Saturday, January 10, 2004



The Mumbai pavement looks like a party hall. And the cheap hooker who solicits there – Chameli (Kareena Kapoor)—looks like she is taking part in a fancy dress competition. The plot is old, the screenplay contrived. The viewer gets an airbrushed version of Mumbai’s underbelly by night.

However, with its multiple flaws, Sudhir Mishra’s (he completed it after original director Anant Balani passed away) Chameli can be sat through because of the performances and the unexpected chemistry between the two lead actors—Rahul Bose playing Aman Kapoor a starchy investment banker and Kareena Kapoor playing the streetwalker.

They end up spending time together under the arches of a set passing off as a part of Mumbai’s Fort area. The hooker teasing, taunting and coquettish, the banker recoiling in disgust. Then, some kind of empathy builds up, and he ends up helping her—the circumstances and motive sounding false even to himself as he tries to explain first to his friend and then to a cop how he ended up in a police station with Chameli. “Which world do you live in?” Chameli asks Aman at one point, looking both amused and envious that no ugliness seems to have touched his cushy life.

At first Chameli is painted in the typical colours of filmi hooker—garishly-dressed, foul-mouthed, trying hard to shock. She cooks up horrendous stories about her initiation into prostitution, then laughs because they are designed to get tips from drunken clients. The real story she says, finally, he wouldn’t be able to stomach. Later, along with the bright red lipstick, the pose fades and she emerges as a woman who has other dimensions to her.

As Chameli’s pimp and his hired thugs come on to the scene, the episodes with the excessively friendly and compliant cop (Yashpal Sharma in a terrific cameo) get too far-fetched. But even as the disbelief sets in, there are little touches like Chameli commiserating with a female cop with toothache.

The short running time, the fabulous camerawork (Aseem Bajaj) and of course Kareena Kapoor, over the top, but touchingly eager to get her soft, white, princess hands into the muck, make Chameli worth a watch. Rahul Bose is perfectly cast as the banker and plays him without look-at-me gimmicks.


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