Friday, 12 October 2007

Laaga Chunari Mein Daag (2007)

Pardeep Sarkar returns to the silver screen after a hiatus of two years with his woman orientated, Laga Chunari Mein Daag. Taking a gritty subject and wrapping it in deliciously enticing colors and adding the Yashraj frills to an otherwise dark topic.

Many a times has the plight of women been witnessed upon the Indian silver screen, from epics as timeless as Mother India to the subtle Bandini or the ambitious saga that Lajja was at the start of the millennium. However, the trials and tribulations women face in the dark world of prostitution has been a subject that has fascinated many a film-makers, be it the richly seeped tales of courtesans in Umrao Jaan or Pakeezah or the valorous stories of call girls as seen in Chandni Bar and Chameli, often resulting in power packed performances for the lead heroines.

Laga Chunari Mein Daag follows this somewhat formulaic storyline to present the journey of a woman from simpleton to classy concubine, reminiscent at times of films of its ilk.

Set in the holy city of Banaras, the story introduces us to Badki (Rani Mukherji) and her sister Chutki (Konkona Sen Sharma) who live with their parents Shivshankar (Anupam Kher) and Sabitri (Jaya Bachchan) in their palatial ancestral home. The family is in a financial crisis, struggling to keep afloat and as a result Badki has had to leave her education whilst Sabitri tries desperately to salvage the family by earning a pittance from sewing. The money is spent on Chutki’s education and Shivshankar’s treatment for his ailing health but with an impending legal case upon the family’s head, they reach dire straits forcing Badki to set off for the bustling city of Mumbai, a city which apparently holds opportunity upon opportunity for her to earn a wage.

Badki is akin to a fish out of water in Mumbai and with her innocuous demeanor and lack of qualifications, she finds it impossible to find a job. Determined not to let down her family and prove her worth as a daughter, she persists until the harsh realities of the world strike her and she is faced with the opportunity to make big money fast…albeit having to sacrifice her moralistic upbringing and values. As a high class escort…

Re-christened and re-vamped as the hip, seductive and confident Natasha, Badki manages to earn a hefty sum of notes in quick succession, solving her families’ problems whom apart from her mother, are oblivious to her profession.

Catastrophe calls when Chutki, now fully qualified arrives in Mumbai to try her luck at gaining a slice of her elder sister’s success. Badki, who has always sheltered Chutki from the miseries of life, desperately tries to veil her profession and having been burnt herself, attempts to shield her sister from the wrath of Mumbai’s seedy underside.

Chutki, unaware of Badki’s escort life, meets Vivaan (Kunal Kapoor) and the two fall in love whilst Badki has a chance encounter with businessman Rohan (Abhishek Bachchan) who falls for her unique personality.

Tainted, Badki avoids reciprocating Rohan’s advances in fear of her reality coming to light and decides to be the sacrificial lamb, who shall continue to serve the families needs and pay for Chutki’s wedding.

However, this planned journey to doom and gloom is rudely interrupted when Chutki learns of her elder sister’s true reality…leading to an emotional climax which questions a prostitutes place both in and outside the home. Has Badki’s honour been vitiated forever?

Laga Chunari Mein Daag should be applauded for its sincerity and guts to take a taboo subject and present it with A-list actors on a grand canvas. Although, at times the plot is contrived, it is refreshing to see a woman orientated subject being depicted on screen with conviction after a long time although it tends to mar reality with make believe at regular intervals.

The film starts off on a high, introducing the characters swiftly and perfecting the ambience of Banaras on celluloid, transporting the viewer into a world of beautiful Ghats and vintage galis. The predicament of the family is piteous sans melodrama resulting in a cathartic opening to set the tone of the film.

However, the reasons as to why Badki enters the world of prostitution seem out of synch with her characters core values. Given the fact that Badki is aware of how desperately she must earn money there is little attempt or discussion of re-educating ones self in order to land a good job but instead, it seems as though the character jumps into the world of sex as a fast and convenient way to make money. Madhur Bhandarkar’s Chandni Bar saw its central character of Mumtaz resulting to prostitution after she had been completely exhausted of any other avenue which made one feel her pain and anguish of being trapped in such a charkha but in Laga Chunari Mein Daag, little insight is given into the mindset of Badki as to why she chooses this option after being setback a few times.

Hence, this deters the viewer to a degree to empathize with the character of Badki and instead leaves a sense of confusion as to why such a traditional girl would result to such means so quickly. Had Pardeep Sarkar dedicated more time to this facet, then Laga Chunari Mein Daag could have depicted the desperation women face when going into such a job.

Also, the climax of the film is one that seems too convenient and monotonous. For such a subject, a hard hitting ending was needed in which the story could have made a stalwart statement regarding the fate and the prejudice prostitute’s face in society. However, the Yashraj fairytale ending means that the grittiness of the story is diluted, resulting in a farcical climax of glittering weddings and extravagant dance numbers, all too familiar and all too predictable.

Redemption comes in the form of the chemistry between Rani and Konkona. The bonding of the two sisters is endearing and tugs at the heartstrings, proving that female pairings can be just as powerful as the oh-so stereotypical pairings of male actors that audiences are often subjected to.

Rani Mukherji is the protagonist of the film and shines in each and every scene she is given. Her expressions are her forte and she carries off the dual characters with extreme panache, be it the naïve Badki in her singing, dancing, glycerin clad glory or the spunky Natasha of the high society world. It has been a refreshing change to see Rani cast in a film which is gladly missing the overtly garish comedy of some of her previous Yashraj films and credit has to go to Pardeep Sarkar for his subtle approach to the handling of the subject.

Konkona Sen Sharma is a force to reckon with in every manner and exceeds in her role which is irrepressible and magnanimously appealing to supporters of liberated women. As witnessed in Page 3, 15 Park Avenue or Life In A Metro, Konkona has the beauty of delivering a restrained yet effective performance and Laga Chunari Mein Daag will only offer her more leverage to a larger audience.

Kunal Kapoor is a starlet in the making and a sure force to reckon with. Even though he is relegated to the background along with Abhishek in this female-centric flick, he manages to leave a long lasting impression. He appears dapper and delivers confidently making his presence felt, taking the limelight away from Abhishek.

Abhishek, in what is touted to be an extended cameo has little to do in the film other than enact the part of the Good Samaritan. He walks through the role which seems to remind one of his brief appearance in Hum Tum, placing the blame of his lack of presence on the poorly developed character of Rohan.

Musically, the title song is effective in its purpose of extracting an emotional response and gels well with the mood of the film, mainly due to its lyrical content. The flamboyant “Hum To Aise Hain” number is a classic account of frivolous frolicking, drenched in reds, yellows and greens which explode onto the screen like a peacock tail serving as a wet dream for fans of escapist dance numbers in contrast to the melodic “Zara Gungunalein Chalo” which suffers due to it’s mundane picturisation.
Pardeep Sarkar scored points with critics and audiences with his debut Parineeta which was both classy and engaging and with Laga Chunari Mein Daag, he stays faithful to his trademark style of visually appealing scenery but slips slightly with the tautness of the script. It seems at times that commericalism has been placed at the forefront to ensure the mass audiences recieve their dose of naach-gaana rather than concentrating efforts upon depicting a true reality.
Of course, kudos must go to Pardeep for his conviction and at times brilliance of telling a story with elan. There are glimpses of his genius throughout and the beauty of the film is that not everything is spelled out for the viewer or loudly presented allowing audiences to depict ongoings as they wish. For example, Pardeep has rooted the character of Badki in Banaras, the sacred Hindu pilgrimage site, the irony being that a girl of such a spirtiual surrounding becomes the victim of the promiscious and lecherous people of Mumbai, juxtaposing both the good and the bad but without preaching upon this to the audience.

Laga Chunari Mein Daag boasts of a power house packed performance by its protagonist and delves into the world of prostitution in a vacillating mien, at times compromising tangibility for Bollywood utopianism. Should diluted macabre be as much as you can handle when rousing the cinematic gas pedal, then Laga Chunari Mein Daag is a journey of a woman that will not disappoint those wishing to join aboard.


Anonymous said...

Nice review here, I'm still to see this movie, but will give it a watch for Jaya and Sarkar. BTW I've posted this review on Naachgaana and referenced it to your blog.

Keep up the writing.


Sunny said...

Thanks akshay! Be sure to come back and tell me if you agreed or not with what I said :)

Anonymous said...

No doubt I will!

Anonymous said...

I was quite disappointed by this film actually.The razzle-dazzle took away the focus from what was meant to be a simple story.Though,it still had the Sarkar touch but it was very much unlike Parineeta,which was beautiful because of its simple treatment.
And Rani is beginning to get really boring now.I have noted that however different her roles maybe she retains the same style of delivering her lines.Moreover she seems to pick only those type of roles our award juries blindly turn to when picking their winners.Konkona on the other hand was quite quite impressive.

Sunny said...

Abhinav, I agree that the Yash raj frills took away from the whole could have been a lot more gritty than it was and the shiny polish over the top was horrid, especially the ending which killed the whole film.

However, I thought Rani was very good as always but I can see what you are saying re the boredom factor...I do find at times I get bored of Rani but that doesnt take away from the fact that she is a good actress.

I think maybe with roles like Baabul, Laga Chunari and KANK where she was required to sob her heart out throughout has perhaps resulted to a feeling of deja vu with her roles of late.

Konkona was fab as was Kunal but with Konkona, now she is branching into bigger films like Laga or Aaja Nachle, I miss the performances that she gave us in smaller films like 15 park avenue or mr and mrs iyer...