Flawed characters are obviously essential to storytelling of any depth and maturity. But here's a riddle: How many reprehensible acts can the principals in a movie undertake before the audience just stops caring what happens to them? Whatever the precise answer, it's at any rate fewer than offered by Raanjhanaa. The movie seems a contest between its leads, Kundan (Dhanush) and Zoya (Sonam Kapoor), to see who can be more awful.
And in this race, Kundan takes an early lead. He harrasses the annoyed, uninterested Zoya (whom he professes to love) until she finally caves to his "persistence." He cuts his wrist right in front of her to manipulate her into caring for him, and later threatens to cut her wrists if she doesn't respond as he likes. He even follows her across the country from Banares to Delhi, ingratiating himself to her friends though she's made it abundantly clear that she doesn't want him there. But Zoya holds her own in the horrible-person stakes. She takes advantage of Kundan's devotion to her, lying to him and manipulating him to get what she wants, which is marriage to a bland, if handsome, student political leader (Abhay Deol, wasted in a flavorless special appearance). Indeed Zoya may win the ultimate prize, proving herself the worse person by a long margin, but Kundan's unwavering (and utterly unmotivated) devotion to her earns him the runner's up prize of being the character with the most unsympathetic stupidity.
If it's not abundantly clear by now, I hated this movie. I hated every excruciating, miserable second of it. Others reacted with less visceral disgust than I did. Bharadwaj Rangan rightly takes it to task for glorifying the trope of stalking-as-love, but ultimately finds something satisfying in its tale of ultimate sacrifice and redemption. I find that I just can't be that magnanimous to the film. It is so weakly scripted from start to finish that anything of value it might have to say is lost in its incoherent mess of a story. Kundan's arc begins with love at first sight, that laziest of movie conventions, love by fiat, love because the scripts say us so and not for any other reason. We are asked to believe that that Kundan's one childhood glimpse of Zoya is enough to nourish his passion through years of not even knowing her name, of repeated rebuffs and slaps. There are ample chances to motivate the passion, as they do spend time together as adults. But instead of building a tender foundation for Kundan's devotion, the movie only presents him stubbornly clinging to his claim even as Zoya repeatedly mistreats and uses him.
The result is that Kundan is more pathetic than loveable, his alleged redemption nothing more than an extreme consequence of his immaturity and stupidity. I found myself becoming increasingly angry as the arc of the movie progressed. Out here in the real world, we adults must work hard to detach from passions that do not serve us, of desire for people who repay our devotion with indifference or worse. I know this all to well, and I resent the glorification and romanticization of this persistence as the ultimate expression of love. There is nothing heroic about Kundan, yet the film elevates his attachment as though it were the purest love. The film's attempt to manipulate the audience through Dhanush's puppy-dog cuteness is insulting, if not downright sexist; this childish harasser is aggrandized as a pure lover, an innocent, blinded by saintly devotion to yet another undeserving shrewish and calculating female. Feh.
Raanjhanaa bears some similarities to Dil se, another film whose first half romanticises a cross-country stalker who convinces himself (and his victim) that his intrusive, manufactured obsession is properly labeled love. But Raanjhanaa, apart from featuring a weaker and far less memorable A.R. Rahman soundtrack, is in its own way considerably crueller to its characters. Dil se's Amar convinces Meghna to forsake her broadly destructive intentions and let just the two of them be sacrificed, and there is a sense of relief to their final release. In contrast, Kundan's sacrifice leaves Zoya to bear the burden of her own viciousness; there is no relief for Zoya in the film's resolution. If what had come in the previous two hours had been less insipid, less obnoxious, less frustratingly juvenile, there might be some satisfaction in this result. As it stands, though, there is only relief for the audience that the brutal ordeal of this dreadful film is finally over. By the time Kundan turns the tables on Zoya, we are long past caring what happens to these thoughtless, insipid people.