Thursday, 4 October 2007

Henna (1991)

Set in the peaks of snowy mountains, luscious green fields and a quaint village, topped with lilting music and soul stirring lyrics, Henna is a classic love story based on the Indo-Pak relationship.

Raj Kapoor’s Henna was touted to be the swansong of his career, a magnum opus which had generated much hype and curiosity but sadly the starlet Kapoor passed away before the film could be completed, leaving the directorial reins in the hands of sons Randhir and Rishi Kapoor.

Henna tells the story of Chander (Rishi Kapoor) who is due to be wed to his long time lover Chandni (Ashwini Bhave) Chander’s old time habit of poor time keeping leads to many minor problems but more fatefully, upon the night of his engagement he is fashionably late and whilst driving to the venue, encounters a car accident where he plummets into the river. The waters carry his body from India to Pakistan, whilst Chandni searches frantically for her lover and his whereabouts.

Cut to Pakistan, in the picturesque settings of a tribal village where simplicity is the essence of life. Henna (Zeba Bhatikar) finds an unconscious Chander in the riverside and along with the help of her father Khan Baba (Saeed Jaffery) and the village nurse Bibi Gul (Farida Jalal) they nurse a lifeless Chander back to his senses…only to realize he has lost his memory.

Christening him with a new name of Chand, Henna slowly brings him back to the normality’s of life, whilst Chand happily earns a living in the village. It is during these moments that Henna falls in love with her patient and Chand too becomes smitten with her innocence and beauty. However, the local village police inspector Shabaaz Khan (Raza Murad) is relentlessly determined to make Henna his wife and when he learns this will not be reciprocated by her, begins to plan a way in which he can trap naïve Henna into marrying him.

On the eve of Henna and Chand’s wedding, Chand regains his memory and with it, the longing to return to India to his beau Chandni. The sacrificial twist in the story comes when Henna gives up her love and along with the villagers, promises to escort Chand back to India safely to reunite him with his lover.

However, upon realization that Chand is in fact Chander, an Indian rather than Pakistani, Shabaaz Khan finds the moment he had been waiting for to ensnare Henna.

The crux of the film is about the boundaries that mankind has made between these two races and how love, oblivious to any boundaries can possibly conquer all. Will Chander and Chandni reunite? And just how far will Henna’s sacrifice go to eliminate the animosity between those on either side of the border? A climatic high voltage drama answers these questions.

The beauty of Henna lies in its cinematography, performances and music…but more importantly the heart behind the head that went into creating the story.

Hindi cinema has witnessed countless Indo-Pak sagas over time, many of which have depicted blood and guts on screen (Bombay, Gadar, Border etc) but there have been few films which have addressed the issue in a more subdued manner and that is where Henna scores points. Rather than making the Indo-Pak theme the forefront of the film, the story allows time for the romanticized and dreamlike relationships to develop in its serene soundings. Cleverly, the conflict of the two religions erupts in the climax, making the viewer think about how generations of hatred and barbaric living between both communities is able to overpower a pure form of love and longing.

Back in 2004, Yash Chopra’s Veer-Zaara was touted as the first film by many that worked towards bridging the gap between India and Pakistan, but in my opinion this recognition goes to Raj Kapoor, a man who was ahead of times and with Henna made the fundamental statement of replacing hatred with love.

The story of Henna may seem like old wine in a new bottle when referring to clichéd story elements such as memory loss, a love triangle and a broody villain. Yes, it does brand itself as an out and out Hindi entertainer but what set’s it apart is the poignancy in the scenes which many films in the 90’s lacked.

Performance wise, it is Zeba Bhatikar who comes across as the clear winner. Rumor has it, that Raj Kapoor spent years looking for the right lady to cast as Henna and it seems he made a great choice with Pakistani actress Zeba. Cast as the innocent child-lady, she fits into every part the quintessential village girl. It is her rawness as an actress that works for her in this one and the vulnerability she portrays on screen that allows her character to remain etched in the viewer’s heart long after the film ends. The downside however is that she lacks in the dancing department and occasionally, her dialogue delivery can come across as slightly wooden but here in Henna it works to the majority…but may be the answer as to why Zeba found little success later on in Hindi cinema when pitied against the likes of Madhuri Dixit, Juhi Chawla and Manisha Koirala, the reigning queens of the 90’s.

Rishi Kapoor is competent in a role that he could easily glide through when Henna was made. Not a performance that will go down as one of his greatest when compared to his work in Bobby, Amar Akbar Anthony or Laila Majnu but that is down to the fact that the script, like most Raj Kapoor’s films is woman-centric, offering most of the meat to Zeba.

Ashwini Bhave is relegated to the background in a supporting role. She appears at the start of the film, then disappears only to appear in sporadic shots of her pining for her lover, only then to resurface at the end for a brief time, hence leaving little impact. Again, an actress who found it hard to gain any credentials to her name post Henna.

Now for the glittering star of the film in all it’s glory, the music. Ravindra Jains composition for Henna has definitely stood the test of time, for Henna is deeply moving album with haunting music some sixteen years later. Each and every song is a pleasure to listen to and equally alluring when accompanied by the stunning onscreen visuals. The album caters to a variety of moods, be it the frivoulous “Anar Dana” shot in hues of bright oranges, fuchsias and yellows, the heart rendering “O Janewale” where Henna wishes farewell to her lover or the pain filled “Chittye” with its Punjabi lyrics and Lata Mangeshker’s nightingale voice. Offering as stiff competition for grandeur is the qawali track “Der Na Ho Jaye” which is opulent in both choreography and costume and is neatly accompanied by a Hindi version of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s famous “Akhiyan Udeek Diyan”.

Unfortunately, Henna is a film that failed to find much recognition at the box office due to its immense hype factor. I however, have fond memories of this film as a child and class it as one of those defining films that shaped the rest of my appetite for Hindi cinema. Although, the film fetched Zeba Bhatikar a nomination for Best Actress, it failed to win her an award and the image of Henna was so strongly attached to her that success in any other films was far to be seen.

An interesting point and one I would love to know more about is that Randhir Kapoor stated in an interview that after his father’s death, he and Rishi altered the script of Henna as Raj Kapoor’s original was far too controversial and forward thinking for it’s time and they didn’t want to take a risk with the audiences…for me it will always remain a mystery and fascination as to what the original script was…I have my own theories!

Henna is a journey of love, longing and loathing in true Raj Kapoor style. A classy tribute to the Raj Kapoor brand of cinema and a must for fans of ostentatious sagas


Anonymous said...

Wonderful review here Sunny!I Have a great weakness for HENNA, and in particular it's music. I hope with Ranbir making his debut, the R.K banner flys high again.


Sunny said...

Yes the music of Henna is a huge asset to the film...which is your favourite track?

I really do think though that its a film which is criminally under-rated!

I really liked Prem Granth too...but thats another one that not many enjoyed.

As for Ranbir then I'm sure he will go far...but just not too sure on his look in Saawariya at the moment.

Anonymous said...

My fave track would be Naar Dana and the title track!

PREM GRANTH did nothing for me at the time, but I did like Mads and the music again.

Ranbir seems to have a good female following!

Sunny said...

Yes Ranbir does seem to be attracting the ladies...he does seem quite likeable as an actor in the promos but some times he can appear quite irritating...but I'm putting that down to his character in the film and the hair of his that is in dire need of a restyle...

I expected to be more hyped up about Saawariya to be honest but there is something which I can not quite pinpoint yet which seems amiss...certianly not as excited to see the film as I was with BLACK and Devdas.

Ali Asad Zaidi said...

Dear Sunny...........
This movie is and would remain one of my favourite

mamnoonahmed said...

henna is the name of purity,faith,secrifise these all things in this movie.the music is so meaneful n beutyful n all the charecter so good massege at in the end of movie is hearttuching i really do think though that its a film which is criminally under-rated! all the songs are so good but My fave track would be der na ho jaye and the title track! the storey written by raj kapoor is soluted. the character henna is play by zeba is mind blowing and honestley thats why the film so beutiful.

all in all the film is accilelnt.

kapil kumar said...

even i saw this movie when i was in class 7. my elder brother along with my mom and younger sister went to watch this flick....and to be very frank and honest...i m in love with zeba bakhtiyar since then...... there is no movie like it music, performances, locations and non vulgar, non violent storyline.... this is my personal thinking, if raj kapoor would have directed it or completed the movie there would hv been some content that would hv nt meant for families with kids in a cinema hall...... one of my last wishes is to go to the same mounttain and hilly areas with zeba bakhtiyar where heena movie shot. And I am one of those lucky ones who has watched this flick on a 70mm screen. on tv it looks good, but on a big screen, it will make and leave an impact of some kind......