Sunday, January 13, 2008


Cast: Ajay Devgan, Pankaj Kapoor, Vidya Balan, Darshan Jariwala
Director: Rajkumar Santoshi
Runtime: 180 min.
Rating: ***
Genre: Drama, Action

It is said Marlon Brando allowed himself the courage to grow into that colossal force on set, to shatter the brand of raw vulnerable masculinity he was the sole owner of. Him and James Dean. “The only reason I’m in Hollywood is that I don’t have the moral courage to refuse the money” – he once said. There’s something profound in that statement, and that strange life of his. Profound for every artist who has been an actor, and for every actor who has ever been a star.
It was just yesterday when Ms. Sharmila Tagore was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Pune International Film Festival. It was a great ceremony, and there was the obligatory video tour of her characters, very nicely done. Nicely done not just because I and everyone in that 1000+ audience liked it, but Ms. Tagore seemed to be genuinely impressed. She mentioned in her address about the dilemma the actors face, and whether the gamut of expressions visible to us was her true self, or was it something we don’t usually pay to see. Agreed that is one of the items right out of the book titled ‘What is supposed to be said at award functions’, it was effective. Maybe the atmosphere got to me.
Just like the names above, Ajay Devgan plays an actor, his character the very definition of the hackneyed ‘filmstar’. That the character’s original name was Ashfaque Khan and that he has changed it to Sameer Khan is one of the numerous potshots/criticisms disguised as a social comment, prime elements of any Santoshi film. Transformation – internal or external – is a prime theme here, and could have been psychologically deeper still, had the film not showed the eagerness to stick to the Santoshi brand of tried and tested. Take this, apart from the above instance concerning the name – Sidhu, played by Pankaj Kapoor with a great degree of authority, was a dreaded dacoit and now transformed into a renowned social activist. Or Sameer’s own transformation to the sly urban superstar, which again, does not take a step away from the conventional. Thanks to that, we never get to see how the transformation happened, or what the emotional/psychological bearings were. No effects, only cause and result. Cut and dried, that is it.
I agree, it is one of the most difficult aspects of filmmaking, showing the transformation of a character. Convincingly at that, for it requires great writing and even greater skills when filming. But that has never been Santoshi’s forte, is it, and it would be sad on our part to dwell on such facets of his films. We sure can exclaim though, ‘what if’ and ‘alas’. This is a Santoshi film, and by that I mean it is the kind of film where you laugh at its self-seriousness and whistle when the next bombastic dialogue is punctuated with a drumroll. There is seldom anything internal going around in his films, everything is external. There are lines spoken you would want to instinctively clap for, I did. My uncle would call such lines chavanni dialogues. In case you aren’t clear, chavanni was best used when Sunny Deol thundered – “yeh dhai kilo ka haath jab kisi ke sar pe padta hai, to who uthta nahi, uth jaata hai.” There’re a fair dose of chavanni scenes too, and most of them involve that wonderful actor Pankaj Kapoor. His small figure towers over the film, for he has the chavanni character on him.
And then, there are unimaginative sequences and plot developments backed up by equally unimaginative camera angles and background score. There’s a sequence where Pankaj Kapoor’s Sidhu is talking about his transformation, and how it came about. It has the germ to move us, but that is at least 10 rewrites away. And 100 revisions on the drawing board, if there’s any, on how to take the shot. Rather than moving the camera in, gradually, zooming us into Sidhu, it takes tame edits and shots from every which place available, rendering his recollection seem an anecdote rather than a profound experience. It is a shame. Incidentally, there’s a sequence that seemed to have been shot in the same room where Amitabh Bachchan stood by the window 32 years earlier in Deewar. That was the first angry young man; this is the nth in a seemingly endless struggle against the system.
Santoshi’s films have always been against the system. They shout, cry in great angst at the deplorable state of affairs, holding the hackneyed viewpoint where almost every man in power is unscrupulous. Halla Bol maintains the tradition, where the first half concerning the problem is rather dull and dreary. Santoshi’s mind is never there; it is in the revolution, taking the bull by the horns, which appeals to his cinematic sense. Hence the crescendo is his films have always been the second half, and it is nothing different here. I guess that was the reason he chose to make a film on Bhagat Singh. But as Damien remarks in The Wind that Shakes the Barley“It's easy to know what you're against quite another to know what you’re for.”
Ajay Devgan tries, but Santoshi reacts best when he is catalyzed by that volatile chemical they call Sunny Deol. There’s a nice sequence where Sameer is receiving an award to the applause of a huge audience, and there’s this towering, intimidating poster of him. With a pair of sunglasses bear in mind. Intimidating in the manner of the famous gigantic poster of Citizen Kane. There, that man in the poster was the aura of Kane, here he’s an alter ego. At the end, Sameer’s waving to another huge audience, and there’s the same poster at a significantly lower altitude to him. Curiously the camera doesn’t seem to be aware of it, and instead focuses on the man towering over the audience. It was never the audience, the actor always had them. It was his alter ego he was cross with.


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The Ancient Mariner said...

hey naidu,

this was awesome review, I didn't like the movie and have written a review myself. just see if you agree or not. i hope you will.