Bawaal Review: Varun Dhawan and Janhvi Kapoor play a couple in a toxic marriage who uses the World War II tragedy to save their relationship. And that’s just not the only problem with the film.

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Bawaal has a toxic marriage, a serious medical condition, small-town parents, a job to save, and the biggest tragedy that the world has ever seen – World War II and the Holocaust. The elements of the Nitesh Tiwari directorial seem interesting on paper but on screen, the combination looks unfortunate. Varun Dhawan and Janhvi Kapoor star in a film that is neither a love story nor a sensitive attempt at showcasing World War II horror. At best, it looks like a film that tries too hard to connect misplaced romance with tragedy and fails badly.

Ajay Dixit, Ajju, is a history professor at a school in Lucknow. A middle-class man who rides Bullet, he is all about his thoughtfully created image that makes everyone, from the police to his colleagues adore him, or better, celebrate him as God’s gift to mankind. At heart though, he is simply a pathological liar, an insensitive chauvinist who would go through an illogical hridya-parivartan on a trip to Europe.

Nisha, an independent, outgoing girl, suffers from epilepsy. But, that’s not the worst part of her life. The decision to fall for Ajju and get married to him is. She tells him about her condition before marriage but as she experiences fits again, an image-conscious Ajju refuses to be with her. In a scene that shows Ajju insulting Nisha, he tells her that he will never take her out to meet his friends or for a movie because what if she begins ‘vibrating like a phone’?

Things start to change in Ajju’s life when he unknowingly hits the child of an MLA during a class. The next move is to protect his image by doing something extraordinary and unexpected. Read: Visit places in Europe that were hit during World War II and give live lessons to students via videos. A plan is hatched where Ajju pretends to become a thoughtful husband who wants to take his wife on a Europe tour. His parents, played by Manoj Pahwa and Anjuman Saxena, sponsor their trip. The real story begins here but what follows is an even more broken and confused narrative.

There are many problems with Bawaal including Janhvi’s accent, the lack of chemistry between the couple, subtle sexism, and the tiresome trope of a bad man turning good in the story. But, its biggest problem lies in its attempt to merge romance with tragedy or the whole Bollywood-isation of World War II. That phase which is considered the darkest in human history is reduced to a mere background for our lead couple to explore their relationship. And the insensitivity grows with each destination they visit. The pain of the victims is shamefully used to accelerate Ajju-Nisha’s dead marriage. Sample this: they come out of Anne Frank’s house and immediately start planning a date, their first. When Ajju asks Nisha what would she do if this was her last day, she tells him about drinking a beer, dressing up in an elaborate gown, and stepping into an exotic restaurant. All this is followed by a romantic number, so heartlessly placed that not even Arijit Singh makes you feel good about it.

The whole idea of showing a selfish Ajju falling for Nisha seems bizarre and you never fully warm up to their equation even from the standards of Bollywood’s logic. The most emotionally brutal of them all is the Holocaust scene where they imagine themselves inside the gas chamber being intoxicated by pesticides. The scene has been timelessly told and recreated in many books and series on World War II but nobody ever tried to take away from its gut-wrenching reality. The attempt to narrate a World War II story where the focus is not on the tragedy but on romance is basic callousness, let alone a selfish way of milking upon it to suit your purpose.

Bawaal also turns preachy many times. It’s quite ironic because the lack of the same preachiness made Tiwari’s previous film Chhichhore a beautifully constructed story on mental health. This, very disappointingly, is a film that everyone including Tiwari himself could have done without. Sometimes, some things are neither meant to be recreated nor experimented with. The more you explore them, the more they scream sadness. Bawaal screams the same sadness. It could have simply been a love story or a take on marriage, on middle-class families, faking an image, on past traumas affecting someone’s present but all it becomes is a big gloomy ball of World War II mockery. There’s no scope for redemption here.

Stars: 2

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