Friday, 7 December 2007

Dillagi (1999)

A high voltage love triangle graces the screen in Sunny Deol’s directorial debut Dillagi, a traditional tale of two brothers in love with one girl.

Hindi cinema has witnessed umpteen love triangle sagas be it the celluloid classic Sangam or the musical Saajan, from bubblegum flick Kuch Kuch Hota Hai to the epic Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. So, one may ask what makes such a tried and tested formula an enjoyable experience in the form of Dillagi? Quite simply, the treatment of a hackneyed plotline and the flawless performances makes Dillagi one of the best films to come from the Deol dynasty, thus transcending to a highly exhilarating cinematic experience.

Ranvir (Sunny Deol) and Rajvir (Bobby Deol) are two brothers who are poles apart. Whilst Ranvir is the sagacious elder who runs the family empire, Rajvir aka Rocky enjoys his playboy lifestyle whilst indulging in girls, alcohol and parties much to the worry of his father (Dara Singh) and grandmother (Zohra Segal.)

Enter Shalini (Urmilia Matondkar) a naïve and simple girl of a middle class family whose parents (Reema Lagoo, Khulbhushan Kharbanda) only wish is to see her complete her studies and marry. However, Shalini becomes prey to Rajiv’s charming ways and it is not long before the two strike off a friendship much to the dismay of Shalini’s friends who warn her of Rajiv’s whorehound antics.

Love is blind and Shalini’s eyes become equally clouded with dreams of marrying Rajvir much to the upset of her parents who wish for her to meet Ranvir as a prospective husband. Ranvir…who has loved Shalini by treasuring those moments in which he has seen her by glance yet never had the courage to express his love, arrives at Shalini’s doorstep with his heart already in Shalini’s hands.

A cruel twist of fate leaves all three characters wounded by Cupid’s arrow. Whilst Shalini rejects Ranvir only to realize Rajvir never loved her, Ranvir wallows in his sorrows of dejection and Rajvir comes to realize that perhaps his perception of frivolity accounts for much more when it comes to love.

Dillagi’s mainstay is based upon the fact that Sunny Deol has taken out the melodrama associated with most routine love triangles and presented a story which is seeped in reality and at times is highly relatable. The college ambience and the depiction of Gen x is a highlight of the film and depicts the double life that many youngsters lead in and out of the family home.

An interesting idea that the film presents is how young girls can easily be mislead in the world of starry love like dreams. The revelation comes in the form that the traitor of Shalini’s love is not a villain, but a believable character that is perhaps representative of a large population of the youth who are laidback in their approach to relationships. This message in itself makes Dillagi compulsory viewing and whilst not once does the film preach, it does make the viewer think about the gullible facet of human nature in todays fast moving, no nonsense world.

As a director, Sunny Deol should be commended for a number of sequences which he has treated with extreme precision. Take for example the scene where Shalini is humiliated by Rajvir at college, the flow of conversation between the two seems straight out of life and the following portions of Shalini rebuilding her confidence with her parents all strike a chord with the viewer’s heart.

Furthermore, both Deol brothers share a sparkling chemistry onscreen making for endearing viewing whilst the crux of the film succeeds in creating a high flow of emotional quotient, a prerequisite for any good love triangle.

Sunny Deol as the humble and mellow brother is a revelation. It is a refreshing change to see Sunny play a more subdued character rather than the roaring beasts of men he has become associated with. He captures all the right nuances and delivers an extremely likeable performance, much like the role he went on to play later on in “Apne”. An interesting point to note is that whenever Sunny takes on a role opposite Bobby Deol, he seemingly inhibits the more soft-spoken role, an indication perhaps of his real life character traits.

Bobby Deol as the stylish college rouge manages to generate both awe and angst from the audience with his performance, matching Sunny Deol step for step. He proves that he is confident not only with lighter moments but can easily tackle the zealous strands of cinema. Also, in the moments that offer him opportunities of outburst he gives a convincing delivery and manages to span a wide range with the character of Rajvir.

At the time of the films release, Urmilia Matondkar was riding high on the success of Satya and Kaun but also simultaneously facing the backfire of duds such as Janam Samjha Karo and Hum Tum Pe Marte Hain so Dillagi offered her the chance to revert back to essaying the role of the quintessential heroine. However, the role of Shalini is more the guileless college girl rather than glamorous goddess and Matondkar fits into the character effortlessly. Like Bobby Deol, her character too undergoes a variation of emotion from innocuous to downhearted to exasperated giving Matondkar a platform to excel. As well as looking alluring, she manages to bracket her performance in the same league as that of Kajol and Madhuri who have both played the college girl with élan in their respective careers. It wouldn’t be wrong to state that Dillagi is perhaps one of the finest performances to come from Urmilia with regards to her commercial films.

Zohra Segal as the grandmother is one of the sweetest elements of the film, portraying a role that will evoke smiles and laughs every time. Ditto for Reema Lagoo who as always is reliable as the concerned mother.

Dillagi offers a stellar soundtrack which provides excellence throughout. “Sangeet” – a peppy, traditional number which has become immensely popular for many wedding functions and “Dhoom Dhoom Luck Luck” provide the heavy Punjabi theme throughout the film. However, that is not to say the album is all beats and no melody as the soul stirring “Kya Yeh Sach Hai” makes for essential listening for fans of romantic ballads and the energetic title track “Dillagi” which is interspersed throughout the film, is worth a listen purely for its use of ten singers in one track.

A special mention must be given for the bouncy picturisation of “Sangeet” which magnificently captures the mayhem, glee and glory of a sangeet function and appears charmingly rustic as a result.

Initially, Sunny Deol had teamed up with famous Brit director Gurinder Chadha for a project called “London” which after the two parted ways became “Dillagi.” This may be the reason that at times; the film cinematographically takes liberties when referring to the décor of Shalini’s home which appears to resemble London interiors and exteriors within India!

Although Dillagi struggled to find success at the time of its release, it is one of the most highly underrated films belonging to its ilk of traditional love triangles. Sunny Deol in the director’s seat managed to create an engrossing tale sans bathos resulting in a clever conceptualization of modernity meeting love.

Cardinal family viewing, Dillagi mixes familiarity with a splashing of vanguard and as the tagline suggests…The Fun Never Ends.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Sajna Ve Sajna (2007)

Director Hartinder Dhami makes his directorial debut in Punjabi family drama Sajna Ve Sajna, a film that launches renowned musician Bally Sagoo upon celluloid.

Punjabi cinema has seldom been innovative and so if you are walking into the cinema halls of Sajna Ve Sajna expecting path breaking cognitions, you will highly bemused. Instead, Sajna Ve Sajna stays in the zone of wholesome family entertainment and in doing so appears as a crumb of comfort for those willing to indulge.

The story unfolds in Pakistan where the marriage of Manjeet (Preeti Jhangiani) a humble girl working in Nankana Sahib Gurdwara is broken off due to her future in-laws stating she is too educated for their son. Much to the dismay of Manjeet’s adopted family which consists of Fatima Begum (Madhumathi) and her brother Jibran (Asif Shaikh) who desperately want to see Manjeet wed, whilst Manjeet believes that God has written her destiny with another and thus accepts circumstances as they unravel.
Cut to England where Bali (Bally Sagoo) spends his time composing music with his struggling band Desi Fever which consists of his English girlfriend Charlene (Zoe Szypillo) whilst relishing the wealth of his wealthy grandfather Kartar Singh (Dalip Tahil) who has become accustomed to his grandsons spoilt ways.

In a twist of events, Bali becomes hospitalized after a car accident and is reduced to a coma, much to the distress of his family, so much so that Kartar Singh pays a visit to Nankana Sahib to seek blessings for his family. It is here in Pakistan he comes to meet Manjeet and aware of the fact that she wishes to continue her work in temples across England, takes her back with him and honors her a place in his family home.

As Balis health begins to blossom, so does a friendship between him and Manjeet and it is not long before Manjeet and Bali’s family begin to dream of marriage plans between the couple. However, Bali is in love with Charlene, a girl he knows his family will never accept yet a truth he can not hide from. Upon her dreams shattering, Manjeet vows to unite Bali and Charlene before returning to Pakistan forming a routine crux of love, sacrifice and honor.

Sajna Ve Sajna is saccharine cinema in its full glory which you will either love or hate. The director relies upon cliché upon cliché to present what could have been a novel concept of clash of cultures in a mundane fashion. In fact, the film deals a striking resemblance to the earlier released Namastey London only presenting its screenplay in a more simplistic manner.
Family audiences and those who are still in favor of vintage cinema will certainly shower laudation upon Hartinder Dhami for his reaffirmation of traditional family values as the film stays faithful to the idea of arranged marriages and abiding youngsters, perhaps a concept hard to digest for the modern sector of today’s times.

The biggest downside of Sajna Ve Sajna comes in the form of one of the key elements of a satisfying film, performances.

Bally Sagoo in his acting debut seriously needs to re-evaluate his decision to grace the silver screen for he lacks the ability to even deliver his dialogues in a convincing manner, yet alone emote. He appears nervous, bored and extremely uncomfortable throughout the entire film making one of the poorest male leads to be seen in a while. The fact that whenever he spoke evoked unintentional laughter from the audience means it is suffice to say that Sagoo delivered a performance which can be deemed to be as blank as bricks.

On the other end of the spectrum, Preeti Jhangiani is the saving grace of the film. An actress who has not found much success in the world of Hindi cinema, in Sajna Ve Sajna she makes one sit up and take note of her ability and carries the film on her shoulders entirely. It was a refreshing change to see Preeti in a wholesome role and one hopes that her venture into Punjabi cinema will not be short-lived.

Zoe Szypillo is painful to watch. She looks attractive but again delivers a torturous performance, topped with extremely corny dialogues. Her facial expressions are extremely loud making her appear more like a clown as she pouts and beams coyly throughout the film.
Dalip Tahil is excellent as the traditional grandfather and ditto for Madhumati, both play characters that surely a lot of people will identify with.

The biggest assets of Sajna Ve Sajna come in two forms…the pictorial visuals of Scotland which have been captured in uttermost glory and the soul stirring music. “Pyar Pehli Vari” resonates throughout the film and is melodic the ears whilst “Yaar Di Zulf Udoondi” boasts of fabulous picturisation and equally enticing lyrics.

Hartinder Dhami shows promise as a director with Sajna Ve Sajna, not once allowing the pace to slacken or deviating from the original plot. The only problem is that it is a case of old wine in an even older bottle making for cliché upon cliché, offering a story as foreseeable as ABC.

Contrary to impression, I unashamedly enjoyed Sajna Ve Sajna for its predictability and at times corny concoction of a tale. If you can get past the bad acting from the male lead and the sporadic cringe factor, then Sajna Ve Sajna merits at least one watch on a rainy afternoon.

Aaja Nachle (2007)

Madhuri Dixit. A name that needs no introduction. Its mere existence speaks volumes of its stature. A name that carries a sense of dignity, grace and a promise of performances of the grandest caliber.

So with the queen bee of Hindi cinema returning to the silver screen in Anil Mehta’s Aaja Nachle, expectations are only titanic and with a title that promises profound promenade, an awe-inspiring Dixit asset, audiences can only expect a delicacy of eminence.

The story starts with Dia (Madhuri Dixit) gyrating to the techno beats of a hip track in her New York Studio where she shows her students just how it’s done, setting the standards high for a visual spectacle of dance and merriment.

It is amidst these vigorous diapasons that Dia receives news from India of her guru ji’s ailing health and makes the decision to return to pay her obeisance before his last breath, setting foot in the town of Shamli where its inhabitants hold only contempt for Dia and her traitorous past.

Just like a vinyl track delays it’s embarkation of glory, Dia too arrives in Shamli only after her guru has departed from the world, leaving her with the challenge to bring the art back into people’s hearts and resurrect a now desolate and dilapidated Ajanta Thearte – the temple of Dia’s childhood learning’s.

With only two months to succeed in staging a mammoth stage play of which its players must only be those of Shamli, Dia has to ensure she is first past the finishing post. Faced with a number of abecedarian townsfolk as her students, the rest of the story sees how Dia manages to replace angst with ire to once again ignite the spirit of art in Ajanta.

Aaja Nachle is very much like an unreliable car…it starts off smoothly carrying its passengers on a high voltage journey but then midway breaks down leaving them stranded on a road of sluggishness pace, only then to restart in it’s belated finale.

Anil Mehta must be applauded for taking on a woman centric film which is sans melodrama and tears which only goes to prove that not all woman orientated subjects have to be about the oppressed female making Aaja Nachle a refreshing change. However, the problem is that the story is wafer thin and lackluster and has been unnecessarily stretched out to offer very little to it’s viewers in terms of content.

Granted that the approach of the film is to appear rooted in a degree of realism hence the tale takes a simple route but it seems the director compromised his original sentiments at regular intervals in the film. Take for instance, the title track Aaja Nachle where the screen explodes with a dozen backing dancers and a flamboyant set design…pleasing to the eye but a thistle in the flowerbed considering the character of Dia is struggling to find people to join her troupe yet so effortlessly manages to indulge in this grand number.

Furthermore, the proceedings begin to appear extremely calculable midway…the usual suspects of stern businessmen, corrupt politicians and hot headed hooligans all serving as Dia’s oppositions are easily won over by a mere exchange of punchy one liners or fiery jabber leaving the story in one dimensional mode. The film could have been a vision of brilliance had we been able to witness just how a female goes about to subjugate unbending chauvinists instead of settling for the pablum manner that unfolds before ones eyes.

The summation presents itself in full allurement where the audience is greeted with a spectacle of a stage show, complete with all the frills and twirls of glittering sets and rococo dance sequences…all too hard to digest and all too commodious for a tidy ending which packs in a great polish but not enough passion to convince of this facile omega.

As this is a Madhuri film, the viewers are gifted with her presence in almost every frame and that’s what makes Aaja Nachle worth a watch, purely to see the veteran work her magic yet again. There is little to be said about Madhuri’s capabilities as she always delivers and manages to encapsulate her audience with her charm and in Aaja Nachle she is just as dependable, looking extremely radiant throughout. Yet, the sad part is that she is let down by a poor story that doesn’t offer her the potential to reach dazzlingly heights in terms of performance. I for one would like to see her take on the role of a classic in perhaps a remake of Mother India or Pakeezah, a performance that would merit her talent.

The rest of the cast have little to do apart from evoke a few laughs. Kunal Kapoor is extremely likeable as the hot blooded male and how one hopes more is seen of him in fuller fledged roles. Konkona Sen is adequate although she doesn’t leave as much impact as one would have hoped. Akshay Khanna as always is flawless.

Musically, Aaja Nachle presents its best in the form of its title track which is sure to go down as another of Madhuri’s great dance fetes. The rest of the tracks bearing “Show me Your Jalwa” are mediocre, a sore disappointment in what was supposed to be a dance centric film.

Vaibhavi Merchant has been given the chorographical reins this time around but seems to have been quite bromidic with her moves. Although Madhuri shines with whatever material she is given, the numbers are certainly not outstanding when compared to her work in Devdas, Lajja, Beta and Khalnayak which leaves one thinking that perhaps Saroj Khan would have been a better choice.

Even in its conclusion one wonders what the purpose of the film was…there is never any mention of what went on to happen of Ajanta Thearte as the character of Dia returns to New York. As a result the viewer is left disorientated with the fact that perhaps the whole premise of the film was to act as a stage for Madhuri’s dance abilities and nothing else, which leaves the film mocking its own sensibility of nurturing ones heritage.

In the films climax, Madhuri delivers an apt line – “I came to India to fulfill my responsibilities and now I am done, I am going back” – but her loyal fans will surely agree that Madhuri has to grace the motherland yet again with her gift from the God’s. Madhuri has a lot more to offer than just Aaja Nachle, a promise of a spectacle that appears to have arrived not with a bang but more of a whimper.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Waris Shah - Ishq Da Waaris (2006)

A spiritualistic story of a Sufi saint who finds inspiration in love, eclipsing into epic of Heer. Waris Shah delves sonorously into devotion in an exuberant manner, presenting a high voltage period drama.

Punjabi cinema has often been deemed as vulgar and clichéd, warranting only a layman status for its films which were accompanied by unendurable performances and tasteless storylines. However, post millennium; Punjabi films have undergone as stark a revamp as a Laurence Llewelyn Bowen boudoir, replacing the hoary with the contemporary. So when National Award winners Sai Productions announced their latest venture, Waris Shah, the first big budget period drama to originate from Punjabi cinema, expectations were mammoth.

Set in the Mughal era, the story unfolds with the emperor Aurangzeb lamenting a ban on music which he believes distracts one from God, a prohibition which hallowed saint Makhdoom chooses to ignore thus being sentenced to death. Before his early demise, he instructs his disciple Waris Shah (Gurdas Maan) to travel to Malka, a village where the ban has not yet been placed and an arena which he believes will inspire Waris to write his poetic tale, Heer.

Waris soon finds his muse in the form of Bhagpari (Juhi Chawla) and the two form a sinless love which serves as the backdrop for Waris Shah’s writings. As pigeon messengers, poetry and melodic tunes of flutes all come together to decorate the lovers rendezvous, a jealous and lustful Saabo (Divya Dutta) vies for a piece of Waris’ heart, only to be rejected by his upholding morals.

As the woman scorned Saabo vows revenge and instigates suspicions amongst the villagers that Waris and Bhagpari share an illicit relationship and upon Bhagpari’s espousal to another, seeks yet again to find acceptance from her infatuation. With love turned into the bitterness of lime, the three are left caught in a web of murder, misery and mediation.

Waris Shah should be applauded for bringing about one of the most positive changes in Punjabi cinema; it goes against the grain of every cliché and brings about an innovative and high quality experience which not only looks sleek but also carries a soul. Thankfully, the audience is saved from nonsensical subplots, forced comedy and commercial gimmicks but instead director Manoj Punj stays faithful to his story and delivers the finest of his career.

Performances are of a dizzyingly high caliber with Maan taking the forefront for his sincere portrayal of the famous poet Waris Shah. Maan brings about believability in a figure that is otherwise quite enigmatical to history and breathes every breath of Waris Shah as though it was his own. Unfeasible to imagine any other in his role, it is his ability to project the nuances of the character in a subdued manner, sans melodrama which works. As Maan is already an accomplished singer, it comes naturally to him to project the singing lyrics of Waris Shah’s poetic brilliance and together with his meticulous image of smoky eyes and sonnet tresses; Waris Shah is reborn on screen.

Juhi Chawla, after a career that spans twenty years, still holds the screen presence and grace of a leading lady and her performance demands an extreme likeability. Be it her allusive eyes or infectious smile, Chawla bestows the character of Bhagpari with all of the knowledge of a seasoned veteran.

Divya Dutta in a role that merges into the grey spectrum is a revelation. She manages to create a fine line between the fiery Saabo and the susceptible woman and thus walks away with the meatier female character.

A film with a legendary singer as its lead promises timeless music and together with Jaidev Kumar, Maan creates a spellbinding composition. The film is ornamented with emblematic verses of Waris Shah’s Heer verses throughout, also serving as much of the dialogue which is a treat for those in want of rich palaver. “Ve Kabootra” proves to be one of the most soulful gems of the noughties whilst “Kas Shama Aaj Tere Li” oozes with the haunting vocals of Kavita Krishnamurty. The songs serve to only move the story ahead and with a film that is central to the arts, the music comes as a welcomed gift.

The painstaking attempt to recreate the 18th century era is prominent in each and every frame and cinematographer R A Krishna has left no stone unturned to transport the audience into a medieval world.

Credit must be given to Manjeet Maan for the costumes of the film which were meticulously researched in various museums to depict the timescale aptly. The colors of the film work in such a way that they entice the viewer into a world of finery and murshidabadi silks which is beautifully backed by an irreproachable script.

There have been countless love stories which have graced the silver screen, greeting the audience with melodrama and cringe worthy dialogues. Yet Waris Shah goes beyond its indulgently seeped chimerical tale and ignites itself with a finer flame of spiritualism and mankind’s devotion to his ardor. This is what makes Waris Shah anything but a mundane love epic.

Waris Shah is an exemplary film not only for Punjabi cinema but for cinema across the world. Not once does it compromise itself but delivers a captivating and endearing story in an immortal mien. Late Manoj Punj never lived on to see the critical acclaim the film received when it garnered a National award but he shall surely be remembered for his pinnacle that is Waris Shah.

A masterpiece of understatement, brimming with emotion and spirit that can only be classified as poetry in motion.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Saawariya (2007)

If ever there were to be a cinematic ode to poetry and the fine lines of a painter’s canvas, then Saawariya is surely the epitome of timeless beauty that exudes from the artists mind. Set over four nights, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s romantic escapade tells the tale of two individuals, intoxicated with amour and faerie-like dreams.

Returning after the critically acclaimed Black and the magnum opus Devdas, in what was touted as one of 2007’s most anticipated films, Bhansali launches Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor, both children of major Hindi film actors. Although, the film has not lived up to the hype and has been heavily critiqued for its dissident style, Saawariya comes as a breath of fresh air when categorized with the usual melodramatic love stories that many fresh faces are launched with.

An unknown kingdom where winding alleyways and tropical waters merge together to create a surrealistic marriage of reality and fantasy brings Raj Ranbir (Ranbir Kapoor) a wandering musician to it’s doorstep. With only the musical notes of his fingertips as his pennies, he manages to find shelter with an unorthodox elderly lady Lillian (Zohra Segal) who finds solace in his enthralling kinesics. Simultaneously, he befriends Gulabjee (Rani Mukherji) a brazen prostitute who sees Ranbir as man who is able to touch her soul rather than her body.

Whilst strumming the strings of his musical aptitude, Ranbir encounters a weeping figure, clad in a black shawl upon a bridge, reluctant to reveal even her name, let alone her face. However, just like the magic he weaves with his guitar, Ranbir strikes a chord with the mystical figure, Sakina (Sonam Kapoor) and over a course of four nights he becomes besotted with her.

Mysteries are not necessarily miracles, and Ranbir soon learns this when Sakina reveals her past, leaving the two on a path which is strewn with more thorns than rose petals…

Bhansali, the maestro that he is, surely knows how to transport the viewer into the vision inside his mind and with Saawariya, he is sure to keep our gaze fixated on the two most important people of this story, Ranbir and Sonam, packing them into every frame thus compelling the audience into their world. Whilst many have written off the film for its slow pace and unexplainable ambience, those who are willing to let their imagination fill in the gaps will surely lap up the ambiguous approach of Bhansali’s storytelling.

Ranbir Kapoor is a complete revelation and makes his debut at a time when a fresh male face is desperately needed upon the Hindi screen. At times, his mannerisms are reminiscent of Shammi Kapoor and one wonders whether this was purposely modeled for the character of the story or whether it purely is a natural inheritance. Looking suave is just one aspect of being upon the big screen but Kapoor manages to radiate an extreme raw talent which can only gleam brighter the more it is polished. Note the scene where Sonam refuses to speak to Zohra Segal on the telephone and the manner in which he flits easily from happy-go-lucky charmer to confused confidant; it surely raises mammoth expectations for his future performances.

Sonam Kapoor as the mysterious childlike girl, intoxicated in love illuminates the screen with her timeless beauty and delivers a competent performance. However, seen as her role is at times not clearly defined and the character itself is engulfed in mystery for most of the story, there is a lack of a definite impact when it comes down to her acting abilities resulting in Ranbir walking away with most of the accolades.

Rani Mukherji as the tart with a heart is extremely vibrant and exotic in her spattered appearances during the film. She captures the nuances of the character perfectly and pulls off the brash image with an underlying vulnerability, a performance which will surely slot itself amongst more of her reputable work.

To add relief to the intense proceedings, Zohra Segal comes as a waft of sweet air and is immensely likeable.

Monty Sharma, who had previously provided a spine tingling background score for Black, this time laces Saawariya with mellifluous ballads, their depth only augmented by regal sets and infectious choreography. Whilst, “Jab Se Tere Naina” provides enough reason for the female audience to salivate whilst ogling at a towel clad Ranbir, “Chabeela” brings out the seductress in Mukherji who makes full usage of the moment to glimmer and packs in enough thumkas to send a thumri into spiraling frenzy. Criminally, the soulful “Jaan-e-Jaan” is edited to only its chorus line, disappointing those who wish to see the lyrical content of this gem transcended upon screen.

Visually, the film views just like an oil painting, swamped in blues and greens throughout and it is the director’s artistic ability to speak volumes through the look of the film which makes for essential viewing. Whilst the color blue traditionally connotes a feeling of despondency, it also works in Saawariya to promote the serenity and infinity of the progressing love story, much like the sky and the sea. Green is dabbled throughout the story and is more prominent in those scenes where the character of Gulabjee appears; hence representing her jealousy for the love that Ranbir nurtures for Sakina, yet green also signifies growth, the growth of the relationships between the principal characters which grow just like the greens of a meadow. Ironically, Bhansali is able to speak so much just with the look of his film which adds an artistic dimension to an otherwise simple story.

Although it can be deemed as presenting itself in a Marchen manner, Saawariya actually hides dark undertones under its glistening exterior, with destitute prostitutes and traduced mothers all simmering under the froth of the fairy tale concoction. Just like the traditional pass the parcel party game, when each layer is peeled away, Saawariya becomes more exciting and appears just as intricate as a Persian carpet.

Saawariya is a romantic epic, transcending time allowing the director to engulf the viewer in a Boulevard of broken dreams. A must for those who wish to view art nouveau in its grandest form upon celluloid.

Om Shanti Om (2007)

Farah Khan, director of Main Hoon Na, presents her next innings at the box office with Om Shanti Om, a homage to the 70’s era of Hindi cinema complete with all the frills and frivolity of new age cinema.

Bollywood. A term which is widely used to describe the Hindi film industry and Om Shanti Om packs in everything that is remotely “Bollywood” looking, sounding and moving to create the ultimate masala potboiler. An inane story which replaces bashful with boastful, magnifying everything to present an in-your face entertainer.

Rewind to the beehive, flared pants, flower print 70’s and a harlequin Om (Shahrukh Khan) explodes onto the screen, gyrating and pouting in full glory, desperate to land a role as a lead hero whilst working as a junior artist.

Om spends most of his time talking to the hoardings of hot sensation, “dreamy girl” Shanti (Deepkia Padukone) a lead actress who Om is bewitched with but it is not until Om saves her from the burning sets of a film studio, that she gives him a flicker of her eyelashes and the two form a bond.

A bond which Om mistakes to be love but in reality is only friendship as Shanti is secretly married to the lecherous Mukesh (Arjun Rampal) a money driven film producer who is planning his next blockbuster “Om Shanti Om”. Mukesh wishes to keep the marriage a secret until the completion of the film but a pregnant Shanti demands he announces their truth to the world much to his dismay.

In his rage, Mukesh mercilessly kills Shanti unaware that Om is witness to the whole incident. Whilst Om desperately tries to play the hero yet again to save his love, Shanti leaves the world…along with Om…only Om is reincarnated as Om Kapoor, son of a starlet and now an A list hero.

After a series of unexplainable flashbacks relating to his previous life, Om ultimately learns the truth of his past and sets out on a mission to undo the sin that Mukesh inflicted upon Shanti and him…this time with the help of a Shanti look alike, who may not be just what she seems…

Om Shanti Om works for two reasons, the comedic elements and the visually stunning dance numbers but a whole load of laughter and glitter can not save a hackneyed storyline which stagnates in the second half. Granted that the film is a tribute to the bygone era of the 70’s and so packs in all the clichés that audiences are familiar with but one misses an innovative and compelling story which is ultimately the backbone of any film.

Farah Khan deserves kudos for being brave enough to mock the all too soporific trends of the industry for example in the Filmfare Award sequence and throughout several other moments in the film. However after an entertaining first half, it is the amalgamation of both the 70’s and the present that leaves the viewer disdained as what starts off as a spoof film turns into a inane paradox in the second half of the films preliminary sentiments.

Khan’s role as Om is anything but path breaking. It does however, offer him the chance to play to the gallery and tap all the right buttons to present a character which is ultimately built around his star image. Whilst physically he may have re-invented himself with the much talked about six packs, it would be far more appealing if Khan presented his acting ability in a new manner instead of depending on the tinsel of big budget films to carry him through in the latter part of his career.

Padukone makes for the essential eye candy which is prevalent in most commercial flicks and delivers a confident debut. However, one wishes that Farah Khan had given her a meatier role where she could have demonstrated her acting abilities to a larger degree rather than appearing mainly as a decorative ornament.

Rampal as the villain is excellent in the first half of the film, fitting to the role as precisely as a tailors stitching pattern. He excels as the ruthless and arrogant Mukesh but in the latter half of the film, he is letdown by a shoddy get up which makes one laugh more at his look rather than grimace at his antics.

Musically, Om Shanti Om caters to almost every mood and with Farah Khan being a seasoned choreographer; the song and dance routines prove to be a showcase for her to display her forte in glory. Whilst “Deewanagi Deewanagi” appeals for its star quotient and "Dhoom Tana" is magnificent for it's presentation and nostalgic element, bringing a smile to the faces of those who have grown up on a healthy dose of Bollywood films. The quintessential item number “Dard-e-disco” with Khan in his gasconading six packs would be any drag queens wet dream for its camp factor.

Om Shanti Om is by no means a poor film; it is however a film that fails to leave a lasting impression. The aim of the director is purely to entertain and she succeeds in doing so but in the meantime, there is little substance within the story.

The death sequence of Om is well executed and makes for gripping drama, ditto for the heated confrontations between Shanti and Mukesh, however such moments come in dribs and drabs. The climax of the film is extremely drawn out and appears to send out the famous “shuffle in your seat” syndrome to its audience when a film refuses to end.

Om Shanti Om makes a lot of commotion and in doing so promises a lot to its viewers yet ends up delivering little, with the end credits rolling sooner than the smoke has settled from this gaudy explosion of Bollywood glory.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Jab We Met (2007)

Take a sassy Sikhni from Batinda, a bashful business man; add a splash of Punjabi merriment and the result is Jab We Met…the burlesque romantic drama of the season.

As the lights go down in the cinema hall and the first scenes of a brooding and despondent Shahid Kapur appear on the screen, one is somewhat taken aback by Imtiaz Ali’s choice opening in what is supposed to be a frolicking romp of love and relationships.

However, our minds then flashback to 2005 when he presented us with the finely crafted Socha Na Tha, a film that showcased his potential as a director and presented an otherwise hackneyed love story in a rejuvenating manner, reaffirming our confidence that Jab We Met will certainly be a notch higher.

So the show begins with Aditya (Shahid Kapur), as he walks about his surroundings in a nonchalant demeanor, the sorrows of his life clearly visible on his face…and although we are offered no explanation as to why, we are grateful that we spared the often predictable and mundane monologues that Hindi cinema is so typical for when attempting to explain the banes of a characters life.

Instead, through slick camera shots and angles, we learn that Aditya has actually been jilted by his lover…and as result of this depressing awakening, is now aimless and beaten by the gripe of life. The beauty of Imtiaz’s Ali’s film has just begun to unfold…an avant-garde style of presenting the facts but without dawning upon them, letting the camera capture visuals that speak a hundred more words than any dialogues can.

Ebbing away is the will to live and Aditya remains enclosed in a bubble of confusion and dejection…a bubble which pops as loudly as a champagne bottle, fizzing away furiously as it drips and drabbles, and in its gushiest moment brings Geet (Kareena Kapoor) to the forefront…Geet who explodes onto the screen with the exact vigorousness of Moet and leaves a taste just as enticing.

Geet is everything that a never ending record can be…extremely satisfying to the earlobes but equally painful to the head yet she brings the required zest into Aditya’s life just when he felt that thunderclouds were only effusing upon him.

After a tumultuous encounter on a train ride to Bhatinda which ultimately ends in havoc, Aditya and Geet are left stranded in each other’s company…both occupy the jewels of life that the other needs. Whilst Aditya’s practical outlook and shrouded in realism approach brings the necessary restraint into Geet’s bumbling existence, Geet hands Aditya the jewel of hope and living for the moment…thus starting the beginning of an endearing relationship.

However, Geet has a problem. A problem which lies within the vibrant and chirpy home of her Punjabi household where her family members are preparing to marry her off to childhood sweetheart Manjeet. Yet, Manjeet has been replaced by long time lover Ashuman in Geet’s marital dreams of shenai and shaguns, a reality she is sure her family will disapprove of.

Unaware of the ensuing dilemma, Aditya escorts Geet back to her family home safely and as a result, becomes a guest amongst the bustling preparations whilst Geet awaits the right moment for her to flee into the arms of her beau.

God made time, man made haste…and haste is exactly what entangles Geet into an awakening of reality, leaving her at a point where she can no longer turn back and head down the path that once led to the ultimate quirky Sikhni of Batinda that she once was.

Could Aditya be that resolve? Unknowingly, Geet has traded part of herself into Aditya’s own being and now it is only he who can and will restore the tinted rose glasses that Geet viewed the world with. As a savior, he enters Geet’s world yet again, igniting his true feelings for her but this time with one motive, to put the sassy back into the Sikhni…

So what works about Jab We Met? The answer is quite simply everything! Imtiaz Ali has made a film which will appeal to almost every sector of the audience, complete wholesome entertainment, regulatory song and dance, romance, comedy…but all packaged in a chic and embryonic manner sans cliché and melodrama, which makes Jab We Met refreshing in its approach and piquant in its resolve.

The initial portions between Shahid Kapur and Kareena Kapoor set the tone immediately, with the interactions clearly defining the characters and Imtiaz Ali wastes no time with nonsensical characters but rather contends with the two protagonists of his story, which are in actual fact the meat of the film.

The sleek and direct shots in quick succession of Geet’s constant babbling are proof of the director’s ability to pack in punch without drawing out the obvious, which throws out the threat of insulting the viewer’s intelligence.

Likewise, the sequence of events from the train journey, to the couple spending a night in a bed-sit right through to the arrival in Bhatinda cuts out any frills and fancies but instead concentrates on establishing what makes the characters tick and lays a strong foundation for the second half.

Whilst the first half of the film is layered with comedy and chaos, the second half relies more on emotions and the transition of both the lead characters. Although there was the hazard of deviating from the plot with singular tracks around the family members, Imtiaz stays faithful to his vision and provides a satisfying insight into the minds of the protagonists resulting in a tidy climax.

Plaudits to Imtiaz Ali for his projection of a Punjabi family which is void of any stereotypes, a welcomed change after a long time. For years, we have been subjected to the clownish, garishly dressed and buffoonery antics of Punjabi characters on screen, many of which are found in abundance in Yash Chopra/Karan Johar cinematic ventures. Growing up in a Punjabi household means as a viewer I was able to identify with the characters on every level, be it the extremely realistic representation of Geet’s grandfather played to perfection by Dara Singh or the general acquirement of the hustle bustle that rules during weddings and functions.

Sahid Kapur deserves great credit for his work in Jab We Met speaking volumes with his eyes. It was very easy for him to be overshadowed by the extremely flamboyant character of Geet but instead he proves his mettle, churning out a sincere and flawless performance. The opening scene of the film shows how he excels in conveying so much through his mask of expression and likewise, in moments of comedy, he brings about the uneasiness of Aditya like a natural. In Vivaah, Shahid played a character which can be seen to be extremely removed from reality but in Jab We Met, his character is both identifiable and likeable. A man who is still paining from the desertion of his mother and lover…and how he reaches a position where he is both at ease with himself and the people around him is conveyed with extreme panache, credit to Imtiaz Ali’s direction and Shahid Kapur’s talent.

Kareena Kapoor is a complete revelation. Although I have been skeptical in the past regarding her performances, in Jab We Met she transforms into Geet like a caterpillar to a butterfly, spreading her wings so far that her performance shows a varied range. Accused in the past of going overboard with her acting, it is exactly this trait that works for her in the film, the contorting facial expressions, highly charged delivery of dialogue and overt body language; everything works in favor for the character of Geet. Kareena is suited extremely well as the Punjabi girl both in looks and persona and one can see the painstaking attempt to make her appear authentic on screen. For example, her costumes, which are both tasteful and reflective of her Punjabi background, are taken one step further when we learn that in actual fact, Geet, the Sikhni from Bhatinda sleeps in a T-shirt and salwar…these minute details make us see only Geet rather than Kareena Kapoor and it is hard to imagine anyone else in her place. Even when the character is played down, Kareena manages to hit the right notes and still, glimmers of the zany Geet ebb through. A performance which reminded me greatly of the bubbly characters Juhi Chawla played in films like Andaz, Bol Radha Bol and One Two Ka Four with great ease; this is certainly one of Kareena Kapoor’s better examples of her talent.

Music is a huge asset to Jab We Met and Pritam has provided a refreshing and dynamic soundtrack. “Nagada Nagada” is likeable for its energetic and playful picturisation both generous in color and commotion. The use of Punjabi folklore throughout the song is outstanding and captures the spirit of the film instantly. If melody is the call of the day, then “Aao Milkar Chale” manages to serve the mushy palette and “Mauja Mauja” is scintillatingly seductive visually but perhaps deserved better placement in the story.

Technically the film loses a few points, purely for the fact that at times the wide-angled shots of the cars and trains appear as though they are in actual fact toys which gives the impression of an amateur. However, one is prepared to overlook this due to the engaging events on screen which make up for any minor glitches.

After a long time in Hindi cinema there has been a love story which throws out the mush and the predictability and instead presents a tangible tale of two yet still remains faithful to the idea of escapism.

Imtiaz Ali has to be commended for his no nonsense approach to directing and thanked for the fact that he trusts the audience to interpret the goings on as they feel apt without indulging in spoon feeding the viewers.

Just take for example, the symbolism of the train in the story…the very train on which Aditya and Geet meet and the very train which becomes the starting point of all their problems. The train which goes back and forth, back and forth carrying people to their destinations, it’s wheels furiously spinning in all its glory…yet it never becomes fully acquainted with its passengers as it’s too busy reaching its station and finally when it does halt to a stop, it finds itself desolate.

Similarly, just like the train in Jab We Met, Imtiaz Ali presents us with two characters that keep running on the same track, their passions and aspirations prove to be their steam and finally when they do stop…the journey proves to be life changing. This is the beauty of Jab We Met and exactly what makes it frivolous fun from the outside but a lot deeper on the inside.

A revivifying presentation laced with infectious comedy complete with soul, makes Jab We Met a meeting that certainly garners top place in your diary.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Ek Chadar Maili Si (1986)

An adaptation of Rajinder Singh Bedi’s Urdu Novel by the same name, Ek Chadar Maili Si is a poignant tale set in rural Punjab of one woman’s fight against custom and tradition.

The Punjab has seen the literature of its soil being transcended to the silver screen many a time be it Amrita Pritam’s Pinjar, Nanak Singh’s Pavitar Paapi or Mohan Rakesh’s Uski Roti, but Ek Chadhar Maili Si is perhaps one of the most underrated of the cartel.

A woman’s place in society is only intact until her husband is by her side…the home she lives in after marriage, the children she has borne, the dowry she brings with her…none of it belongs to her but is instead the property of the man who married her. So what happens when that man no longer exists? Is she left to fend for herself under the scrutinizing eyes of society or will tradition bind her back into social acceptance?

Ek Chadhar Maili Si follows this ethos and takes an insight into to the old age custom of chadar-andazi within Punjab, a custom which allows widow remarriage and is prevalent amongst the Jatt community. Taking the audience on a journey of one woman’s trials and tribulations within her family, Ek Chadar Maili Si questions whether or not the practices which are in place hinder people rather than help.

Ranno (Hema Mailini) lives with her husband Trilok (Kulbhusan Karbandhan) a brutish horse and cart driver by day and an alcoholic by night. Making up the family is her disparaging and malodorous mouthed mother-in-law Jindhi (Dina Pathak), blind father-in-law, her carefree daughter Guddi (Neena Cheema) and her infantile son. Adding mischief to the proceedings is her tardy rogue of a brother-in-law Mangal (Rishi Kapoor) who manages to bring laughter into the household with his jovial demeanor.

Ranno is living a respectful life in a small village of Punjab with her husband and his family, albeit she is plagued with the daily abuse of her haggard mother-in-law who finds fault even with perfection, and the spiraling misbehavior of Trilok as he takes to the bottle every night, resulting in Ranno being at the receiving end of his violent outbursts.

Yet still, head held high, she is able to engage in gossip with the other women of the village or dance to merry abandonment at a neighbor’s family function, trading the cantankerousness of life for a few moments of glee, proof of her unflinching and never say never character.

Meanwhile, Mangal, with his purposeless and insouciant lifestyle, which consists of spending days roaming around with his friends stealing watermelon’s from fields, falls in love with a nomadic girl of a brash nature, Raaji (Poonam Dhillon). Raaji brings a halt to Mangal’s frolicsome antics and with her infectious personality; she hones him into a world of love and longing, trading his aimless wandering for angelic moments of passion where the two dream of tying the nuptials.

Woe betides when Trilok is murdered under a case of mistaken identity leaving Ranno widowed with two children and with the family’s sole breadwinner dead, a wake up call for Mangal to shoulder the responsibility of the household.

Ranno is subjected to the taunts and vilifications of her mother-in-law who holds her as criminal for her son’s death and when Mangal is arrested after brawling, the omen of bad luck upon the family is considered to be the unsought present from Ranno’s ill-fated hands.

Penniless, on the verge of starvation and with nowhere to turn, Ranno takes to lending money from the local villagers in order to buy food for her in-laws and her children turning a blind eye to the comments on the amount of handouts she is receiving to aid her plight.

Meanwhile, Jindhi takes to selling Guddi off for marriage in order to bring in money to the household but Ranno becomes aware of this ploy and in an attempt to ensure her children are in no further danger, for the first time stands up to Jindhi’s shrewd ways, much to old woman’s amazement.

Returning home to a cloud of privation which effuses dust of tension and squalor is no delectable prospective for any being, so when Mangal arrives home to once again pull the plough from the mud, his only respite comes yet again in the form of Raaji who still awaits the day the two will wed, whilst Mangal works day and night to improve his family condition.

Desperate to consolidate a place of her own in her in-laws home and to protect her children, Ranno becomes exhausted of any way out of her claustrophobic situation and finds it harder to keep hold of Guddi who seems ignorant to her own growing beauty and age.

Help comes in the form of the village counsel who agrees the only way to ensure the well-being of Ranno’s future and that of her children, is for her to wed Mangal under the custom of chadar-andazi, a remedy which will cure all of Ranno’s problems and protect her honor and sanity.

The decision hits both Ranno and Mangal like a javelin in it’s sanguinary grandeur, restraining both and leaving them at a point in life where duty seems to prevail over a humans desire.

Ranno, who has nurtured Mangal like her own child is suddenly forced to accept him as her husband. Mangal is bound by custom to unwillingly sacrifice the pining Raaji whilst the family all believe that they stand to gain from the extrication that chadar-andazi will bring for them.

Just how and why do social norms restrict mankind? And will the custom of chadar-andazi which is supposedly in place to solve woman’s quandary ultimately harmonize Ranno’s wounds?

Ek Chadar Maili Si is a social drama which presents itself in a simplistic manner to the viewer, heart-rending and mettlesome in its approach, aided by its authentic rural ambience.

Sukhwant Dadda has handled several portions with extreme sensitivity and allowed the actors to develop situations with subtle nuances rather than to present a garishly melodramatic saga, the kinds of which were quite common during the 80s.

Several scenes have been executed with the finesses of a maestro, for example the depiction of the relationship between Ranno and Trilok, both fiery and entrancing as we see Ranno await her husband at the doorway each day to give him his food despite his shortcoming as an individual.

The scene where Trilok attacks Ranno is extremely realistic, exempt of any ostentatious sound effects or background music but instead relying itself upon the shrieks and cries of Ranno and the blasphemous language of Trilok, filling the air with tension and disgust, leaving the viewer genuinely appalled by the antics that unfold before their eyes.

In contrast, the scene where Trilok’s dead body is carted before the doorway of the house and the villagers look on in bewilderment as they identify the body is extremely underplayed, relying on slow camera shots and actors expression. This serves to be a cleverly conceptualized scene. The very doorway which Ranno often stood at awaiting her husband or the doorway that constantly served as a threat for her to be thrown out of the house becomes the benefactor of her spouse’s corpse, plunging her from married woman to widow in split second, the doorway constantly acting as a reminder of the fragile place she holds in her husbands home.

Similarly, the scene where Ranno can not bring tears to shed from eyes upon seeing her husband’s body is exemplary and witness to Hema Malini’s capabilities as a performer. Her use of expression and complete portrayal of helplessness and confusion is so deftly presented that one wonders and regrets as to why Sukhwant Dadda did not have a longer career as a director in the industry.

The weakest point of the film is its climax which lacks punch in its deliverance. The viewer is left feeling quite perplexed as to why the character of Ranno would react in the manner she does and no real resolve is advertised. Given, the realistic treatment of the film allows there not to be a convenient culmination to the tale but a statement upon the films premise would have been apt. Instead, we are left with the feeling that the characters of the story are victims of their circumstances and the conflict that ensured earlier on can almost be deemed as irrelevant.

Also, it seems in order to add an element of cliché into the story, the love angle between Rishi Kapoor and Poonam Dhillon is actually forced and highly irrelevant. In the novel, the character of Raaji is only a passer by in Mangal’s life but in the film, the two develop a relationship offering ample scope for song and dance and couplets…a facet of the story which was not needed.

In an author backed role, Hema Mailini dominates the film with a stellar performance of a woman trapped by destiny. Her character undergoes a drastic transformation from bubbly housewife to vindicated widow and its Hema’s conviction that makes this a noteworthy effort. Those who have branded Hema as just a dream girl, enacting glamorous and spunky roles in films like Sholay, Seeta aur Geeta and Trishul surely need to watch Ek Chadar Maili Si to view the depth the actress can reach. Her eyes convey measureless emotions and even in scenes where she is required to screech and scream, there is a remarkable restraint apparent making her live the life of Ranno on screen.

Kulbushan Kharbanda is perfectly cast as the proud Jatt husband, augmenting the Punjabi accent and making his character both loveable and disgusting at the same time. He turns out a performance which is extremely rustic and creates a fine balance between menace and buffoonery.

Rishi Kapoor is given a character that like Ranno, encounters a metamorphosis and proves his versatility in both comedy and serious subject matter. Back in 1982 where he had happily accepted the widowed Padmini Kohlaupre in Prem Rog portraying an extremely sensitive character of a dejected lover, here in Ek Chadar Maili Si he appears on the other side of the spectrum, showcasing guilt, confusion and subordination all in one, making for satisfying viewing. His control over the Punjabi accent is commendable and effortless and as a result Mangal is a character that appears extremely natural.

Poonam Dhillon has little to do in the film apart from act as the young girl in love blissfully unaware of her lover’s strait and seen as her character is unnecessary, she fails to leave an impact.

Dina Pathak is superlative in a role that makes one realize just what a powerhouse of talent she was. Her performance makes you hate the character right from the opening scene and rightly so as Dina ejects an extreme irritable quality into the character of Jindi, making the viewer detest her with all their might.

Musically, Ek Chadar Maili Si offers two highly likeable songs. Firstly in the form of “Margi Margi” an upbeat folklore number of the Punjab, accentuated by Asha Bhosle’s powerful vocals. Filmed on an energetically, furiously dancing Hema Malini in a courtyard of a village house, the song makes for great viewing due to it’s fast-paced choreography and credible ability to portray a Punjabi gathering in all its glory.

The second treat comes in the deliciously enticing “Na Sona Na Chandi” which is filmed on both Rishi Kapoor and Poonam Dhillon amongst the picturesque fields of Punjab and serves as a pleasantry for its beautiful lyrics.

Although regulatory song and dance is kept as a minimal in the film, the soundtrack by Anu Malik gels well with the mood of the film and is only glorified when accompanied by the on screen visuals.

Cinematographically, Ek Chadar Maili Si earns kudos for its culturally correct setting and the panning shots of rural Punjab with its quaint alleyways and gleaming fields is as fluid as the subtle expressions of the actors.

Ek Chadar Maili Si is a film that trades in melodrama for intelligence and that is the biggest plus factor. It brings about and raises many questions to the audience, proving to be challenging and intellectual cinema which still holds, in bizarre forms, entertainment value.

The mere factor that the title is extremely ironic in itself, presenting the chadar as “maili” (sullied) when in actual fact it is supposed to redeem the characters speaks volumes of the cleverness the story holds and thankfully, Sukhwant Dadda has translated this to the big screen in a pristine fashion. It will be extremely interesting to see if his much delayed “Chooriyan” starring Gracy Singh holds the same eminence some twenty one years later.

An earthy tale, exuding high voltage emotions, piquant visuals alongside meritorious performances, makes Ek Chadar Maili Si a duvet of cinematic snugness. A must see for connoisseurs of discriminating taste.