Friday, December 30, 2005



John M. Matthan’s Shikhar is an antidote to the hedonistic kind of cinema that comes out of Bollywood, with no social framework or purpose. But it is relentlessly bogged down by its high-mindedness, very much like Swades. Why must all good and morally correct ideas come with such preachy solemnity and lack of humour?

Coming from the lineage that includes films like Shree 420, Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman and Wall Street, Shikhar has it’s soul in the right place, but makes for arduous viewing.

Gaurav Gupta (Ajay Devgan) is an ambitious builder who dreams of setting up his own city on the outskirts of Mumbai (he is called GG, which has to be a tribute to Gordon Gekko of Wall Street). For this he takes the help of a slimy minister and evicts a whole village of adivasis in Songarh, surprisingly without protest from them.

The stay order comes from Guruji (Jawed Sheikh)- an industrialist-turned-philanthropist, who runs an ashram and orphanage at Songarh, whose land GG is eying next. GG’s project stalls and he has creditors on his back, when he finds a chink in Guruji’s armour--his son, Jaidev (Shahid Kapoor).

Jaidev has been sent from the ashram to the city to look after the family business, and GG starts to corrupt the young man, first by offering a tempting business deal, and then by dragging him into the world of booze, women and gambling. Eventually Jaidev realizes he has been conned and comes back to the fold.

Matthan decides at some point that the film needs glamour, so the action shifts to Thailand, where GG shoots an ad film. Jaidev’s ashram mates, including Madhavi (the girl who loves him), and a shudh-Hindi speaking lawyer (which passes off as comedy) accompany them to study tissue culture (oh yeah?). The sari-clad Madhavi converted to tiny dresses, with the excuse that no other kind of clothing is available in Thailand!
Some parts of the film are cringe-making—like Jaidev left wounded outside the slum where the ousted adivasis have been dumped—why would the rich guy not go to a hospital? And surely he could not be so naïve as to be unaware of how poor people live?

The problem also is that GG does not come across as truly Machiavellian (would anyone sink crores on the word of a rural development minister?) and spends half the film whining. Guruji provide an adequate foil for him either, at a crucial point he gives up trying to persuade Jaidev and leaves.

While Jaidev is excessively innocent, the two men fighting for his soul, lack the towering power of virtue and evil.

However Matthan keeps the film moving at a brisk pace and the performances are undoubtedly excellent. Ajay Devgan is infallible now, Shahid Kapoor has the childlike quality that makes Jaidev work. Pakistani star Jawed Sheikh, too sexy to play the character patented by A.K. Hangal, lends a certain calm and dignity to his character. The female characters are not too well defined, but Bipasha and Amrita do their roles adequately.

What shines through the film with all its faults is Matthan’s honesty and earnestness—not many filmmakers today stick their necks out to make films that talk of values and ethics.

Anjaane : The Unknown

Alejandro Amenabar’s Nicole Kidman starrer The Others has already had an awful Hindi reharsh-- Hum Kaun Hain (with Dimple Kapadia), so watching Anjaane:The Unknown is like going through the same nightmare again.

Manisha Koirala in awful make-up, strange satin outfits, has to run up and down the stairs of the set, and keep track of her two kids, and three spooky servants (Helen being one of them). Outside the set erected on a lonely hillock, there is her husband (Sanjay Kapoor) and his girlfriend (Tejaswini Kolhapure) breaking into song whenever the director (his name oddly spelt) does not know what to do next. Himesh Reshammiya really scraping the bottom of the barrel!

All one can do is laugh through the supposedly scary movie and feel sorry for Manisha Koirala; feel sorrier for Helen, who is made to put a lampshade on her head and dance to Mera naam chin chin choo. The film is mercifully short, that’s the best thing about it.


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