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.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Bhool Bhulaiya (2007)

An eerie palatial house, a zany family bound with superstition coupled with an eccentric psychiatrist results in Bhool Bhulaiya, Priyadarshans latest cinematic venture.

Priyadarshan is a name that has become synonymous with comedy, be it Hera Pheri, Hungama, Hulchul or Garam Masala. Coupling his forte with Akshay Kumar and Paresh Rawal has almost guaranteed fireworks at the box office so his latest venture, Bhool Bhulayia demands a viewing for fans that stand loyal to the Priyadarshan trademark…one would think so; however with Bhool Bhulayia the veteran changes track, presenting a supernatural saga with bustling hoopla.

The motions unwind with Siddharth (Shiney Ahuja) returning to his motherland from America with his newly wed wife Avni (Vidya Balan). Both are greeted with open arms by his somewhat anomalous family made up of Batukshankar Upadhyay (Paresh Rawal) Badrinarayan Chaturvedi (Manoj Joshi) and his childhood friend Radha (Amisha Patel) alongside a whole host of other characters.

Tension strikes when Siddharth insists that he stays in his ancestral home which has been shrouded in mystery and misery for generations by the family. They believe it to be haunted by wandering spirits which reside on the third floor of the house, an area that is strictly forbidden to visit and locked away behind tantras and mantaras.

However, the neoteric couple that Siddharth and Avni are means they dismiss any conceptions of ghosts and ghouls and reside within the manor much to the dismay of the family.

A curious and intrigued Avni decides to explore her surrounding and ventures where no one has ventured before; to the third floor of the manor…unleashing unexplainable events which the family believes are the doings of the evil spirits…but in an era of scientific jargon, Siddharth refuses to believe these are the actions of the preternatural and looks to seek the answer behind these cabalistic proceedings.

The finger points to Radha, whom Siddharth believes to be mentally unstable and the culprit of the abstruse goings on and in order to bolster his doubts, he calls in his friend Dr.Aditya (Akshay Kumar) a clownish psychiatrist to redeem Radha of her ailment.

Aditya, with his dissident manner sets about to treat his patient but as the events become more inane, he unleashes a horrifying truth of the unerring doer responsible for the calamity of fiascos.

A truth which makes Siddarth realize that not every question concludes with a logical answer, leading to Aditya taking drastic measures to ensure that pandemonium does not obscure reality. However, in an attempt to restore harmony, how far can mere mortals go to fight the paranormal?

Supernatural thrillers have been depicted on the Hindi silver screen for eons, from Bees Saal Baad, to Jaani Dushman, from 100 Days to Kaun…many of which have been successful in providing the regulatory chills and thrills. Bhool Bhulayia however gives itself the onerous task of slotting itself into the appropriate genre of either thriller or comedy…and seen as the film packs both into its duration, the impact is not as strong as it could have been.

Priyadarshan sets the scene right from the opening shot, the panning of the ostentatious manor house in its twilight glory and apprehensive characters weary of the unknown that lurks beyond its walls features all the ingredients of a supernatural joyride.

Furthermore, the introduction of Avni and her inquisitive nature to explore the mansion is depicted in an engaging manner, with the viewer on the edge of their seat waiting for havoc to unleash itself from behind the white-washed walls and dazzling doors.

However, it is Priyadarshan’s need to entwine comedy throughout these moments which hampers the tone of the film, confusing the viewer as to whether they should be anxious or laughing resulting in an erratic mish mash.

The entry of Akshay Kumar raises the expectation of the film and one expects the character of Aditya to create mayhem as he encounters the absurd residents of the household and rightly so, as Akshay breathes a new energy into the story, bringing both jocoseness and restraint to the tale.

Climatically, the film is perhaps at its best although the need of the flashback could be argued as slowing down the pace when it was perhaps more important to build up solicitude rather than dwell upon such incidents in immense detail. However, like with any good thriller, the resolve to the problems and how they are depicted make for engaging and spine chilling viewing, especially pleasantry for fans of spectral happenings.

Performance wise, Akshay Kumar acts well in a role that by now has become typical of him to a degree. Given his past few films, Heyy Babyy, Bhagam Bhag, Namaste London, the overtly garish and loveable buffoon is enacted with extreme ease and likeability. However, it would be a welcomed changed to see Akshay present the viewer with a meatier and harder hitting role in the near future in which he would excel just as much as any other actor, rather than the frivolous antics he has become so familiar with onscreen.

It is Vidya Balan who walks away with the merits in Bhool Bhulaiya, turning out a performance that required both extreme vulnerability and barbarism. After playing the girl next door in Parineeta, the spunky journalist in Salaam-e-Ishq and the glamorous heroine in Heyy Babyy, Vidya takes her acting capabilities a step further in Bhool Bhulayia expanding her range and leaving the viewer both awe-struck and fascinated with her performance of dual personality.

Shiney Ahuja is competent in his part but at times tends to deliver a somewhat over the top performance which lacks clarity. The role of the concerned husband is often one that manages to garner much sympathy from audiences but down to either a poorly developed character or a shoddy performance, Shiney somehow misses the mark.

Amisha Patel is efficient as Radha and actually manages to leave an impact rather than becoming obfuscated by the umpteen characters in the film, proving her screen presence and acting capabilities can be prevalent when handled by the right director.

Paresh Rawal is competent in a role that does not demand histrionics from an actor of his stature and is certainly one of his poorer roles in the gallery of Priyadarshan films he possesses.

Similarly, Rajpal Yadav is wasted and extremely unnecessary. One wonders, whether or not Rajpal Yadav is becoming excessively indulgent with his poor choice of roles lately, first with Don, then RGV Ka Sholay and now Bhool Bhulayia.

Musically, the film has little to offer. “Hare Krishna Hare Raam” is a song that has gained immense popularity over time but fails to find its way into the narrative of the story. Likewise, the remaining songs that are incorporated into the film prove to serve more as gap fillers rather than progressing the story, making the music of Bhool Bhulaiya almost non-existent.

The biggest culprit of Bhool Bhulayia is its promotion. From the trailers, the makers have projected the film as a comedy but in fact, there is less comedy and more concentration upon the fear factor. This misleading of the audience is indeed what makes Bhool Bhulaiya at times a disappointment for those in hope of a wacky and rib-tickling comedy.

Priyadarshan has tackled serious subjects in the past with great charisma and excellence. The flawless Virasaat which oozed directorial brilliance from every frame is a perfect example of his ability to transcend a story onto the big screen which is poignant and gritty at the same time. Even the criminally underrated Saat Rang Ke Sapne, a personal favorite, is testament to the brilliance Priyadarshan has within him.

However, unlike Saat Rang Ke Sapne, which ultimately was a serious subject laced with subtle and at times black humor throughout, Bhool Bhulayia is presented as a supernatural affair with somewhat slapstick comedy, appearing completely out of synch with the ambience of the film.

Priyadarshan works better when he is treating the viewer to delicious shots of winding stairways and contorting shadows rather than bumbling characters or nonsensical situations which divert from the horror factor.

Bhool Bhulayia is a bona fide attempt to create a supernatural themed tale, flavored with comedic anecdotes along the way. However, in an attempt to bring both genres together, the result is a slapdash concoction of laughter and repugnance which unintentionally dilutes the amalgamation of the two, akin to a whimsical horror ride.

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.

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

Welcome to Picturesque

As dramatic as the some of the 80/90's Hindi film scenes and dialogues, it would be perhaps apt for me to start this blog off by saying that Hindi cinema has played a pivotal part in my life and to a degree shaped a lot my ideas, thoughts and dreams!

So this is my ode to all those moments, good or bad, happy or sad, cringe worthy or profound...all those times I have sat in front of the TV watching cliche upon cliche unfold or all those times I have sat in the cinema, as the lights go down, witnessing path breaking movies....

It would be best to lay out the favourite era of Hindi cinema has been and still is the 80's/90's perhaps because I grew up as a child in those years watching countless films which have remained etched in my memory...

Many of them, are not well known...and downright unbearable to sit through now and watch but to me remain special and evoke the old nostalgic feeling!

So Picturesque is going to try to write about those films (along with new releases), that aren't necessarily excellent...but may have been forgotten or not as talked about....and may just make it a little more easier for you to admit to liking them too!