Friday, August 27, 2004

Phir Milenge 

The good things first – Revathy’s Phir Milenge is a beautiful-looking film—tasteful in a non- ostentatious way; it is not too often that you find a film aesthetically pleasing without production values being thrown in your face.

Revathy sets up her heroine-- Tamanna Sahni (Shilpa Shetty)—as a smart, successful working woman. Her backstory is revealed with a crisp flashback. She lives with her sister Tanya (Kamalinee Mukherjee), a radio jockey, in a pretty house. There a friends, celebrations, laughter… no man on the scene.

Turns out Tamanna has been holding the torch for ten years for Rohit (Salman Khan), and when they meet at a class reunion (at a picturesque campus), they express their love finally. Now this bit is most bizarre: in a world wired for communication, why do the two not keep in touch for ten years, and after the meeting why does Rohit vanish again without a trace? He writes his number on her arm (please!!) and she washes it off by mistake, but he could have easily traced hers!

Tamanna swallows her disappointment, goes back to work for the ad agency run by the avuncular T J (Raja Krishnamurthy) and suddenly discovers that the one night of passion with Rohit has left her HIV positive.

Her sister and some friends are supportive, but her boss fires her for ‘incompetence’. Tamanna decides to sue (this is a straight lift of the Hollywood film Philadelphia) for wrongful termination, though no lawyer will take her case. Finally, Tarun (Abhishek Bachchan) is impressed by her grit and, along with Lal (Nasser), his guru, takes on a legal system that has no precedents for a case like Tamanna’s.

Amazingly, for the media-ruled times, a path-breaking case like this gets no attention. We read horrifying stories of ostracism of HIV patients, but Tamanna faces nothing, but for a couple of friends skipping her birthday party.

In court her boss is represented by a one-armed (why?) virago (Mita Vasisht), who asks the obvious question about how Tamanna contracted HIV. At which she looks stunned and very hesitantly reveals the Rohit story. Besides the astonishing silliness of the romance, the political incorrectness of this line is shocking. Despite director Revathy’s sensitivity towards the subject, there is an underlying ‘judgmental’ attitude here. The case is not about Tamanna’s virtue or lack of it, but about whether an employer has the right to sack an employee who is HIV positive? Even if Tamanna was a swinger, what she did after work was not the bosses’ concern!

But the focus shifts to Tamanna’s “character”, and Revathy strives too hard, perhaps unwittingly, to prove that Tamanna is a ‘good woman’, even though she may have slept with a man. How Rohit got AIDS is glossed over; all you know is that he came from America, where (reading between the lines), presumably promiscuity leads to AIDS. Too say more would be a spoiler, but when you expect Tamanna to be a kickass fighter, she reverts to the female stereotype of weeping, nurturing, ministering angel.

Revathy has, however, got a career-best performance out of Shilpa Shetty, and Abhishek Bachchan delivering a sincere performance minus any affectations. Salman Khan does his best in a small but significant part. Nasser shines even in a tagged on part, and Kamalinee Mukherjee is a good find. Ravi Varman’s cinematography is excellent.

There are touching emotional moments between the sisters, between Tarun and Tamanna, Tarun and Lal, but you don’t come out of the film feeling particularly edified. Though the message of Phir Milenge is resolutely positive – do not discriminate against people with HIV or AIDS—the in-built conservatism, sexism and self-righteousness do not exactly help the cause.


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