Saturday, June 25, 2005


Amol Palekar’s Paheli is likeable for what’s it’s not—it’s not a Hollywood rip-off, it’s not a run-of-the-mill romance, it’s not arty (like Duvidha based on the same story). However, if you think of how little of the story’s potential the film has touched, you still come out dissatisfied.

In the attempt to give Vijaydan Detha’s folk tale, a more commercial appeal, Palekar has overdone the exotica—Ravi K Chandran’s camera makes the film look gorgeous, but also much too colourful—like a ‘Come to Rajasthan’ tourist bait—with camel race thrown in as bonus!

The excessively glitzy look, takes away from the simplicity of a folk tale, the playfulness of fable, as well as the mystical quality of the romance. Paheli may have a lot going for in terms production values and performances, but the stolid narration lacks that ineffable magic that would have taken the story to a higher plane.

Lachchi (Rani Mukherji) is married to Kishan (Shah Rukh Khan) who leaves her the next day to go out of town on business for five years. On the way to her husband’s home, a ghost sees Lachchi’s face and falls in love with her. When the ghost sees the husband leaving, he takes on the guise of Kishan and lands up at his haveli. Kishan’s greedy father (Anupam Kher) is easily placated with gold.

The ghost tells Lachchi the truth, and she chooses to accept the man who loves her, over the one who callously abandoned her. They two are happy together till the real husband returns.

In the changing and updating of the story, a feminist touch is aimed at, but never reached, simply because when Lachchi’s strength is needed—when the real Kishan is to be identified—she is out of the picture. So except for letting the ghost impersonate her absent husband, Lachchi is not really a ‘doer’—things just happen to her. In this case, even the forced happy ending palls. Not to mention Amitabh Bachchan’s futile cameo.

Still, Palekar (and writer Sandhya Gokhale) have given the film a few innovative touches – like the puppet ‘sutradhars’ (voices of Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah), the charming scene of the ghost’s first encounter with Lachchi, and the touching but under-explored subplot of Kishan’s lonely sister-in-law (Juhi Chawla), whose dignified silence says more about the subservient condition of women in feudal Rajasthan, than all of Lachchi’s grimaces and tears.

If there was to be point made about the repression of women’s desires in a conservative ‘purdah’ society, it is lost in all the singing and dancing. So Paheli, teeters on the edge for a while, and falls right into the decorative and simplistic idiom of mainstream cinema.

Shah Rukh Khan, awkward in ethnicwear and moustache, doesn’t perform with his customary ease—he looks like he doesn’t know quite what to make of the character (which is actually DDLJ or Kal Ho Naa Ho in period costume). Rani Mukherji makes good use of her expressive eyes, and has the simple charm the character requires, but in her tiny part, Juhi Chawla leaves an indelible impact.

Audiences today are looking for something ‘different’ and that condition Paheli fulfills, though the slow pace and not quite catchy music may prove to be deterrents.


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