Friday, June 10, 2005


A crisp but evocative introduction draws the viewer right away into Calcutta of 1962, and into the upper class lifestyles of large houses with pianos, Elvis mingled with Rabindrasangeet, vintage cars, night clubs, races, and burgeoning ambition.

The original Saratchandra story of Parineeta, was set in the early twentieth century, writers Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Pradeep Sarkar have updated it enough to do away with its innocence, while retaining a period flavour. This gives Pradeep Sarkar’s version of Parineeta a golden hued, leisurely-paced, excessively ornate ambience(were there so many elegant vintage cars still left in the city ruled by the clumsy Ambassador?), yet keeps releasing a rich feel of nostalgia in controlled bursts.

Orphaned Lolita is befriended by her neighbour Shekhar, and the two grow up (Vidya Balan-Saif Ali Khan) deeply in love, but not yet aware of it. He composes music, she acts as his lyricist and muse. Two events burst into this idyll—the arrival of London-returned Girish (Sanjay Dutt) into the neighbourhood, and Shekar’s father Navin Rai’s (Sabyasachi Chakravarty) intention to grab Lolita’s uncle’s haveli and turn it into a heritage hotel.

Girish falls in love with Lolita (did their first meeting have to be as silly as her mistaking him for an electrician?), while her cousin Koel (Raima Sen) falls in love with him. As Shekhar seethes with jealousy, Girish becomes the family’s benefactor. He helps with no ulterior motive, but when he repays their debt and rescues the haveli, an embittered Navin Rai engineers a break-up between his son and Lolita and gets him engaged to a rich girl (Dia Mirza).

But, after an exchange of personal vows and an erotic evening together Shekhar and Lolita consider themselves married. A TV soap opera-ish misunderstanding causes a rift between the lovers, till the too-good-to-be-true Girish soothes things over and leads to a needlessly melodramatic climax that reunites Shekhar and Lolita.

Quite frankly, the updated version of the story is not all that appealing, and you expect some more depth to the characters, especially since they are placed outside the period in which Saratchandra envisaged them. (Why would an outspoken working girl not have a frank chat with the man she has been brave enough to go to bed with?) Still, Sarkar has not made a hash of it, as Sanjay Bhansali had of Devdas. Interestingly, both these Sarat novels had been filmed earlier by Bimal Roy, with an understanding, authenticity and emotional power that’s hard to match.

What takes Parineeta way, way above the usual Bollywood product is its technical brilliance – very few films are so sumptuous to look at and so aesthetically pleasing (everyone from the art directors to the costume designer to the cinematographer and sound designer have excelled). The look of Parineeta may be a little bit over the top, but that does not take away from the love and effort the team has put in. Just the recreation of Calcutta landmark Moulin Rouge, where Rekha does her ‘item’ number is worth the price of the ticket. Shantanu Moitra’s music suits the film fine.

Vidya Balan, made to look as act with a very Madhubala-like coyness (that seems to be Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s idea of feminine desirability), nevertheless, makes a superbly confident debut, leaving the leading men far behind. Sanjay Dutt has a very bland role; Saif Ali Khan does his part of the ill-tempered, arrogant aristocrat as best as he can, but his character comes across and weak and wishy-washy instead of complex.

Still, Parineeta is worth a look, and Bollywood can welcome a very talented director into its fold.


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