One of those movies that won’t be able to live down its title, Mohit Suri’s Hamari Adhuri Kahani is the saga of Vasudha (Vidya Balan), whose sorry life revolves around a husband who abandoned her when their son was one and the floral arrangements in the hotel where she works. A fairy-tale ending for her pastel-shaded misery suggests itself when Aarav (Emraan Hashmi), the hotel owner, falls for her at first sight and offers her love, better prospects, and liberation from her marriage.

Vasudha is a reluctant princess, initially shrinking in horror from Aarav’s proposal in the middle of a desert where a computer-generated storm lingers at a respectable distance. In a movie that has more symbols than you'd find in a textbook on semiotics, none is abused as much as Vasudha’s mangal sutra, which she tugs at periodically to remind herself of her marital status and audiences of her deep sense of honour and modesty.

Vasudha gives in to Aarav’s entreaties just in time for the story’s ogre, her possessive husband Hari (Rajkummar Rao), to turn up and demand that she wallow in his muck, which lies somewhere in Bastar in the middle of a Naxalite camp where he had been held hostage for the past five years. Readers of All That Could Have Been, the novel that the movie’s writer, Mahesh Bhatt published a few months ago, will already have dodged the minefields that lie in the path of the narrative’s characters and worked out the tenuous connections between an adulterous affair and Naxalism.

A non-starter in every which way

From Mumbai to Dubai, where Aarav briefly takes Vasudha for work and love, to Kolkata, where Aarav’s mother (Amala) worked as a nightclub dancer to pay the bills, to Bastar, this is a movie that exhausts its travel budget in the hope that profundity will be a travelling companion. The convoluted plot and risible dialogue (by Shagufta Rafique) make the movie’s claims to be a searing and honest examination of doomed passion as amusing as Aarav’s business manager character, whose sole purpose is to remind his boss that he is getting late for a flight.

The absence of a beating heart in either the dead-eyed Hashmi or the permanently worried-looking Balan also puts paid to director Suri’s ambition to create a love story that will echo through the ages. Rao show flashes of the fire in the belly, but his is the least consequential role.

Suri’s ability to pass off superficial observations on life and its attendant miseries has paid off in the past in Aashiqui 2 and Ek Villain, but the emotional landscape of Hamari Adhuri Kahani’ completely defeats him. The director works hard on squeezing out pathos by regularly turning on the glycerine tears and flooding nearly every scene with overwhelming background music. The music stops only when the plangent songs, sung invariably in quivering voices to suggest intense emotion, take over. Suri plays his final card in the pre-climax, when Vasudha gives a feminist speech that beats back the violent Hari. Given how passive and reactive her character is, and how she follows Aarav’s lead in every respect, that declaration rings about as true as her non-starter of a romance with her hotelier boyfriend.