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.