We have an innate fear of the rebel. You know, the one who refuses to meet expectations, doesn’t toe lakshman rekhas, and speaks from and to the heart. You cannot make them do the “normal” thing - they insist on sticking out like a scarecrow - and you cannot box them in because they always tend to overflow in inconvenient directions. The scariest bit is that they are not scared to walk it alone.
As the end credits of Manmarziyaan rolled, it occurred to me that Rumi - Taapsee Pannu’s character and the leading lady in the film - is someone who essentially walks alone. And it’s because she chooses to stay with one or the other of her men that makes her love that much worth fighting for.
Unlike the regular love triangles in Bollywood, Manmarziyaan is actually a coming-of-age story of Rumi, an orphan brought up with much indulgence by her extended family in Amritsar. She’s as bold as she’s reckless, leaves her family and neighbourhood open-mouthed at most times, and is honest to a fault. And if you remove (a few of the now-jaded) cinematic representations of the rebellious girl - she smokes and drinks, drives a bullet, is conscious of and demanding in her sexuality, and has zero filters when she opens her mouth - it is the honesty that makes Rumi well, Rumi. It is the fount of her passion and her life-force - you know she will rise no matter how many times she falls because she doesn’t lie to herself or to others.
It’s expected I suppose, given her name, and that the film is dedicated to Amrita Pritam, another free spirit who followed no rules but her own, and whose lines Rumi recites.
Taapsee Pannu (along with writer Kanika Dhillon and director Anurag Kashyap) makes Rumi real in a way rarely seen in Hindi cinema. In a world obsessed with the skin of the matter, where the “carefully careless” look is actually a thing, her Rumi defies all physical and cerebral notions of femininity and code of conduct. From her body language to her unabashed fierceness, she’s - come to think of it - not a conventionally “attractive” woman.
And it’s to Taapsee’s credit that she doesn’t compromise with the timbre of her character and yet makes Rumi immensely relatable. As she swings through the crests and troughs of her heart, I for one, knew exactly what she is feeling.
Taapsee is clearly having a golden run, picking up roles tailor-made for her. Frankly, I can’t imagine even a Kangana Ranaut or Alia Bhatt pull off Rumi in the way she has. There’s not one false note and the actor weans out the layers of her character as much through her eyes as her whirlwind physicality.
It’s a far cry from her conventional roles in southern masala potboilers, and Taapsee has only risen from strength to strength since the 2016 Pink. Like the actor said in a recent interview, Pink offered her a role that few leading ladies of Bollywood would have dared to pick up, and it gave her the direction she wanted to take with her career.
And the direction looks good alright, despite the occasional Judwaa 2. Minal (Pink), Aarti Mohammed (her other scorching delivery this year with Mulk), and Rumi are all differently strong women, who wear their vulnerabilities on their sleeves and when the time comes, know exactly how to clinch the deal - in court or outside.
Taapsee, under the aegis of Dhillon and Kashyap, is all small-town sass in Manmarziyaan, but she lifts Rumi above mere labels to breathe life into a woman who you will remember long after you have left the theatre.
Thank you, Taapsee for Rumi.
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