Sunday, April 17, 2005

Zeher Tango & Nikhil 

My Brother Nikhil

Characters talk directly to the camera, about a dead AIDS patient, reminiscing misty-eyed, as if he were a great national hero felled by enemy bullets.

Hearts bleed for the HIV positive dude, though we never know how he managed to get it--surely AIDS is not an air borne disease! Sometimes these well-meaning, cause-waving films with their emotional manipulation just get on your nerves.

Nikhil (Sanjay Suri) belongs to a reasonably happy family, the only dark spot being a domineering father (Victor Banerjee). His mother (Lillete Dubey) and sister Anamika (Juhi Chawla) keep defusing the tension between the men with their cheerful banter.

Nikhil is Goa’s swimming champ, charming and outgoing, when he is diagnosed as HIV positive. He is thrown out of the pool, sacked from his job, his parents ostracized at their club and, worse, he is arrested and forcibly locked up in a filthy sanatorium. His mortified parents and the girl he was being paired up with (Dipannita Sharma) flee Goa, unable to take social pressure.

The story is set in the eighties, when there was terror born of ignorance about AIDS, and a patient was very likely to be treated as an outcast. If Nikhil had been the kind of guy who would look people in the eye and say, ‘ok so I am gay, I am HIV positive, I got it through unsafe sex, who are you to judge me?’ you’d have respect for him, and his subsequent projection as a ‘hero’ would have been justified. But he is a whiner, and he has a whole battery of people fighting for him, Anamika, her devoted fiancé (a geeky Gautam Kapoor), his gay lover Nigel (Purab Kohli) and a human rights lawyer (Shweta Kawaatra).

Writer-director Onir is rather insensitive towards the pain of the parents whose lives are also turned upside down by their son’s illness. But the attitude of the invisible townsfolk changes rather abruptly. One day they are stoning Anamika’s house, attacking Nigel’s home and scrawling ‘faggot’ on the wall, the next they are dancing at Anamika’s wedding, letting Nikhil teach their kids and then lighting candles in his memory. The school principal, a certain Gaston Roberge, who supposedly helps bringing out this transformation along with the sister and her supporters, is hardly seen. Since when does dying of AIDS mean automatic canonization?

On the one hand the film tries to tell us that hey, HIV patients are normal people, like you and me, ok? They can live healthy lives for years till they get full blown AIDS. Then you see Nikhil slowly and painfully wasting away in a matter of months, which kind of acts as a dampener on all that missionary zeal!

Still, debut filmmaker Onir shows definite promise. He beautifully creates a genteel world of pretty cottages, antique furniture, picturesque pubs and ordinary people. The suffering and courage of Anamika and Nigel often touch the heart.

The performances are mostly wonderful from the low-key Banerjee and Dubey, to the vivacity of Chawla, to surprising maturity of Kohli and of course the bravura Suri, who manages to accurately render the slow deterioration of a young man from robust to frail. Despite the tear-jerking, the film never descends to cheap melodrama, which is a major plus.

Tango Charlie

An anti-war film is always a good idea, but was there any need for Mani Shankar to be so ponderous about it? His Tango Charlie is an overly earnest attempt at glorifying the unsung heroes of the Border Security Force. He and his team have worked very hard on it, but the film with its documentary like solemnity makes for tedious viewing .

The film follows the exploits of the platoon led by the constantly sermonising Havaldar Mohammed Ali (Ajay Devgan) and his cohort Tarun Chauhan a.k.a Tango Charlie. They literally go north-south-east-west fighting Bodos in Manipur (Kelly Dorji making an impressive debut as the Bodo leader), Naxals in Andhra and Bengal, rioters in Gujarat, Pakistanis in Kargil. In between they find time to romance (Nandana Sen, Tanishaa as love interests), in mercifully brief episodes, with short snatches of songs.

The battle scenes are very well done and the director has take the trouble to have characters speaking in the respective regional languages -- though it would have helped if there were sub titles. Authenticity apart, after a point it is repetitive watching people being killed. And the relentless patriotic, high-minded lectures strike a false and annoying note.

You really feel sorry that so much effort and expertise has gone into creating a movie that's not just tough to sit through, but does absolutely nothing for the cause it takes up.


One more semi-erotic thriller from the Bhatt Factory, directed by one Bhatt nephew (Mohit Suri) and starring another (Emran Hashmi). The cosy family enterprise, merrily lifted from mediocre Hollywood cop flick Out of Time, just shifts the location from Florida to Goa.

Siddharth Mehra (Hashmi) is on the verge of breaking up with his wife Sonia (Shamita Shetty), who wants to go in search of her identity! Very conveniently, local hottie Anna (Udita Goswami) drops her dress, and seduces him. When the girlfriend has a vile husband, gets pregnant and has cancer for which tons of money is needed, and the boyfriend just happens to have the right amount from a drug haul in the police station safe, you’d think he’d have the good sense to run the other way.

But Siddharth, in spite of being a supercop (so the writer-director tells us), walks right into the trap. He gives her the money for treatment, and then to complicate the plot, Anna and her husband are killed in a mysterious fire just after she has named him as the beneficiary of her insurance policy. More plot contrivance: the investigating officer is Sonia. Now Siddharth must get to the clues first or he is prime suspect; and his wife keep looking daggers at him, even as she tries to feed him stale sandwiches. The vociferous feminist, incidentally, thinks nothing of observing Karva Chauth and touching her worthless husband’s feet.

This kind of done-a-thousand-times thriller would need atmosphere, erotica, pace, humour, super performances (and in the Indian context great music too) to work, and first-timer Mohit Suri fails on all counts. He does manage to get the story across in a semi-detached tone, as if even he didn’t know what to do when saddled with a prized idiot of a hero. Not to mention a femme fatale who couldn’t steam up a windowpane!


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