In a village in Rajasthan, two dusty sisters claw, scratch, grab and pull at each other. Badki and Chutki’s eyes smoulder and the fight becomes a local reality show. Their hapless father—a miner—rushes to pull them apart. Gleefully riling up the crowd is Dipper, the local misfit who is in equal parts troublemaker and trouble-shooter.

The sisters, like India and Pakistan, co-exist in disharmony. They need each other—to fight, to curse and to blame for all their troubles, yet their lives are intricately attached to each other.

Bapu (Vijay Raaz) is the unfortunate single parent of Champa ‘Badki’ (Radhika Madan) and Genda ‘Chutki’ (Sanya Malhotra), the siblings on a perennial warpath. On the rare occasions when they are not squabbling or physically assaulting one another, a neighbourhood master of all trades, Dipper (Sunil Grover), is ready at hand to stoke an issue that will ignite their tempers once more.

When the sisters fall in love with two kindly and supportive young men (Namit Das and Abhishek Duhan), almost simultaneously, their paths seem set to be free of conflict —and each other. But as fate would have it, Badki and Chutki fall for two brothers living in the same ancestral house, thus setting the stage for a continuation of the conflict and screeching brakes on their humble dreams. Badki wants to own her own dairy and Chutki wishes to complete her education and become a schoolteacher.

In another track, in order to save his beleaguered mine, Bapu tries to broker an arrangement via Patel, a sleazy middleman with deep pockets and a dubious reputation.

Adapted from Charan Singh Pathik’s short story ‘Do Behnein’ (Two Sisters), writer-director Bhardwaj’s Pataakha gets real and gritty. The filmmaker creates an altogether authentic world, with the local dialect sometimes becoming hard to follow.

The actors—about eight with meaningful parts—sink their teeth into their roles, with the two ladies ahead of the pack. With barely a film or two under their belts, Malhotra and Madan throw themselves into their characters, body and soul, sharing an onscreen chemistry that’s the heart of the film. Only at rare moments—through a few over-the-top moments—does their inexperience show, and Madan’s speech is occasionally hard to comprehend.

Raaz evokes pathos as the father trying to mediate between unreasonable foes and negotiate some sort of uneasy peace accord. Grover seems right for the role of a vagabond troublemaker, a character clearly out of Bhardwaj’s imagination.

As one expects from a Bhardwaj film, there is irony and comment at several levels. That the feisty girls are named after delicate flowers is no coincidence, or that there are references to cross-border conflicts played out through sisters who cannot live with each other, or without.

Some short stories are brief for a reason, and Pataakha squanders its material advantage to pad out a fable that splutters and grunts before it gains momentum. There is so much idleness in the early chapters that even the background music hurts.

Added to this, the cursory addition of wit and absurdity—which Bhardwaj so expertly sewed into, for example, ‘Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola’—makes Pataakha more of a sparkler rather than a bomb.

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