This is a thoroughly enjoyable crime caper set in Atlanta and Las Vegas. It is also a deeply affecting work. What is most refreshing about the film is the absence of the idyllic U.S. Indian family and setting. Contrarily, it is about how hard life is in that country and how much people have to slog their asses off to get such an average quality of life in return. Engineers, doctors and IT programmers be damned. The immigrants in this movie are far removed from the American dream, as interpreted by the expensively mounted Hindi film cliches we are accustomed to.
Simran is about a Gujarati family that finds it difficult to make ends meet. The father owns a store and clearly hasn’t been able to save any money all these years, and the daughter, who works in the hospitality industry at a hotel, would have been stretched if she didn’t have his roof over her head. The father (Hiten Kumar) has let the struggle for a decent living destroy his equilibrium, and since he can’t fight with his agreeable wife, he goes after his daughter, Praful (Kangana Ranaut). He mocks her over her failed marriage, her single status at the age of 30, and her refusal to meet eligible Gujarati men. He is contemptuous of what he considers her absurd proposal to buy a home for herself. Every argument revolves around money. He says that the least she can do is to pay the electricity bill for the home she lives in. When she doesn’t, he asks his wife to take the money from Praful’s handbag. This sets off a chain of events in the film that drives a narrative of how a woman who has worked for seven years in the housekeeping department of a hotel, without a single complaint made against her, loses her mojo.
Till that point, the most unconventional she has been is to go to a casino on a visit to Vegas and play baccarat, a game that gives a player the illusion that she is using her mind, but is actually just a lottery. She wins some and then loses plenty. Shortly after, like the real life Indian American nurse, Sandeep Kaur, aka, ‘Bombshell Bandit’, she starts stealing to pay her debts and becomes infamous as Simran, the Lipstick Bandit.
Director Hansal Mehta looks at culture in conflict with lifestyle choices in a very objective and creative way in Simran. Money is an obsession, an addiction, not just for Praful, but for many characters in the film, and completely takes over their lives and personalities; for the gamblers in Vegas, for the criminals who loan her money, for her cheating boss at the hotel, and even for her father, who can think of nothing else. On the rare occasion that Praful meets a person who thinks nothing of money, she is floored. Outside the casino is a man who sells trinkets, and when she says that she has no money to buy any, he gives her a few pieces as a gift. So touched is she by this gesture, that as soon as she wins a few thousand in her first few games, she goes out and hands the man 100 dollars.
The transactional nature of relationships in an excessively consumerist society is bluntly described in a scene when she falls into bed with a hunk she meets at a casino. Apparently, he is carrying no ‘protection’. She pushes him off, zips up her dress, takes a sip of champagne and says: ’no protection, no sex’. Later, when she agrees to her parents’s arranged meeting with an Indian, recently arrived in the U.S. (Sohum Shah), she is flabbergasted by his inability to see a deal when it is in front of him, and, still later, is infuriated by his altruism when he recognises her problem and transfers money to her account. In tears, she tells him he deserves someone better, and wishes a happy life for him. It is the saddest scene in the film.
Mehta looks at an immigrant community desperately trying to preserve the facade of its cultural tradition, while in a vertical and horizontal conflict with the great non resident dream. Quite plausibly, this could lead to a person becoming unhinged. Kangana Ranaut plays this disintegrating individual with rare skill in Simran. So engrossed is she in the role, that the persona she adopts stops looking like fiction. The actress, the writer and the director of this film have given us a film that entertains, lingers in our minds and resonates with our own experiences.