Somewhere in the second-half of the heartrending evocation of the tragedy that underscores the glamour of the fashion world, all dialogues cease, as Madhur Bhandarkar, in his inimitable style, records Priyanka Chopra's character's descent into hell.
It's as though the music and the zing have suddenly decided to go out of her life.
This is where we realise the truth about all works of art. The sum-total of Bhandarkar's vision is far greater than the captivating components that characterise his protagonist's journey to painful self-realisation.
If we look at the issue of morality in Bhandarkar's cinema, then all his protagonists reach a stage in their life when they cannot look themselves in the eye.
That moment of reckoning in "Fashion" reflects itself effortlessly in Priyanka's face.
It's her character Meghna's journey from the innocent aridity of Chandigarh to the corruption of Mumbai's modeling world.
This remarkably resonant film is arguably Bhandarkar's most accomplished work to date, though "Page 3" comes close in terms of etching out even the smallest of characters.
Mahesh Limaye's cinematography is a little predictable in its bustle-and-bristle images. Fortunately the storytelling is anything but predictable.
Screenwriting has always been the greatest strength of Bhandarkar's cinema. The screenplay conveys a lived-in 'overheard-at-a-party' kind of conversational tone.
Rhetorics and high-drama are exchanged for fearless transparency in the characterisations and conversations. What we eventually look at is not a tantalizing dekko at the beau monde but a breathtaking map of a heartbroken humanity who occupy the upper crust of the urban social order and eventually have to slow down to wonder, 'Is this really worth it?"
By the the time ramp queen Meghna Mathur reaches this self-searching stage, "Fashion" becomes not a macro-cosmic view of the ramp world, but a story of two women, one who already 'has-been' there (Kangana Ranaut) and the other who just about saves herself from catastrophe in the nick of time.
The sequences between Priyanka and Kangana are the highlights of this bumpy journey into heartbreak and desolation. Some sequences leave a lump in the throat like the one where the ousted ramp queen Kangana confronts and warns Priyanka in a restaurant loo, or later after they bond.
Whether it's sexual or emotional, Bhandarkar has never flinched from telling it like it is. "Fashion" shocks us with its brutal forthrightness on matters of the heart.
Samir Soni performs a complex tight-rope as a closeted-gay designer, who balances a lover with his mother's demand for a wife with a marriage of convenience with a stunning model friend played by Mugdha Godse.
Mugdha is the female discovery of the year. With a great figure and face that registers a spectrum of emotions, she gives a compelling consistency to her goodhearted model's character.
What Kangana does in "Fashion", no other actress can do. But there're no surprises in her performance as she has done it before.
Priyanka catches you completely unawares. Her transformation from the bubbly Chandigarh girl to the super-ambitious supermodel, who dumps her boyfriend and conscience to pursue her dreams, is achieved with a gentle subtlety and bridled passion.
This is Priyanka's coming-of-age film. She looks like a zillion bucks. And acts like a woman who connects with the darkest, most desperate human emotions without wallowing in them.
Every character is written to accentuate the specific actor's grace in the given space. The performances of Kitu Gidwani and Ashwin Mushran stand out. Harsh Chaya's 'gay lisp' was the only annoying appendage.
Also, the ramp walks could have been done with slightly more élan and subtlety.
Eventually, the evocative screenplay decides to give its fallen heroine a second chance. But that seems more like cinematic liberty.
Bhandarkar takes us through a labyrinth of emotions, some devastating in their gut-level directness. But at the end, we come away with a film that gives us something to hold on to permanently even as the characters on screen lose practically everything worth holding on to.
A truly outstanding film.
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