes of vulnerability and self-depreciation. He excels when he has to go overboard with the sarcasm and wise cracks but he is equally formidable when he lets his eyes do the talking .He shrouds his pain with a thick layer of sarcasm and devil-may-care attitude and showcases the cracks and lesions delightfully well. He evenmanages to walk away with the best lines from the show’s haunting title track in Rahul Jain’s melancholy voice (Toot ke bikhra padha hoon,saans lena bhi hai sazaa). Special applause to the makers for managing to bring forward a multi-note character with such imperfect definitions. Aditya grows from strength to strength in almost every episode – he learns as he makes mistakes – and doesn’t seem to shy away from admitting them as well. Over the course of the series, watch Harshad expertly nail many sequences where Aditya’s misplaced confidence in his own perfection crumbles. He still retains Aditya’s rage and power – but this time it seems to stem from well-earned wisdom rather than self-made assumptions.
Pooja (Namita Dubey) and Yash (Sheban Azim) are fleshed out pretty well too considering the amount of screen time they have had so far. Most of their traits are inclined towards another character’s opinion of them. Both the actors and screenplay manage to make an impact in these cases as well. Namita Dubey plays Pooja as a nonchalant wife who doesn’t seem to be highly affected by her overpoweringly handsome husband. She establishes Pooja as a discontented dreamer who is now resigned to the realities of her marriage with a partner she can’t seem to fault. She comes across as the most sorted out the 4 leads – she knows what she is missing and she seems to be willing to take chances with people and relations to get to her happy place. Sheban keeps Yash deliberate, poetic, sensitive and understated – in other words, everything that Aditya is not. The stark contrasts set up an interesting ambience between the interactions and make you realize that a pretty picture is not always the perfect one. The romance between the “cheater” spouses, as Aditya labels them in rage, is more about soul fulfilment than a mere set of vows of commitment or unbroken loyalty. They are willing to break boundaries and trample hearts to connect – something neither of their committed partners can imagine doing. A complex perspective to relate, digest or understand. Despite their issues with the actions of their spouses, neither the lenient Zoya nor the furious Aditya can fault their partners completely – and this by itself is a beautiful highlight the storyline achieves as it inches closer to providing some closure to the grieving counterparts. Many such subtle moments weigh in as heavily as the dramatic ones and letting them grow on the viewer makes them worth a revisit.
The complex connection between Zoya and Aditya is written very thoughtfully. Apart from the obvious sequences that establish them to be mutual saviors and faithful struggle companions – the subtext offers a lot to read between the lines as well – and much of it has to do with character growth as opposed to the romance and eye locks that one would normally expect. The peripheral situations surrounding them does not allow them to logically fall for each other instantly which works in the favor of the content in general. They are unwilling to move on, stunned by the sudden betrayal and loss and are cruelly shoved away from their self-perceived “big” family issues towards a much bigger one. It is usually hard to see beauty or feel gratitude in such tumultuous moments and even the nostalgia connected with them is hardly about each other. The flashes are more about their happy moments in their respective relationships followed by a strong confusion and guilt about what made their perfect partners give up on them. The common likes and dislikes that presumably forged a deep bond between their partners ironically forces both them to behave completely out of character. A ring, an old song, a favorite color – any discussion veering towards their spouse seems to touch a raw nerve in them. The optimistic Zoya gets defensive and the verbose wise-cracking Aditya gets dangerously silent and brooding. They are forced to deal with their true selves in each other’s presence which adds an edge of honesty to the budding relation.
For instance, Aditya comes across as shameless exhibitionist when it comes to annoying Zoya, but interestingly is the first one to flinch in disapproval to any unexpected proximity he seems to get into with her. Check out the “been there seen that” garland entanglement sequence and watch Aditya huff his way out while a bewildered Zoya cannot understand why he would react in such a way. He doesn’t like being out of control and we are subtly made aware of that .The clichéd button sewing sequence is used to establish Zoya’s new found competitive spunk for mischief which is faintly admired by Aditya as well. Zoya seems pretty protective towards her close ones but cannot seem to think beyond her self-imposed idealism. Her insecurity tumbles out of her strong walls of faith when she rues to Aditya about Yash having given a clear indication of wanting a divorce. For a few seconds, the shift is more about feeling self-sympathetic than consoling Aditya. Aditya deals with all the bitter accusations Zoya throws at him by flexing jaws silently – but his breakpoint comes when she points out that he may not be an efficient Pilot. He lashes out at his family for giving him sympathy because he is assumed to incapable. No amount of sane advice and mellow wisdom makes as much impact on either of the heartbroken leads as much their own hard-hitting confrontation does. They serve as wake-up calls for each other – especially when they seem to get lost in self –pity. Even the parental dose of affection and protectiveness are usually accompanied by a decent amount of dark statements. Nothing seems black and white given the context of the scenes – which adds to the overall theme very well.
Both the lead actors are very confident of their craft and play off each other’s energies admirably well. Their range of expressions for similar emotions are studiedly varied and go beyond their overwhelming good looks – Zoya comes across as more controlled and restrained even when she is raging with anger as compared to the nerve-wracking Aditya (again a credit to the writing and direction as well). Their collaboration works on multiple levels and this is not just a nod to their romantic “chemistry” (which will eventually roll in given the recent turn of events).
The camera work is lovely – the sets are pleasing as well. The long shots work wonderfully when trained on Jennifer and Harshad – Jennifer adds a lot of calm to the moment to offset Harshad‘s swiftly changing expressions.Though the editing leaves a lot to be desired in many scenes off late, the first 80 episodes have such a tight screenplay, it is hard to notice any slips at all. The pace is quick and the content has a lot to say – which increases the quality of the overall episode. Interesting characters (like the CBI Inspector Rajveer played by the charming Apurva Agnihotri) and sudden facts keep making an appearance and stay long enough to add flavor before wisely receding into the background.
81 episodes into the series, you realize how much difference executing well-written content can make to a daily soap. Ideally, as fans of the popular star cast – it might be beyond understanding as to why a pretty looking pair doesn’t get along and end up together quickly enough– especially when the background music, the leading meet-cutes and everything around them seems to point towards the happy ending. A script and screenplay like Bepannah deserves some applause just for the fact that despite all the trending JenShad hashtags and the falling-in- the-arms sequences, you manage to relate individually to both Aditya and Zoya before you are asked to assume them to be an AdiYa (or any other specific fancy combination of onscreen couple names we can come up withJ). The struggle between their personalities seems real and the torment doesn’t always lead to them finding solace in each other’s arms. The thoughts and nostalgia which tend to strike a chord with each of them strangely seem directed towards a completely different character (their first loves and dead spouses) for a large part of the scenes. Every other cliché – including parental discord and sibling revelry – gets strongly deviated to a different tone by the sheer fact that they are not colored with the hue of romantic lenses. Cheers to the talent and credibility of the dialogue, story and screenplay writers of the show as well as the production house and creatives for sticking to their guns without giving into the rating games. The attempt to create a decent closure to the story arc post the betrayal phase is a very encouraging sign – though the continuity post scenes have suffered a lot of the romantic Deja Vu. Even as it does seem to nose dive towards the “oh- so- familiar” dupatta and mehndi sequences coupled with Bollywood songs during the recent times, it will self admittedly remain a guilty pleasure to behold such lovely people get together on screen. However, it does serve well to remember that such scenes hold a beautiful charm in small doses and that strong storylines cannot be replaced by a sequence of mushy moments. With a creative team like the one they have at the helm, here’s hoping they can get back to some interesting unexplored dynamics ASAP.