Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Mark Justice, Soham Shah, Hiten KumarDirector: Hansal MehtaScore: 2.5 stars out of 5 stealing a bank is traditionally a men’s job. According to the FBI, the few women caught in bank robberies are mostly accomplices or driving the getaway car. Of course, the phrase “traditionally a men’s job” is anathema to Kangana Ranaut and the defiant characters she plays, which is why Simran, a story based on a real-life female bank robber, sounds like the real deal. actress. at one point in the film, during a quick tribute to pretty woman, ranaut, like julia roberts in the 90s movie, covets dresses she can’t afford but, unlike roberts, it’s her who single-handedly collects the money, returns and surprises the mocking shop assistant. it is a clever and revealing alteration. Kangana may well be a pretty woman, but she’s also her own Richard Gere. this can be amazing and alarming. It’s great to see a confident actress overcome any challenge a script throws at her, but it’s never ideal to see the script contorted to give an actress room to show everything she can do, including things she doesn’t necessarily know. adapt to the movie. Hansal Mehta’s Simran works best when she’s accompanied with a light touch, when Ranaut effervescently befriends the waiters and gleefully refuses to take no for an answer. Unfortunately, the film, which doubles as a showreel for the actress, is also meant to be a drama, a thriller, even a sweet romance. none of these other gears work well enough, and the end result is tedious. simran starts off well, with ranaut praful patel’s character cleaning a hotel room. As part of Hilton’s housekeeping staff, she picks up an overturned Milan Kundera book, dusts under it, and carefully replaces it as she was, before making a bed and scrubbing a sink, thoroughly as can be. this is a laser-focused Gujarati girl who wants to buy her own house, despite the fact that the “Indian temple” in the neighborhood has no appeal (she’s a gurudwara), and neither does the nearby kebab shop (she’s vegetarian). she wants it because it’s a minority housing deal, and the divorcee is eager to move out of her parents’ house and make her own things out of hers.
one night, praful patel comes across the game that james bond plays. Everything changes once he wins his first hand of baccarat, and he soon searches youtube for videos on how to rob banks and scare the tellers. this is the gist of the film, but the robberies soon become repetitive. in a film that otherwise seems realistic and grounded, they feel unreal and convenient. all of his robberies are carried out in the same outfit and technique: handing a bank teller a lipstick-scrawled bill, and while news channels constantly show footage of his robberies, people in banks seem blissfully unaware. of his modus operandi and falls into the trap. and again. most banks, it seems, don’t even have security guards. just cashiers, one of whom Patel even blows him a kiss as he makes his escape.
In addition to praful, each character in the film is a note, from the rigid father to the helpless mother, from the terrifying pawnbroker to the sincere suitor. These actors seem particularly scenic and theatrical in contrast to Ranaut, who shines with a spontaneous and often irresistible performance. Sure, his character’s English goes on and on inconsistently, but Ranaut makes it work, especially in brilliant moments like when, on the verge of confessing to his crimes, he likens the feeling to losing control of his feelings. bowels. this may seem like a familiar kangana performance with a gujarati accent, but there’s something special about the way he makes the character seem constantly amused with himself.
Based on the fascinating story of young nurse and thief/compulsive gambler Sandeep Kaur, this is a film that, judging by the warm and funny bits, would have benefited from an overall lightheartedness, along the lines of Catch Me If You Can. . instead we have a movie that wants to tell jokes, make us cry and make us gasp and, with no real flow between the different tonal sequences, save for a few jarring songs from time to time, only the jokes work. (And not all of them. There’s a terribly cheesy moment, for example, where we learn why the movie is called simran.)
The best scenes in simran are the ones where Ranaut playfully jokes with a Vegas waiter. there is real charm and crunch in these moments when he falls in love with her. she asks for free fries and, undeterred by her absence, demands and settles for free peanuts at her place. i remembered an old school friend who, when offered cheap beer, used to say: “free mein toh hum phenyl bhi pee lete hain” – “for free i’d even drink phenyl” – a praful patel sentiment I would probably clap. that’s also the least disappointing way to consume this movie: go see a good performance and get the rest of the movie for free.