Sunday, October 14, 2007


Laaga Chunari Mein Daag

Can’t believe that in 2007, the old “Gangajal se pavitra” chestnut would be heard. For that matter you can’t believe that a contemporary filmmaker would use a title as regressive Laaga Chunari Mein Daag—the chunari symbolising chastity. Pradeep Sarkar’s film would have you numb, were it not for the sense of unease at its universe of moral chaos.

A small town girl with no education and no skills, has no choice but to become a hooker in Bombay—the director is squeamish about using the word, so the milder “escort” is the substitute. By that logic, every poor woman should become a whore! Once Vibhavari (Rani Mukerji—standard expressions) succumbs to a lecherous potential employer, the inference is: now that there is a daag on her chunari, she is out of decent society, she might as well become a full-fledged call girl.

In no time, a kind benefactor teaches her to speak English, dress smart and walk elegantly (with a book on her head!), so then why couldn’t she become a model or actress, or get the jobs she was denied earlier because she couldn’t speak English?

She is no ordinary call girl but one so high-priced that in a few months, she has penthouse in Mumbai, a chauffeur-driven car and clients who take her abroad. She sends money home, where her parents (Anupam Khar-Jaya Bachchan) are battling poverty, for the education of her silly, high-pitched sister Shubhavari (Konkona Sensharma—irritating). She lives it up in swank hotels, but refers to her life as one of suffering and worse than death. If that were so, why didn’t she quit when she made her fortune? If she were a red-light area, exploited by pimps and madam sex worker, her unhappiness was understandable. But this is a Yashraj production – so no sordidness. Just Banaras havelis shot in golden hues and Switzerland.. of course.

Right at the start with the Hum to aise hain bhaiya song, Sarkar establishes a poor but happy household. But poverty is compounded by a nasty uncle and father getting a heart-attack that all film fathers do when some melodrama is needed. “If only I had a son,” he says. So Vibha goes off to Mumbai to prove herself worthy of being a son. Very easily she gets shelter and help from good-hearted folk, who can do anything but get a non-English-speaking, matric-fail girl a job!

Money flows in (enough to love lavishly and pay hush money to blackmailing cousin), sister lands up to work in an ad agency—her vocabulary and wardrobe undergoing instant change. Shubhavari falls in love with office cutie Vivaan (Kunal Kapoor) and when it’s time for the wedding, the mother gets into doomsday mode, because Vivaan’s brother (Abhishek Bachchan) proposes to Vibha, who he met in Zurich. No girl with that stained chunari is supposed to get married, according to constantly grimacing Mommie Dearest. Vibha, relentlessly apologetic, talks of “bojh” and “daag”—as if the man is doing her a favour by marrying her.

The story, credited to Aditya Chopra, goes back to 1977’s Aaina, when the heroine had to die, and to 1995’s Doghi, where she didn’t—but neither film was as hypocritical as Sarkar’s.

There’s just one moving scene in spurious tragedy – the sister telling Vibha to shut up and stop apologizing. Wish somebody had told the director to shut up and stop apologizing for Vibha and not to dump his 19th century morality on us.

Bhool Bhulaiyaa

Maybe Priyadarshan needs a break—so that he can stop palming off old Malayalam films, and think of something fresh. Also, since he has a reputation for making comedies in Mumbai, his attempts to be funny are getting to be increasingly desperate.

His Bhool Bhulaiyaa is, according to him a “psychological thriller”— you wouldn’t have guessed if he didn’t clarify. But his remake of Manichitrathazu (made in Tamil as Chandramukhi) is neither comedy, nor horror, nor thriller, but an uneasy mix of the three.

If horror means strange shadows in underlit palace corridors and sounds of ghungroos in the dark, then Mahal did it in1949. If comedy means Rajpal Yadav painted red, or Akshay Kumar scratching his bottom and bullying a strange looking dude, then, well, what can be said about the director’s comic sensibility!

The first half hour or so of the film has an oddball bunch in Banaras, just fooling around and waiting for the owner of a haunted haveli (shot beautifully) to arrive from America.

That said, the plot had potential—the local princeling Sidhharth (Shiney Ahuja) and his wife Avni (Vidya Balan) insist on living in their haunted palace, despite warnings from a stern uncle (Manoj Joshi). The spirit of a dead dancer and her lover killed by a king, are locked up in an out-of-bounds floor of the haveli. But Avni insists on opening it and weird things start happening. The uncle and his large extended family of bizarre-looking women park themselves in the haveli, ostensibly to support the couple. Among them are jilted in love girl (Ameesha Patel) and her spooky brother (Jhimit Trivedi) who runs around in the dark with ghungroos in his pocket!

Siddharth summons his psychiatrist friend Aditya (Akshay Kumar), who is more buffoon, less doctor, to figure out what is happening. That includes taking off with the spooky brother, and singing a song – strange indeed.

The problem involves some tantric gobbledygook and psychobabble – the cause of all the mayhem being a character’s Dissociative Identity Disorder. Whose? That’s the suspense part.

Much too long, wishy-washy about the superstition element (do ghosts exist or not?), strewing about too many red herrings and gaping plot holes, plus trying to be needlessly funny, Bhool Bhulaiyaa gets lost in its own maze.

By the time Akshay Kumar arrives, it’s already too late to salvage the film. And the hit Hare Ram number is used with the end credits—criminal waste.

The Priyadarshan menagerie is all there – Paresh Rawal (wasted), Rajpal Yadav, Manoj Joshi and all and amidst this noisy bunch Shiney Ahuja and Vidya Balan are lost—she has hardly anything to do, but for this part Shobana had won the National Award. Go figure.


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