If you wonder why they slowly turned away from the description Gehraiyaan As “domestic black” in the days and weeks leading up to release, you’re not alone. A fantastic trailer, Instagram-friendly songs, and navel-gazing sadcore aesthetic had erased any memory of those words and the slightly sinister undertones they carried. As the release date approached, the mood changed. Marketing has started telling us that Gehraiyaan is more of an intense relationship drama; a raw look at millennial love.
Which it is, for sure. But those of you who have seen it now—and I would insist that those who haven’t stopped reading immediately—would know that the director Chakun Batra had a wild trick up its sleeve. It turns out that Gehraiyaan is not a domestic black at all. It is these two things, but separately.
And now it’s understandable why no one said a word about the insane tangent the film goes on deep, deep into its third act. It’s a twist that’s so out of left field that it shatters the film so brutally, so cruelly, that it never gets over it.
Like Deepika Padukone‘s Alisha accompanies Siddhant Chaturvedi’s Zain for the 20th time on his luxury yacht, the assumption is that they will settle their differences. Alisha and Zain have entered into an illicit relationship that has spiraled out of control, overwhelming them in such an all-consuming way they can’t think of anything else. Zain’s professional life is on the verge of implosion, and Alisha recently found out she was pregnant with his child. He promises to make things right; hence, the trip to the yacht. The choppy waters of the Arabian Sea are an outward representation of their scorching interiority and metaphorical ‘homelessness’. It’s intense stuff, solidly done by Batra.
But something is very, very wrong on this boat. Zain, with a hint of terror in his eyes, offers Alisha a drink. A Prateek Kuhad-esque song plays in the background; deceptively soothing. Having sensed something is wrong, Alisha pretends to be seasick and asks to be taken ashore.
And this is the moment when the film breaks irreparably. Zain snaps and tries to throw her off the yacht into the sea. Alisha fights back and in the ensuing scuffle, Zain slips, bangs his head against the side of the boat and drowns.
It’s a plot development so inconsistent with the world the film had established that it obliterates a real twist that comes minutes later, when Alisha’s cousin Tia tells her that the man she thought she was her father is not her father at all. And it’s reminiscent of other destructive twists like Blofeld’s declaration in Specter that he’s James Bond’s long-lost brother, or, when it was revealed in Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summer that the nice man we had developed a soft corner was, in fact, a pedophile.
The reason none of these twists worked isn’t because twists are inherently a bad thing. They are not. They didn’t work because they weren’t won. The films hadn’t done the groundwork; they hadn’t led us to believe that something like this could happen, so when it did, it’s impossible to feel anything other than a momentary boost.
There’s a moment earlier in the movie where Zain pushes Tia out of his yacht, but it quickly turns out to be a twisted fantasy sequence. If anything, it sets you up to expect more later. So when the fight with Alisha took place, I was convinced that Zain was also fantasizing about her death. Because while most people have at some point in their life thought about murdering someone, very few of them have gone ahead and done it.
Even if Zain absolutely had to die in the film, especially in this way, why couldn’t they have shown us how he got to this point of no return? It would certainly have been a very difficult decision for him to kill someone he loves, and seeing him make that decision would have only generated empathy for him. Not to mention the Hitchcockian suspense it would have created, watching him drive Alisha to her doom. But no, instead we get a quick reveal from WhatsApp seconds before he tries to poison her. By pushing the narrative in this direction and jumping the shark in a truly jaw-dropping way, the film signals that nothing is out of the realm of possibility anymore.
Gehraiyaan, up to this point, had gone out of his way to tell a story based not only on emotional reality, but also on logistical reality. To get to Alibaug, the characters had to take a yacht, which had an adequate crew. It had been established. But after Zain’s death, Alisha operates the yacht, which she miraculously brings ashore without ramming it into India Gate, or worse, a wealthy industrialist’s birthday present for his girlfriend.
Introducing a murder plot and subsequent police investigation into corporate corruption is not what Gehraiyaan was meant to do. Not because it’s something I didn’t want, but because it’s something the movie thought it could achieve, but clearly didn’t.
All of this happens, essentially, in the last 30 minutes. Which means it’s too late to fix things. So the script drops any pretense of wanting to return to a recognizable reality, and instead decides to keep going, packing as many twists as possible into the remaining half hour, including one that happens literally a second before the screen does not turn black. Incidentally, the implications of this latest twist are staggering. But this Pandora’s box deserves an article in its own right.
The sourness of this tonal, stylistic and thematic change is such that it is impossible to rinse your mouth out. Which is unfortunate, because Gehraiyaan was, for almost two hours, an exceptionally well-made film – the first act was such a shrewd dissection of the millennial experience that for a moment it reminded me of other films quarter-life crisis such as The Worst Person in the World and The Memory. That’s high praise.
But due to its sudden transformation from a character-driven mood piece to a plot-based crime thrillerthe themes the film dealt with so vividly – hereditary trauma, reunited family, the cyclical nature of fate – are essentially drowned under the same waves that Batra continues to cut through.
Ultimately, you wonder if the first two acts are good enough to excuse the third, or if the post-murder stuff is so bad it undermines everything that came before it. The answer lies somewhere in the middle.
Post Credits Scene is a column where we dissect new releases every week, with a particular focus on background, crafting, and characters. Because there’s always something to fix once the dust has settled.