Friday, November 12, 2004

Diwali Crackers 


More than just a film (and a much hyped one at that), Veer-Zaara is the essence of the Yash Chopra kind of cinema—a kind of swan song even. Who knows if and when a Gen Next filmmakers will be able to take a feeble, completely unbelievable, archaic plot and make a film with such conviction. You can laugh because a lot of it is so corny and manipulative, but weep at the emotional power of it at the same time.

The story of Veer-Zaara, the characters, and their idealistic lives belong to another era, and this film perhaps marks the end of that era, just like Pakeezah had marked the end of the Muslim social.

It’s obvious that that even for Yash Chopra, this film holds tremendous nostalgic value for a culture (bucolic Punjabi) and a way of life that no longer exists—or if it does, it is in a grotesque parody of Bollywood.

Chopra’s Veer Pratap Singh and Zaara Hayat Khan come from a line of noble film Heroes and Heroines of the old Shama-Parwana school, who have, for better or worse, made way for more contemporary and fallible characters.

Today’s hero will go into the heroine’s house and carry her away, he won’t spend 22 years in prison, just to preserve the girl and her family’s honour. And today, of course, the idea of love and codes of honour have changed drastically. That’s why Veer-Zaara has an inimitable quaintness about it—Yash Chopra could pull it off, the same film by somebody else would have been booed off the screen.

An unnamed Indian prisoner has languished in silence in a Pakistani prison for 22 years, before a human right’s lawyer Samiya Siddiqui (Rani Mukherji, earnest) comes to his rescue. The world has given him up for dead and nobody know who he really is. It’s not clear how Samiya finds out, but she draws out his story (even the parts that he could not have known!) and moves court to get him justice.

Veer (Shah Rukh Khan, charming) had met Zaara (Preity Zinta pretty but vapid like all Chopra heroines) when she came to India to immerse the ashes of her nanny. He saved her from a crash, and then took her home to his village to show her a glimpse of Indian life. His foster parents (Amitabh Bachchan-Hema Malini, endearing together) shower her with love, but she has to return to a marriage of convenience to Raza (Manoj Bajpai), who vindictively sends Veer to prison, where he spends the next 22 years, till Samiya finds him.

There are a lot of incongruities in the script (Aditya Chopra), and a lot of bloopers (Indo Pak travel was not so easy 22 years back, STD booths are a recent phenomenon, etc) but Chopra still manages to take the viewer along—often dragging their feet—into an unreal Bollywoodian world of his making. He gets fine performances from the supporting cast, he makes Punjab look like Switzerland (which is where a lot of it is actually shot) and makes a plea for Indo-Pak friendship to catch the current ‘Dove’ phase. Even though Veer-Zaara is disappointing, it is still watchable.


In these days of cut-throat, box-office rat-racing, it is rare for a director to make a film just as he want to, and hang the consequences! If Ram Gopal Varma’s stylish and bizarre Naach does well commercially, it will be a miracle. But what a welcome change it is from the usual bubblegum, fairytale romances.

The story is lightweight fluff— a very ordinary love triangle, that could trace its roots back to the filmmaker’s own Rangeela—the magic is in the visualizing of it. Varma and his DOP (Kiran Reddy) consciously dump the moony, picturesque style of shooting love stories that Bollywood is so fond of; Varma’s compositions are brooding, weird, even ugly… he strives to make something as ordinary as a bus ride look (and sound) edgy. He drops his Tarantino influences to adopt a blend of European and Latin American cinema. There is a certain beauty in Naach, but it is not the alabaster-chiffon-and tulips beauty that Bollywood has patented. Those who have been exposed to non-Hollywood international cinema are more likely to appreciate Naach—which is not to imply snobbery, just an acquired taste.

Rewa (Antara Mali) is an aspiring choreographer, Abhinav (Abhishek Bachchan) an aspiring actor. He needs to learn to dance to make it in the movies, she can teach him. Her approach to dance is almost worshipful, she wants success, but on her terms. Abhinav gets success on the industry’s terms. They part bitterly.

When they meet again, Rewa has become a star. She has been given a break as a choreographer and dancer in a music video that becomes a hit. Diwakar (Ritesh Deshmukh) does not understand her mind, but is willing to see things from her point of view. Abhinav is offered a film with her, but is jealous when he sees her camaraderie with Diwakar. The film then moves towards a slightly disappointing climax.

The big flaw in Naach (apart from the trite plot) is that the work Rewa defends as sacred is hardly great or cutting-edge—but just a mishmash of ballet, gymnastics and Western dance styles that is embellished with outlandish costumes and styling. But Varma-- like an abstract painter-- seems to wants to pay tribute to the human body, and Antara Mali is able to bring to the dances a sexuality that is strangely un-erotic. It’s like, a viewer is not turned on by an athlete’s lithe frame—there is something clinically perfect about Rewa’s exposed body that evoke awe, not lust. Abhishek Bachchan has to just stand back and let her take centrestage… her physicality covers up for the half-baked characterisation—he doesn’t have that support.

Ignore his superficial glance at the industry and his cheeky barbs at some eminent film folk; and given that Varma’s films are seldom strong on content, Naach is such a visual tour de force, that it doesn’t matter. It is his most accomplished film to date.


Abbas-Mustan make a bloodless version of Barry Levinson’s Disclosure, in which a vindictive woman accuses her former lover of attempted rape. In turn, he accuses her of sexual harassment and wins the case; all of which is quite laughable in India, where nobody takes cases of rape seriously, leave aside male sexual harassment.

The directors use the titillating aspect of the issue (including a lengthy seduction scene which turns out to be a dream sequence!), but the film ends up as an under-developed social-cum-courtroom drama minus any build up of tension or thrill.

Raj (Akshay Kumar) works for a cell phone company, has recently married Priya (Kareena Kapoor) and bought a bungalow, when former lover Sonia (Priyanka Chopra) lands up as his boss’s (Amrish Puri) wife and managing director of his company. She had dumped him to follow a career and finally snagged an old man for his money.

She tries to seduce Raj, he rejects her, and in retaliation she gets him fired for attempting rape. With the help of a lawyer friend (Anu Kapoor), Raj files a suit of sexual harassment, which eventually Priya fights because the lawyer is knocked down to steal vital evidence.

The Raj-Priya romance is boring and long-drawn, the Raj-Priya affair is tame and the court scenes totally lacking any fireworks (despite Paresh Rawal’s over-the-top histrionics). In court, once Sonia denies knowing Raj previously, she practically throws away her case.

The film makes no valid point really, and goes over old ground where the ambitious careerwoman is a vamp, and the wife who gives up her career to be good wife and mother is the goddess.

Priyanka Chopra and Kareena Kapoor have a few scenes each where they get to perform, Akshay Kumar looks lost and baffled. One expected better from the combined forces of Subhash Ghai (producer) and Abbas Mustan!


Had K.Asif been able to make Mughal-e-Azam in colour, it would probably have looked quite different from this artificially coloured one. It is a painstakingly done job, but no matter how accomplished the effort, fact is you can’t improve on perfection.

To today’s young audiences, Mughal-E-Azam might seem like an overblown melodrama, but nobody can deny its grandeur or its emotional wallop – to which ‘colourisation’ has made no difference. Had the film been released with a restored black-and-white print, its curiosity value and impact would have been just the same. The songs (Naushad at his peak), dances, battle scenes—were all fabulously shot, and this was before computers had made things relatively simpler for the filmmaker.

Mughal-E-Azam was just so big and spectacular, that it effectively killed the costume epic in Bollywood. But for an occasional Taj Mahal, Pakeezah, Razia Sultan or Laila Majnu, nobody dared to attempt a period drama on such a massive scale, till Sanjay Leela Bhansali took up Devdas.

Worth seeing, if only to discover what Magnum Opus really means.


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