A wannabe actress (Mahie Gill) lives alone in Mumbai. No big deal that. Life is a struggle for her. No big deal again. She believes that stardom is only one role away. No big deal either. When the girl eventually lands an assignment that promises to change her life, disaster strikes. This is a real big deal and Ram Gopal Varma, a director who has been off the boil for quite a while now, makes a fair fist of bringing the grim fate of an urban babe in the woods to the screen.
The protagonist of Not A Love a Story is not a protagonist at all. She is like the solitary gasping fish in the glass bowl that the restless camera catches each time to door to the girl’s pad opens. Her fate isn’t in her own hands.
The fishbowl may not be a terribly original visual metaphor for the sense of loneliness that assails her, but it isn’t entirely out of place in Not a Love Story.
The aspiring star is a girl constantly under watch: her possessive boyfriend (Deepak Dobriyal) keeps track of every move she makes, calling her virtually every hour of the day. It is clear that the “fishbowl” of her life is about to crack. When it does, there’s blood on her hands and dead man in on living room floor.
A dark, disturbing reconstruction of a senseless crime of passion that shook the nation three years ago, Not A Love Story sees director Ram Gopal Verma hitting the right buttons for a change.
Obsession, passion, murder, crime, guilt, punishment – these are the key elements that constitute the crux of Not A Love Story. Varma cloaks his narrative in a grimy, grainy shell as a means to capturing the tale’s claustrophobic core.
While the film does underscore the sheer pointlessness of an act of violence that snuffs out a life and sets off a catastrophic chain of events, it does not pass any moral judgment. It simply watches askance as the couple sink deeper and deeper into a moral quagmire of their own making.
The film kicks off with the customary disclaimer disavowing any resemblance to a real-life incident, but this really doesn’t take anything away from the impact of what unfolds in the course of the first few reels.
Not A Love Story has an edgy, frisky feel that lends the narrative a tangible veneer of realism except when the background score (Sandeep Chowta) tends to go off-kilter in a desperate bid to make its presence felt.
The crucial scene of violence eschews graphic excess. The act of the murdered man’s body being chopped is played out off-camera, with Varma employing telling reaction shots of the two actors on the screen.
Both Dobriyal and Gill prove able allies in this strategy. They go about their jobs with clinical precision, their eyes and faces conveying a wide range of emotions – shock, dread, hysteria, distress, sorrow, resignation.
Varma, creator of such well-crafted portraits of the Mumbai underworld as Satya, Company and Sarkar, seems to have regained much of his form in Not A Love Story.
He announces his intentions with the opening sequence itself. The young couple, madly in love, is about to be separated because the girl has decided to leave for Mumbai to pursue an acting career. The air is thick with foreboding as the man, anguish writ large on his face, smothers the girl with his manic love.
His love for the girl seems no more neurotic than the girl’s ambition to make it big in showbiz, a fact underlined by the repeated playing of Yai re yai re zor laga ke naache re, the anthem-like Urmila Matondkar chartbuster from RGV’s Bollywood breakout, Rangeela.
Once the couple has disposed of the body of their victim, Ashish Bhatnagar (Ajay Gehi), an executive of a film production company, the film shifts focus to the investigation and the prosecution.
While the first bit is engaging enough, thanks as much to the script as the understated acting of Zakir Hussain as a CID inspector who gets to the bottom of the truth, the second bit degenerates into a farcical battle between loud lawyers desperate to construct a defence for the obviously indefensible.
The lovers are anything but loveable characters. And this tale is a tragedy woven around the ugly face of love. Downbeat? Yes. But it’s engaging and watchable – if for nothing else, for the flashes of the RGV of yore.