How a nautch girl, Anaarkali (Swara Bhaskar), in Araj, Bihar, who has received singing and dancing from her mother in legacy, keeps away the advances of debauched Vice Chancellor Dharmendra Chauhan (Sanjai Mishra), and copes with this humiliation, fighting to preserve her dignity forms the crux of this simple but strong film.

The message of respecting a woman’s right to physicality resonates strongly, albeit in a small town setting reminiscent of the recently released film “Pink”.

Performing regularly at weddings, functions and local events, luring her audience with her innuendoes-laden songs, Anaarkali is the heart-throb of many but catches the fancy of the Vice Chancellor who is smitten with her to the extent that he gets drunk one night at a function and misbehaves with her in public.

The film boasts of a simple story but well-written screenplay, astutely handled by debutant director Avinash Das. There are no unnecessary Bollywood-esque meanderings or deviations. He remains true to the story and engrosses you completely in Anaarkali’s life.

The second half of the film, however, drags a tad in parts.

The climax gives you an adrenaline rush owing to its tempo and the robust performance by Anaarkali.

The music of the film is replete with the flavours of Bihar and the raunchy dance numbers are equally befitting the setting. The background score, especially “Man beqaid hua”, beautifully captures the mood of the film.

The performances are easily the highlight of the film. Swara Bhaskar shines as Anaarkali in an earnest performance as she bites her teeth into the character with aplomb, whether it is singing, dancing or even dealing with local goons in a feisty manner. With her electrifying energy, she lights up the screen.

Sanjai Mishra as the corrupt and depraved Vice Chancellor effortlessly delivers a stellar performance. Pankaj Tripathi as Rangila, Anaarkali’s music partner and troupe companion, is equally impressive and charming.

Ishtiyak Khan as Hiraman, Anaarkali’s well-wisher and silent lover, although has a limited screen time, gets into the skin of his character and portrays sincerely. Anwar, her companion who stands by her in her troubled times, renders an honest performance and is immensely likeable. Police officer Bulbul Pandey too is a competent actor.

The film is redolent with the flavour of Bihar and transports you there with ease. Entertaining yet hard-hitting, “Anaarkali of Aarah” hits the bull’s eye, as far as its strong universal message goes.

Film: “Anaarkali of Aarah”; Director: Avinash Das; Cast: Swara Bhaskar, Sanjai Mishra, Pankaj Tripathi, Ishtiyak Khan; Rating: ***

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