Saturday, May 26, 2007


Cheeni Kum

If the tagline says “A sugar free romance” we take their word for it. But that doesn’t mean R. Balki has not loaded the film with spoonfuls of artificial sweetener.

Cheeni Kum is the kind of film in which a pint-sized, kid suffering from cancer is called “Sexy”. And she (Swini Khara, pretty and natural) is so precocious, every time she opens her mouth, your teeth get a cavity. Add to that a cute old lady and you are this close to diabetes.

All the characters drop clever wisecracks all the time and seem incapable of having a normal conversation. After a while when the charm of the May-December romance wears off, the one-liners turn into platitudes and the film collapses like a soufflé made by an apprentice cook.

Buddhadev Gupta (Amitabh Bachchan) is the acerbic owner and chef of “London’s best Indian restaurant.” At 64, he is not just single, but also abstemious (the condom-buying scene suggests that), and lives with his mother (Zohra Sehgal), with whom he squabbles as much as with his staff. His confidante is the little girl next door who demands porn videos and offers sage advice.

Then Neena Verma (Tabu) walks into the restaurant and criticizes a dish. When Buddha insults her, she makes the dish as it should be made and sends it to him. Bingo—a romance happens! No preamble, no hesitancy, no doubts. Neena looks the ‘behenji’ type from Delhi and single at 34. Later Buddha accuses her of accepting his proposal because she was afraid of being left on the shelf, but Neena seems the flirtatious and provocative type. She makes Buddha run to test if he has ‘stamina.’ In response he tries to drag her into a hotel. But there is a coyness about dealing with the aftermath of a sexual encounter, so Balki leaves it at that.

A marriage proposal means going over to Delhi and meeting the father (Paresh Rawal), who is six years younger than Buddha and talks to him like one of his own generation. Naturally he is appalled that is daughter wants to marry an old man and tries to prevent it. Things get completely out of hand and increasingly corny.

If Balki did not cast Amitabh Bachchan in the role, the film would not have worked at all. Because he does the part (never mind the ridiculous ratty ponytail) with a dignity and charm that is intrinsic to his personality, it doesn’t seem implausible or offensive that a much younger woman would fall for him. However, the characters of both the stars are underdeveloped, and only the skills of the actors (Tabu lets Bachchan lead) make them slightly believable. Paresh Rawal comes as a relief (despite the Gujarati accent), because he cuts down the cute quotient of the film considerably and keeps the floundering second half afloat.

Cheeni Kum is by no means a gourmet dish, just okay as fast food.

Shootout At Lokhandwala

Apoorva Lakhia’s Shootout at Lokhandwala is supposed to be based on “true rumours”, which means it is based on a true incident of cops attacking a gangster hideout and killing them in an ‘encounter’. The film also plays safe by adding the standard ‘no resemblance to any person or incident’ disclaimer.

Problem is that this cop-and-gangster face-off has been dealt with in so many fictitious films (mainly by Ramgopal Varma and his Factory) that there is no thrill or novelty in the true story. It’s just seeing more scenes of gangsters running down narrow lanes and being shot, or threatening builders, or killing informers and dancing with bar girls.

It’s not even as is Lakhia was making a point about encounter killings or human rights. His own sympathies swing from the cops doing a thankless task and getting divorce notices from wives, to the gangsters, with scenes of their parents pleading with cops not to kill their sons.

Even if Lakhia had been inclined to cover the background of the swaggering gangster Maya Dolas (Vivek Oberoi—best of the lot), that has been done too in films like Satya and Company. Oberoi could be reprising his own role from Company, as a ruthless mobster climbing the underworld hierarchy.

Sanjay Dutt plays the heroic Shamsher Khan (based on AA Khan who makes an appearance in the film), who trains the Anti-Terrorist Squad into a crack team. Seen this character in many films too (like Ab Tak Chappan).

Irritatingly, this film, instead of keeping the tension between cops and criminals simmering, makes place for many ‘item’ numbers and has Maya and his men look like they were having a blast. Suddenly there is an about turn in the end, when a shocked TV reporter (Dia Mirza) questions the cops’ brutal methods. Then another about turn, as the cops’ lawyer (Amitabh Bachchan) gets them off the hook in court, seemingly with one question to the judge, “Would you rather have a cop with a gun outside your door or a gangster?” Couldn’t Lakhia have done better than that!


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