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'The Girl on the Train' review: I forgot to remember to forget

A busy surface can't hide the deep flaws in this thriller starring Parineeti Chopra, adapted from Paula Hawkins' 2015 bestseller

Parineeti Chopra in 'The Girl on the Train'
Parineeti Chopra in 'The Girl on the Train'

There’s been a fair bit of exaggerated drunk acting in Hindi cinema down the years, but Parineeti Chopra in The Girl on the Train is on another level. The staggering and the slurred speech and the shaky hands filling a hip flask are straight out of drama school, but filming yourself pantomiming a violent murder in a bathroom? That’s art.

Mira has good reason to be hitting the bottle. After losing her unborn child to a miscarriage after a car accident, her marriage to Shekhar (Avinash Tiwary) falls apart. The trauma results in anterograde amnesia—the same thing Aamir Khan had in Ghajini, with similarly chaotic results. She starts to drink heavily, often blacking out and becoming violent. Shekhar divorces her and remarries. She quits her job as a lawyer and takes to travelling every day by train past her old neighbourhood.

It’s out of the window of this train that she notices and starts fixating on a woman. Her name is Nusrat. She’s a dancer with a seemingly idyllic life—though we know it’s not idyllic because we see her being chased in a forest in the opening sequence, and because she’s played by Aditi Rao Hydari, whose fate it is never to be happy in a film. When Nusrat turns up dead and Mira is placed at the scene of the crime, she finds herself the prime suspect in an investigation led by Kirti Kulhari’s Inspector Kaur.

Ribhu Dasgupta showed an affinity for the lying flashback in his last film, the 2016 thriller Te3n. The Girl on the Train—adapted from Paula Hawkins’ 2015 bestseller, also the source for the 2016 Emily Blunt film—is littered with such deliberately misleading moments, though you could put these down to Mira’s condition and drunken blackouts. It’s hard to look past the contrivances of Dasgupta’s screenplay. At one point, Mira approaches a stranger in a field for information; when she realises he lied to her and goes back to confront him, he’s standing in the same field with the same horse, like some sort of plot-point scarecrow. Over a dozen characters are introduced, none of them memorable, and there’s a hint of desperation in the way the film works to link them all to each other.

The biggest problem, though, might be the film’s setting: London. A lot of the dialogue is in English—and it’s excruciating. “Facebook aur ex-wives do not make good friends,” Mira’s friend tells her, before encouraging the amnesiac with a drinking problem to do shots. Later, the same friend says, “Divorce is a sign of a strong woman. It’s proof that you don’t take shit from anyone.” Adulterous lovers can come up with nothing sexier than “Your hugs and kisses, they’ve set me free.” “Main usse kabhi nahi bata payi, who main nahi thi, woh mera wound tha”—Mira says, the English word in the sentence throbbing like, well, a wound.

The final twist is, admittedly, tough to predict. Yet, this is only because it’s predicated on information slipped in at the last moment, and because the burden of making sense has long since lifted. Out of respect for Arthur Conan Doyle, let’s call the ending improbable, and the film impossible.

'The Girl on the Train' is streaming on Netflix.

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