First off, this is not a story about Heroines or Heroes in the traditional sense of Good and Evil. This is a story with complicated people, flawed people, but who still deserve understanding and empathy. It is a cocktail of both growing anxiety, lies and mesmerising relationships. It may start out as a romance, but the movie starts shedding this label one piece at a time. It peels the layers of our protagonists and their lives. We may not like what we see, because we rarely want to see our flaws reflected in people, even fictional ones. But the characters, in the end, are a reflection of reality of how human beings are-with our desires, bodies and pasts. One thing is certain. This is Deepika Padukone’s movie.
Trigger Warning: Suicide. Severe Anxiety.
Alisha “Al” Khanna is a Yoga Instructor who wants to grow her business, while her boyfriend Karan is out of work, trying to work on his book. Alisha is introduced to her rich cousin Tia’s boyfriend Zain, a businessman investor. Alisha and Zain soon grow closer, as both of their relationships become stale. Soon, business starts mixing with pleasure, the past overlapping with the present, the waves of the sea growing ever stronger as problems arise.
Spoilers from here on!
Shakun Batra is a director who deals with the raw, ugly flaws we have as human beings. He mostly showcases them within the family structure, showing how the generations deal with problems in their personal lives and how things ripple. In his last movie Kapoor and Sons (2016) he dealt with problems within a dysfunctional family with the rain and the clogging tap as a metaphor. Gehariyaan deals with the dysfunction of relationships and childhood trauma, while using the metaphor of the waves.
Deepika Padukone as Alisha puts on a masterclass of acting in this. Even the smallest smile or movement of the eyes shows so much of her character. Alisha is burdened with anxiety, with a deep desire for freedom. Her quiet exterior hides a storm of anxiety and trauma. She takes pills for it, needs them and the film thankfully shows this as a normal and necessary thing. She is someone who has suffered in the past and does not want to suffer. She wants happiness and security, both which she sees in Zain. Starting from the last hour of the film Padukone soars with her deeply vulnerable character. She looks like she is in constant pain, struggling to keep herself together. You feel deeply for her, you want her to be happy, but you also understand the choices she makes, even bad ones. It comes from a deeply vulnerable place in her character. Padukone shows all of these beautifully, without inhibition.
Siddhant Chaturvedi as Zain Oberoi is fantastic. His character turns from this charmer whose smile affects both Alisha and Tia, into someone past redemption. A businessman calls him a Rookie, a type which he has seen before. So even as Zain presents as a man who has everything under control, once he looses that control, he builds lies upon lies to try to fix it. You can see why Alisha would fall for him. The character has this superficiality about him, one which hides scars and trauma that responds with self-preservation about everything, both which attract her. I mean, you know he is bad when he begins the affair, but it gets worse as the lies grow – when he gaslights Tia when she is right about him, when he thinks about murdering her to get him out of trouble and trying to kill Alisha so one problem would be gone. His flaw is just trying to get everything what he wants, without thinking of how it hurts others or the consequences if it goes wrong. And when it goes wrong, he reacts drastically. His death is very satisfying after seeing the shit he puts Tia and Alisha through.
Ananya Panday as Tia is a role that uses her vulnerability to her advantage. Her character is very much sheltered in her own world of riches, but she is not stupid. Her instincts are right on many occasions, even if she doesn’t know it. She isn’t as word-weary as Alisha or as savvy as Zain. Overall I found her performance and chemistry with the other characters very convincing, as it showcased the vulnerability that Panday just naturally has.
Naseeruddin Shah as Vinod Khanna is brilliant in his subtlety. The scenes between him and Padukone are just masterful. He is a man who is haunted by his past, who has gone trough the motions to get to the good place he is now and is now prepared to help his daughter with it too.
Dhairya Karwa as Karan Arora is the one character who does not get enough time. There is a feeling that there might be a reason as to why he so concerned about his writing like an artist, instead of doing it on the side while he works. Him and Tia are remarked to have the same kind of spirit, the same kind of childishness, that they both try to balance by having far more mature partners. Instead, they become too reliable on them, without having much of their own agency. Rajat Kapoor as Jinesh, Zain’s business partner, is the only one who could be classified as a Villain. With his instinct for survival and making everyone else accomplices in his plans he does everything he can to come out on top. One has the feeling that he doesn’t have many people who love him and he makes sure to keep them at an arms length so that he does not get hurt, in personal or business matters.
Side note: As soon as the trailer dropped for Gehariyaan I suspected it was about more than just cheating. The music by OAFF and Savera was too thriller like, the waves too menacing. The title itself speaks of depth in both the story and characters. In fact, I was certain someone would die. Lo and behold I was right on the money on that one!
As much as the affair between Alisha and Zain has stirred people up, it is not the heart of the film. It complicates matters, yes, but is not the source of the spark that begins this whole tragic saga. And it is tragic, for everyone. It is Alisha and Tia who are at the focus, not just with their relationship with the same men, but more so because they are family. They seem more like sisters instead of cousins and in the end it is revealed that they are in fact half-sisters. It was certainly not a twist I saw coming.
When it is revealed that Alisha’s mother and Tia’s father were having an affair it makes everything fall into place. The words Alisha’s mother spoke were vague enough for a child to interpret the literality of them, while not seeing the depth of the situation. The way her father used to drink. Why the brothers separated as business partners. Why Alisha’s mother committed suicide. Why Alisha repeats the same acts as her mother from said trauma of her mother’s suicide. This one reveal unravels everything.
Two in-laws have an affair and then another soon to be in-laws have an affair. The mother seemed to have depression and now her daughter has anxiety. Ananya’s character is in the same situation her mother was in without realising it. Zain’s father was abusive and then he turns abusive and tries to kill. This is how trauma circulates and the script shows this beautifully.
In the end, I really liked this movie. On first watch it gave me anxiety, but I kept on watching. The music is so thrilling, the cinematography so hypnotic, the characters are so real and so flawed. The script takes many turns, both expected and unexpected. The film is there not to moralise or to be an argument for having an affair, far from it if you look at the text. Yet it makes us empathise and understand why people make the choices they do, good or bad, because that is what we have to look in others. This film is a mirror, a splendid, rusted one that dos not reflect society, but for ourselves.
Thank you for reading!