Friday, September 16, 2005

Salaam Namaste 

“This is 2005, everybody has a life,” says a character in Salaam Namaste. Nice of him to remind us of the year, because it immediately makes you wonder why, even in 2005, a girl doesn’t need beauty, intelligence, talent, sex appeal to get a guy; she still has to go back to that 1940 prop—babies!

All the yuppie coolness of Siddharth Raj Anand – hugely inspired by Chris Columbus’ Nine Months -- goes for a toss, when you have a female character—a doctor at that, who is not just ignorant of contraceptive methods, but goes all gooey-eyed and rabidly pro-life at the sight of a foetus seen in somebody else’s sonography. How did she get as far as getting admitted for a surgical course without having seen a few sonographies, child births and abortions on the way?

Not just that, a magical sonography video makes a believer-in-fatherhood out of her almost militantly commitment-phobic boyfriend.

Rewind to Melbourne, where Nick (Saif Ali Khan) is an architech-turned chef, Amber (Preity Zinta) is a RJ-cum-medical student—both have broken ties with their families and live by themselves. Both are ambitious and not too keen on marriage –fine so far so good. In fact, this portion is so cute, witty, well shot and edited, that you start juggling four stars in your head. Look at the smart split-screen intros of all the characters (very Kal Ho Naa Ho); look at that really marvelous Australian wedding scene, where after the ceremony, everybody strips and dives into the azure ocean; laugh at Nick’s buddy (Arshad Warsi—funny as ever), who loves-and-marries a bridesmaid (Tania Zaetta) at first sight, and isn’t quite sure if he is regrets it later.

Nick and Amber start by squabbling (he doesn’t turn up for her radio show, she attacks him on air), getting attracted to each other, moving in together (Jaaved Jaaferi is hilarious as their Bihari-turned-Crocodile Dundee landlord) and actually going to bed. Good, you think, at least Hindi films –even those not starring Mallika Sherawat—have stopped climbing onto the moral high ground over sex.

The two learn to adjust to each other’s whims, enjoy their life and discover that what they share is really love. Then Amber discovers she is pregnant, Nick doesn’t want a baby— he told her right at the start that he was anti marriage and kids-- and a bucker of ice cold water is poured over your head and over the film.

Back to old style melodrama, emotional blackmail of the most devious kind—it’s as if the writer-director decided that motherhood is not something to be facetious about. So except for the contrived comic scene in which Amber wants a particular ice-cream at midnight and Nick obligingly drives her all over the city, the film turns deadly serious, and constantly points angry fingers at Nick, who is refusing to be a responsible father.

Of course, you are never in doubt about the outcome—Nick is a decent guy after all, he doesn’t simply vamoose, as he could have, even given the shortage of money.

The last few minutes are enlivened by the appearance of Abhishek Bachchan as the clumsy Robin Williams-ish doctor (from Nine Months), and on to the conventional happy ending.

No problems with the performances, both Saif Ali Khan and Preity Zinta are fabulous, the music is hummable (Nikhil Vinay), all the gloss is in place. Since the film is calculated to please its target of multiplex audiences, it might just continue the run of Yashraj successes, but it is manipulative, dishonest and ultimately disappointing.


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