The Girl On The Train & My Head In Pain

(This review contains spoilers. However, I promise it can’t spoil the film for you. The film does that damage to itself.)

The Girl On The Train (2021; dir Ribhu Dasgupta) is not a film, it’s a torture mechanism. There should be compulsory viewing of the film for the inmates at the jails across the country, especially for those who are held on account of UAPA. If this film is made to be a compulsory watch for those in the police and the judicial custody waiting for their bail, then there won’t ever be any kind of criticism against the government in power. Those in custody will be left utterly confused, angry and will have other subjects to discuss such as, “how did this film get on any platform?” instead of thinking anti-national thoughts such as critiquing the policies and the government. That’s the kind of impact The Girl On The Train creates on its viewers.

That may just be the most polite thought I can articulate about the supposed work of art that qualifies as the latest OTT release from Bombay cinema on Netflix India’s (and world over?) catalogue. In reality, I am still grappling with what I have encountered in the name of a film. It took me two whole viewings, a day and a half of background reading just to understand the fuck happened in the name of establishing the premise. Not to forget, the constant badgering from my mother when we streamed this at home, “I don’t understand, why is she obsessed with this random woman?” I kinda have to agree with that observation, how does someone know that a random woman is leading a happy life on the basis of their 29 seconds of daily one-sided interaction carried out in a train journey crossing their supposed house.

This “she” in the aforementioned observation is a lawyer, who had it all; a perfect life consisting of her practice, a man who’s devoted to her and impregnates her (her lifelong dream to sire children) only to suggest she should quit her practice and safeguard her life against threatening messages that she has been receiving due to the nature of her job. Of course, she says no to that unsolicited suggestion and the worst happens in the first 20 minutes itself. She loses that job and gets obsessed with a total stranger who she observes daily during her train rides (going from where to where and for what joy is not mentioned, unless you decide to undertake a 2-day crash course into the Paula Hawkins’ universe of The Girl On The Train). I would understand if the filmmaker is intending on not revealing that “why” cause the film is supposedly a thriller. However, every damn thing, every action, every statement is being uttered in this film. Then, why not the most obvious one?

Ideally with that title, the film should just be about “The Girl On The Train”, but in the book the narrative includes the stories of three different women whose paths intersect and how they manipulate narratives to shift the perspective of the audience consuming this story. None of this actually, really happens in this Indian adaptation. What ends up happening instead is a significant amount of nonsense in the form of shaky camera work and filters, for an instance, to show how one is reeling from alcoholism. That’s actually the most remarkable footage from the film, also so terribly executed that you’ll have that living in your mind rent-free for days.

As a product of a film school, I used to think I’m past my days of watching and engaging with mumblecore productions. What are mumblecore films you ask? Loosely speaking, films that are wordy (“Shekhar, main lawyer hoon…” yawn), executed with poor acting (when your brief to your actor is to portray a drunk Dev played by Abhay Deol from Dev D), with no focus on details (make-up that makes an alcoholic look more like a cute panda than a woman in agony), all accompanied by god-awful direction for a screenplay that was perhaps passed without any reading or supervision. I digressed there, but you get the point.

The Girl On The Train was a shooting reminder to my senses that I am still paying my dues in the form of watching those versions of badly made film school diplomas. Only this time, it’s not a group of us watching such a project made by one of us at an alumni party when I’m 3 drinks down and having a gala time. I repeat, don’t watch this if you’re looking to have a good time. Download Tinder, instead.

Based on the book with the same title, the film is supposedly a thriller but if I’m allowed to make a point, let’s invent a genre and call it “confused” cause that’s what this film really is. The original book takes into account the narrative by three different women and an unstable plotline which leads to the final climax and the whole shebang falling in place. In the case of this film, you’ll have to read multiple reviews with the synopsis and go back and forth between this film to make head or tail of what is actually happening. No, for real, this is that complex and deliberately convoluted.

In the Indian adaptation, the screenplay makes a change in the form of withdrawing the impact of an existing character from this universe and instead introducing a new major character and her plotline— a female cop who chews gum in a strange manner, with a vengeance. Never mind, the cop’s dad was convicted by the lawyer in the film in the first ten minutes and that she herself goes against the law of the land she’s employed to protect as a part of her day job. How exactly does she deceive the National Crime Agency, not once but multiple times over can be made into a separate sequel. Not to forget, the list of things that take place in the first ten minutes— we witness a meet-cute in the midst of a London Thumakda sangeet-ish performance, a whole love story blossom, a poorly executed proposal, a marriage and its shortly lived happily ever after followed by a car sequence chasing our leading lady, aka Main Alcoholic Hoon. The last time someone put together this amount of information overload in a film in the first few minutes was Manmohan Desai in Amar Akbar Anthony (1977).

The adaptation is lazily put together, no grudge other than that. Take this, The Girl On The Train has all possible clichés— a pre-wedding song-dance routine leading straight to forewarn the audience that the female lead Mira Kapoor (not Shahid’s wife, no) played by Parineeti Chopra is in danger, as a car follows her. Further down in the film, you’re expected to cope with the Indian diaspora in London communicating in Hindustani and making dramatic af statements, case in point, “Meri uss ek galti se, meri poori zindagi badal gayi”. There is a healthy dosage of gaslighting, deception, cheating, manipulation (of people and CCTV footage) among other completely believable scheming tactics. There needs to be a font for sarcasm cause otherwise my intention would be lost in translation. A reminder again at this point that this is an attempt in thriller for an international OTT platform. God save the Queen. And Bollywood too.

At some level, you have to excuse the star cast for this mess and blame it on the writer-director for ensuring everything was this terribly guided. The edit on the scene where the train crosses Nusrat’s (Aditi Rao Hydari as the stranger) house while Mira watches her canoodle a random man lasts for 55.05 seconds in this film. Now, my mathematics is poor and thus I won’t be able to calculate how long it takes for one train to cross a random house in Britain. Even the slowest possible train ride won’t take 55.05 seconds to cross a damn estate, let alone a house. I get it, it’s not them, it’s the original book but come on man, tighten that screenplay.  

Repeat after me, not every book deserves a multi-language adaptation, and not every literary success will make for a half-decent screenplay. Instead of tormenting your audience into watching absolute nonsense in the name of a thriller adapted from a book, please find your way back to the film-school or where ever else you need to, in order to understand how can you adapt a story into a screenplay. Watch this only if you’re missing your annual London Summer trip, cause literally the one thing this film does right is to take us on a tour of the glitz and glam of Central London in the name of a gripping thriller. Indians can replace the memory of Aayush Sharma dancing to Chogada Tara in London with Parineeti Chopra and her hip flask.

Like this post?

Show your love for Anisha Saigal’s work.
Your support matters!

Anisha Saigal

7 Supporters
Pop-culture omnivore. Survived publishing, academia, film school. Struggling with the pandemic.