Saturday, September 01, 2007

Aargh + 2 

Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag

It would take genius to recreate the magic of a movie that is not just a landmark, but has become a part of our vocabulary. It takes a special kind of genius to mess up Sholay so badly. The plot idea—of outsiders coming to the help of a beleaguered community—seldom fails to work, if done well. And to put it simply, Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag is unmitigated disaster. Divorce it for a while, for the sake of fairness, from the perfection of Sholay, and it still fails to engage.

Varma sets his version in a fictional territory called Kaliganj, which is a coastal town, somewhere in Maharashtra, and Babban Singh (Amitabh Bachchan) is a gangster who wants to grab the land of the people. The victims seem to be curiously indifferent to the goings on and make no protest against the land sharks. Wherever this place may be, it is strewn with dark dens, under-construction buildings and an abandoned mill. The kind of place which has a Pradhan (headman), a tarty female rickshaw driver dressed like a street-walker (Nisha Kothari), an obviously South Indian Inspector (Mohanlal) with a sister-in-law (Sushmita Sen) who dresses like a Rajasthani widow.

No wonder you never get a handle on the place or its people, which is a prime requirement for drawing the audience into their world. Heero (Ajay Devgan) and Raj (Prashant Raj) are the two petty crooks, Inspector Narsimha hires in his battle against Babban, who has chopped his fingers off and killed his family.

You try very hard not to make comparisons with Sholay, but stray snatches of dialogue or background music keep reminding you of it. So you remember and miss the classic scenes like the train sequence, the heart-stopping moment when the audience and Jai-Veeru realize that the Thakur has no hands; there’s no Chal Dhanno scene, no Jab Tak Hai Jaan dance number, no Soorma Bhopali, no Jailor, no two-headed coin, and well, no spark.

What is there – the Mehbooba number, the killing of the old man’s son, the massacre of townsfolk, the drunken suicide attempt and the Tera Kya Hoga Kalia scene—are shoddy. What is added – a brother for Babban, an irritating squeaky-voiced cohort for Heero-Raj called Rambhabhai (Rajpal Yadav)-- is unnecessary.

Sholay’s Ramgarh was a distant rocky hamlet where it was tough for the law to reach. But why are the cops so invisible in a place supposedly close to Mumbai, that mass killings don’t get any reaction from the law or the media, and a convict who escaped after killing so many cops roams free?

Which brings us to the shock of watching Amitabh Bachchan in a horrendous get-up and silly mannerisms (he blows a ‘phoo’ at his opponents, and grinds his teeth in a pseudo-roar like a playground bully) playing a new version of Gabbar Singh, unarguably the most memorable villain in Hindi movies so far--probably the first truly evil, amoral and sadistic villain in our mainstream cinema. And what do Varma and Bachchan turn him into? A hobbling clown, with a puttering laugh and not an iota of menace.

Mohanlal and Ajay Devgan at least try to infuse some life into their roles, but it’s a thankless task. The music is unremarkable too.

Varma’s Aag is a dark, grubby and boring parody of Sholay, not fit to be called a tribute.


A Muslim policeman discovers, after his wife’s death in a bomb blast, that she was associated with a terrorist outfit.

Pooja Bhatt establishes plausible characters and a believable situation; it’s when she tries to get all analytical and politically correct, she flounders badly, thus making Dhokha a mildly provocative human drama instead of a powerful testament to our times that it could have been.

Coming soon after blasts in Hyderabad, Dhokha gets an accidental topicality—so more’s the pity that her story-telling is so muddled.

ACP Zaid Ahmed Khan (Muzamil Ibrahim) refuses to believe that his wife Sara (Tulip Joshi) could have been the suicide bomber in a random incident that kills and wounds people in a club. A grim anti-terrorist cell officer Raj Mehra (Gulshan Grover) arrests Zaid and interrogates him, but there is no connection found between him and his wife’s clandestine activities. As Mehra ruefully confesses, he didn’t discover his own wife’s extra-marital affair for two years.

Then Zaid finds proof that his wife was indeed a terrorist and sets out to find out why. And Pooja Bhatt pulls out the bag of clichés—Sara’s grandfather tells Zaid that atrocities of Kashmiri cops (Ashutosh Rana, etc.) drove her and her brother to a militant group, led by the venom-spewing Mulla Faridi (Munish Makhija).

A confrontation between rational Zaid and the aggressive Mulla is an absurd debate on Muslim militancy which is laughably simplistic. Terrorism is not a product of just police brutality, and the America-Iraq situation is not necessarily applicable to the rest of the world. There can be no justification for the killing of innocents.

More annoying than the arguments put forward, is the collection of superfluous characters Bhatt collects—like Zaid’s former girlfriend (Aushima Sawhney), who was forced to ditch him after 9/11, and turns up to shriek instructions. There is a good Hindu friend who is supportive and a bad Hindu friend who starts spouting anti-Muslim dialogue without reason.

If there are some well-handled scenes like the torture of Sara’s family, there are oddball scenes too, like Zaid’s meeting with his treacherous friend in a pub, and almost every scene with the ex-girlfriend.

To show Zaid’s suffering, Bhatt makes him either cry or wear a sobby expression throughout, making the good-looking actor look like a wimp. Tulip Joshi has very few lines but she has an expressive face. Anupam Kher, Gulshan Grover and Ashutosh Rana do their parts well, but can’t lend any maturity to the naïve film. Religious fundamentalism is an issue to be probed through cinema, and a pat on the back to Pooja Bhatt for attempting it, but is also needs a lot more careful reflection instead of knee-jerk rhetoric.

Victoria No. 203

Brij’s 1972 hit Victoria No 203 was an entertainer, but by no means a masterpiece, so it was hard to believe that it would lend itself to a new updated version. And Ananth Narayan Mahadevan’s film does not even live up to low expectations.

The plot involves a cache of diamonds stolen by a wealthy dude with the odd name of Bobby Bombatta (Jaaved Jaaferi), who wanted to buy them but was turned down. His partner in crime Tora (the model who shows off deep cleavage as she steals the 100 crore stones) decamps with the booty, but is stabbed (by Kamal Sadanah, the original producer’s son playing Ranjit) before she can escape.

She gives a locker key intended for her brother to the hospital attendant and dies. The key reaches two old good-for-nothing crooks Raja and Rana (Anupam Kher-Om Puri) who try to figure out what is unlocks. Meanwhile, Sara (Soniya Mehra), daughter of the Victoria driver who is wrongly accused of Tora’s murder, drives the carriage and tries to find the real killer. Jimmy Shergill plays an undercover cop who falls in love with her.

All the elements are intact, but the film like a ruined soufflé refuses to rise. The innocence and harmless fun that was apart of the old film, don’t translate too well in the new version. And Mahadevan’s own additions are no good-- like the awful climax in a movie studio. In 1972, Saira Banu dancing in a towel was hot, today girls prance around in less—and Soniya Mehra has no sex appeal.

Om Puri and Anupam Kher lack the charm and chemistry of Pran and Ashok Kumar. In short, this Victoria is a ride to nowhere.


Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

eXTReMe Tracker