English Vinglish

Finally Sridevi returns to films! A low key and female centric family drama, English Vinglish allows ample opportunity to show off her great range and perfect timing. Gauri Shinde has written a nice story with a whiff of “Shirley Valentine” about it, and directs with assurance.

Shashi (Sridevi) is a wife and mother, taken for granted by her family – husband Satish (Adil Hussain), bitchy teenage daughter Sapna (a very convincing Navika Kotia) and son Sagar (the endearingly cheeky Shivansh Kotia). She is a good cook and keeps a lovely home as well as running a business making and selling ladoos, barely having a moment to herself. Shashi is accomplished and loving, but that is what is expected of her so she gets no credit for that. The family mock her for her lack of polish and poor English. The cheap shots are also a way of father and daughter bonding and excluding Shashi. Shashi is gracious and rarely retaliates, instead letting her beautifully expressive eyes show the pain.

When Shashi’s New York based niece Meera is about to be married, Shashi is sent ahead of her family to help with the preparations. Nervous at leaving her kids and husband, she is forced to go where she can be useful. Again, her feelings are ignored for the sake of convenience.

Shashi stays with her sister and niece Radha (the sparky Priya Anand) and spends her days missing her family at home. Daunted by America and feeling left out, Shashi secretly enrols in a dodgy “Learn English in 4 Weeks” class.

 

This is where the film detours into “Mind Your Language” territory. Taught by David (played by one of the worst actors I have ever seen, and I am including Mimoh in that list) and along with her fellow students, Shashi begins to come out of her shell. One of the students keen to get her right out of her shell is the dishy French chef, Laurent (Mehdi Nebbou). The tentative stirrings of romance between Laurent and Shashi are very well played even if his lines are cheesy.

The rest of the class start off as a collection of broad stereotypes, but the actors develop their characters really nicely. Sumeet Vyas, Rajeev Ravindranathan and Maria Romano are particularly good fun. I also liked the way food played a role in communication and relationships.

The story isn’t really about learning English as a road to happiness, but it is about getting your mojo back and gaining the respect of your loved ones. There is a theme of English language undermining Hindi and excluding people in their own country, but really she could have taken a pottery class or something else.

 

Much as I cheered when Shashi managed to navigate her way into the city or order a coffee, and I loved seeing her grow in self esteem and happiness, I have a slight problem with the character. She was so passive aggressive, even considering of her lack of confidence. Why make Radha cover for her so she could sneak to class? Why not just ask her sister to keep it quiet as a surprise for the family or at least not ask Radha to be an accomplice. Telling Laurent about her family in Hindi seemed at least partly a lie by omission rather than purely an outpouring of the heart given their level of conversational skills. Her final speech was two-thirds guilt-trip inducing perfect filmi Ma (and the opposite of the real situation) and finally one-third honesty about what she believed was needed for happiness. It made me like her less than I wanted to and I felt heavily manipulated at times as she is clearly meant to be the morally good person in the frame.

 

Shashi lost me at times, but Sridevi never did. Her performance was beautifully nuanced. As her self-confidence grew, Shashi’s expressions became less guarded and her eyes lit up. When Sridevi smiled she was radiant. I really wanted Shashi to be happy, despite my reservations. I think this was more about Sridevi than Shashi though – I am so happy to see her working in films again.

The music by Amit Trivedi mostly ranges from bland to twee. I’ve never been a big fan of his and the tweedly emo guitar thing is not my style. The songs are mostly in the background or used in montages of Shashi looking sad. It was all appropriate to the tone of the film but I won’t be listening to the soundtrack anytime soon.

Whether it was Gauri Shinde or former co-star Sridevi who won him over, Amitabh Bachchan makes a fun appearance. He plays a rambunctious man of the world and gave Shashi some much needed confidence and sensible advice. Priya Anand is a standout. I liked her sassy style in her debut (Leader) and she was very natural as the lively college student Radha. Adil Hussain is also excellent as the thoughtless Satish, and the children are perfect for their roles. Maybe too perfect – that girl is a right little cow. The random extras at the wedding were energetic and got into the dances.

The visual design is excellent. Shashi’s house in Pune looked lived in and real, even if her saris were a bit too fabulous. I drooled over some of her outfits; all of them in fact, except the dark pink one (I don’t like pink) and the mauve (it was a bit too shiny). The NRIs lived in a very American suburban house with Indian touches in the decor. It was a nice representation of their life abroad and the connection to home.

I saw this with four friends and at least three of them cried several times during the movie and we all laughed a lot. It’s a film I would have loved to see with my mother and then go out with her for coffee. It’s a well crafted film, with a good story and some fine performances. Despite some issues, I highly recommend it. Welcome back Sridevi!

Namak Halaal (1982)

There is no shortage of plot in Prakash Mehra’s Namak Halaal and yet, when you boil it down, not a lot really happens. It is by no means a great film, but I am inordinately fond of the excesses of masala story telling and I have a sneaking affection for this one. Released in 1982, it has a very 70s masala feel right down to the casting and music, with a touch of cartoon action and comedy. Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor star, supported by Waheeda Rehman, Smita Patil, Om Prakash and Parveen Babi.

Savitri (Waheeda Rehman) and Bhim Singh (Suresh Oberoi) are devoted to their employer, Sanyal (Kamal Kapoor). When Sanyal is killed by enemy Girdhar in an ambush, a dying Bhim Singh makes his wife promise to look after Sanyal’s son Raja even if it means losing their own boy, Arjun. It is a veeeeeery long deathbed speech with lots of detail. Savitri takes Arjun to his grandfather (Om Prakash) and the old man blames her for his son’s death. She cannot prove her innocence so leaves and agrees to stay out of Arjun’s life. Savitri is honest and a competent businesswoman and manages the hotel empire while Raja is educated abroad.

The adult Raja is played by Shashi Kapoor. Looking a bit old and tired for the playboy role, Shashi nevertheless makes a stylish entry via a downhill ski race assassination attempt.

The beanie is not a good look, especially compared with Bob Christo’s splendid headgear.

Meanwhile Arjun has been raised poor but honest in Lakhanpur. His grandfather despairs of Arjun being able to stand on his own feet once the old man passes on, so decides to send him to the city to make a man of him. Prakash Mehra posits a correlation between libido and intelligence that I found quite amusing – hopefully it was meant to be a joke! Arjun is simple but not stupid, and quickly takes the measure of those around him. Amitabh’s performance is the element that holds everything together. He gives as much nuance and conviction to the silliest dialogues as he does to the most dramatic moments. His physical comedy is a treat and even when scenes drag on far too long (e.g. a fly induced slapstick fight) he keeps me watching.

Mumbai being the vast metropolis it is, of course the same dozen or so people see each other everywhere. Thank heavens there are no actual bells that sound for every cosmic coincidence in the film or I would have been deafened. Arjun is helped by his friend Bhairon and via the classic Pag Ghungroo (mixing comedy, dancing and lyrics that give the club audience a dressing down), scores a job interview at a fancy hotel owned by Raja and managed by Girdhar’s son Ranjit (Ranjeet) who is out to kill Raja on daddy’s instructions.

Ranjit took very little persuasion to go to the dark side, but his outfits were very subdued, one of my few real disappointments in this film.

Raja has become convinced that Savitri is trying to kill him to inherit the family fortune. His bitterness is evident in cryptic dialogues and he tries to offend her at every turn. In contrast, Arjun is a happy, simple fellow whose life is good. Arjun is a loyal employee and quickly tumbles to the danger his boss is in.

Actually if you don’t already know what Namak Halaal means, you will by the end of the film it is said so often! He takes it upon himself to protect Raja.

Waheeda is elegant as ever, and she gives Savitri both backbone and presence. Savitri speaks up for herself and refuses to accept blame when she is not in the wrong, but is pragmatic about her ability to change anyone’s mind. It was odd seeing her as Shashi’s Ma when they are around the same age but she was far more convincing as Savitri than he was as Raja! The filmi principle that you can’t grow up to be a complete person without being raised by your birth mother is quite strange to me. I was really pleased to see Arjun stick up for Savitri when Raja dismissed her as not a ‘real’ mother.

Of course as soon as he finds out his mother is alive and who she is, his life is perfect and she insta-loves him back, but whatever. I did giggle a bit at his definition of maternal love.  Eventually even the very obtuse Raja forgives the blameless Savitri albeit for the flimsiest of reasons.

Poonam (Smita Patil) can’t resist Arjun and he is certainly smitten with her. She works at the hotel and lives alone with her blind brother, and I think feeling supported and having a laugh were probably the things missing in her life. Smita Patil is a good match for Amitabh and their characters are the most likeable in the film. They have issues, but after an initial jump to conclusions they talk things through and it seems so nice and sensible. Maybe that is just in comparison to everyone else. They share one of my all time favourite rain songs. I like the way their relationship plays out, Amitabh is so gleefully naughty, and the backdrop is like a mini-golf course version of Bombay. It’s just a delight. And Smita must have been in that rain for a while as the colour bleeding from her sari border is quite noticeable at some points.

Parveen Babi is terrible as Nisha, the femme fatale caught under the thumb of Girdhar. She has such a lovely face, but only one expression. The sparkly costumes display her figure to good effect but her dancing is awful. She has one of the best ever disco cabaret stages in Jawani Janeman and her sole contribution is to block the view of the sets.

As she is supposed to be a seductress it might have been nice if it looked like she had a pulse. But she and Shashi are well matched as both are at less than their best.

Om Prakash is his usual grandfatherly type here, and he does some not very funny comedy when he tries to surprise Arjun. It did result in the fun drunking song Thoda Si Jo Pee Lee but still, overall I could have done with less of Daddu and his woe-is-me-ing. The support cast includes Kamal Kapoor, Satyendra Kapoor, Suresh Oberoi, Viju Khote, Chandrashekhar, and Ram P Sethi all doing what they do. Tun Tun makes a brief but unforgettable appearance as a party guest.

Bappi Lahiri provided the music with Kishore Kumar in excellent singing form for Amitabh and Asha Bhosle adding fun and flirty vocals. It’s a fun soundtrack that works best in conjunction with the picturisations.

Beth kindly listed many of the insane goings on, so if you feel the need to do more research before jumping in do take a look at her review. Otherwise, just take the plunge! I can almost guarantee that you won’t have seen anything quite like this. 3 ½ stars!

Department

Someone needs to take all of Ram Gopal Varma’s gadgets, lock them in the toy box and hide the key. A potentially interesting thriller, Department was swamped by RGV’s ‘rogue’ methodology. My guess is ROGUE stands for Ridiculously Overindulgent Gimmickry Undermines Everything. The nauseating (literally) camerawork and a dearth of story and character development made this a disappointing experience. But there were a few positives including an excellent effort by the wardrobe department and a handful of quite good performances.

Had the gimmick of cameras mounted on actors and props been used with restraint it could have been really striking.  For example, a chase around the Crawford market area – it looked great as the camerawork enhanced the sense of speed and confusion of the pursuit. But it is hard to appreciate someone’s acting when the camera crawls up one nostril and emerges from their ear, or is spinning around the bottom of a tea cup. The background score is what I’ve come to expect from RGV – loud, intrusive and annoying so combine that with the dizzying visuals and it is unpleasant.

The story is a standard of the cop genre: a young, slightly idealistic officer is teamed up with a shady older legend on the force. Sanjay Dutt and Rana Daggubati had a good dynamic between their characters and they played off each other well. Sanjay has a brooding reserve that suited Mahadev’s moral ambiguity, and he was world weary and cynical to the core. Mahadev has his own agenda, which is revealed all too slowly. Shivnarayan was no young ratbag to be easily distracted or lead astray– he was focussed on his career and working towards his goals. But he is realising there are many more shades of grey than he expected. Rana is a competent actor, and he certainly looks right for this role. He seemed more at ease in the second half when the action ramps up.

Mind you some of the dialogue is so stilted no one could make it work. There are great insights along the lines of “A mistake done intentionally is not a mistake”. If only I had been in charge of the Cliche Department, I would have found a much more inspirational desk calendar to pinch quotes from. A subtitle that spelled gangrene ‘gang-grin’ was another highlight.

The underworld aspect is less successful. Sawatya (wildly overacted by Vijay Raaz), and his opposition – a mysterious voice on the phone – are at war. But they didn’t provide adequate tension for the machinations of the plot to make sense or be interesting. Sawatya’s deputy DK (Abhimanyu Singh) is ridiculous, stupid, and not at all convincing. People keep banging on about Abhimanyu Singh’s intensity but I think he is just a really bad actor. Even as a corpse, he hams it up.

Amitabh as Sarjay Rao spent the first half chewing the scenery and the second being enigmatic. It wasn’t the performance I was hoping for although he was an interesting character. Excessive exposition drained the potential drama and made the characters less interesting as they did little thinking for themselves. The police would get news of their target’s whereabouts apparently out of thin air. There is no consistent internal logic, too many contradictions, and the story just doesn’t hold up. RGV seems to think he has discovered the concept of moral ambiguity and the idea is pounded home. It’s clumsy and tedious.

Lakshmi Manchu was quite good as Mahadev’s wife. Satya was from a police family so she had already worked through any moral issues she may have had about her husband’s activities. Shivnarayan’s fiancée, Doctor Bharti (Anjana Sukhani) made less sense. She seemed to have few concerns about her intended being an ‘encounter king’, and no thought about what it might mean to be married to someone who was pissing off gangsters at a rate of knots. Madhu Shalini as Naseer had a potentially interesting role – a female gangster who was as tough as nails. But her motivations weren’t clear or consistent, the relationship with DK was not believable and her acting ranged from terrible to mediocre. However I don’t think anyone would have fared well in the scene where she basically fellated a kulfi as she and DK fantasised about taking over and killing everyone. It was gross.

Nathalia Kaur got a lot of (RGV generated) publicity for her debut. Her assets are obvious and just in case you missed anything that camera gets right in there (the gold undies were unexpected and I am so glad she was wearing them). But for an item girl she lacks sensuality and relies on making what I can only describe as ‘porno face’.  Even with the minimal demands of the choreo, her ‘dancing’ was terrible. I don’t usually have a problem with the skanky item, and appearances by the likes of Mumaith Khan, Malaika Arora Khan, Rambha and others are often a highlight. This made me uncomfortable as between Nathalia’s performance and the dirty old man camera gaze creeping all over her body, it is just nasty.

Luckily someone in wardrobe realised the movie was off the rails and took a bold step that almost saved the day. Nasia and DK form their own gang – we dubbed them the Fashion Gang.

They dress really badly, over accessorise and spend too long fussing over their clothes when they should be running away from Rana. Meanwhile Shivnarayan has had an epiphany. He had temporarily lost his mojo once he was out of uniform and in civvies. There was some unfortunate double (acid wash) denim, and a regrettable lurex bandanna incident. But by the second half he had developed a signature style and was teaming jeans and a simple (very snug across the shoulders) linen shirt or a (so tight it looked painted on) polo shirt with minimal accessories – watch, shoes, belt and gun.

Classic and classy. He became the Fashion Police! He pursues and kills members of DK’s Fashion Gang – the guy in the green and purple stripy shirt, the guy in the gingham bandanna, the bedraggled beardy man, finally the leaders themselves. So when Sanjay Dutt turned up wearing double acid wash….well. It was riveting. Not enough to make this a film worth seeing, but it did keep me entertained just when I was giving up.

I feel bad for the actors in Department, especially Sanjay Dutt, Rana, Deepak Tijori and Lakshmi Manchu who I think gave solid performances. It’s a shame they have been undermined by RGV’s self indulgent antics and the lack of quality story and dialogue. Honestly I can’t recommend this is worth seeing. Unless you enjoy seeing those Crimes  of Fashion soundly punished!

Sarkar

I held out on watching Sarkar til a couple of years ago. I’m ambivalent about Ram Gopal Varma films. When he is good, he is terrific. But he has wasted some interesting ideas and great actors in projects that seem to be more about RGV than making a film (like RGV ki Aag, and that film all about Mahie Gill’s cleavage). I’m also on the fence about Amitabh Bachchan in this late career phase. He’s made some bad film choices (like Boom!) and not always acted to his ability. But Sarkar combines a focussed and controlled RGV with a complex performance from Amitabh and the result is a dark and gripping film.

Subhash Nagre (Amitabh) is an old school mafia lord. He believes in family, honour and loyalty. He isn’t painted as really good or sympathetic but he has a certain integrity, an old fashioned set of rules that he adheres to and that he upholds. Nagre is connected to his community and neighbourhood, and thinks of the social cost as well as the profit and loss numbers. His people worship him, gathering outside his mansion to catch a glimpse of their Sarkar. They come to him when the system fails them, and he is their justice. Amitabh looks picture perfect. He creates a focal point in every scene with his stillness and his gaze. I found I was almost hypnotised by him, drawn to watching Subhash’s reactions no matter what else was happening. There is a carefully controlled rage in some scenes that is far more unnerving than any histrionics would have been.

While Subhash acknowledges that he operates outside the law, he says ‘I do what is right for the people’. When people come to him asking for solutions, he accepts their obeisance with little expression. He makes a semblance of not wanting people to touch his feet etc but I wondered what would happen to anyone who dared not to. Some scenes are accompanied by a religious chant(Govinda Govinda featuring Amitabh’s vocals) showing the deification of Sarkar. There are glimpses of the monstrous ego behind the facade, the steely will that does not tolerate opposition or failure, and the carefully checked anger. We also see the family man and affectionate grandfather. Subhash Nagre is a complex man and he is a master strategist. Amitabh shows all of these nuances without being too actorly and I was watching the character, not the performance.

Subhash Nagre is challenged from within and without his family. Rashid (Zakir Hussain) is the new type of criminal. His decisions are all commercial and he has no empathy or reserve. He is not the kind of man Subhash is used to. There is no whitewashing of how Nagre makes his money, but the clashes hinge on honour and intent. He will not budge from his principles. His enemies know that to remove the man they must first destroy his reputation.

Son Shankar (Abhishek Bachchan) returns from the US. Baby B has a role where doing an impression of his dad is actually appropriate. Initially believing that his father simply helps others, his eyes are opened to the realities of the family business. In a conversation with Pooja (Katrina Kaif) they refer to the Sarkar empire as a parallel government, supporting the people and doing what is right, not just what is legal. Shankar is appalled at how his father is portrayed in the media. He is the golden boy, the one his father wanted to keep clean and safe from the business. The focus and decision making Shankar used in his corporate life are now applied to his family concerns. He is a quick learner and he will do what it takes.

Abhishek is not completely convincing but he does structure his performance well. Initially Shankar is relaxed and engaging and his body language is more open. As he is drawn more into the threats to his dad, he assumes more of Subhash’s mannerisms and strategies. Abhishek’s face becomes less expressive, he speaks more slowly and moves more deliberately. And he is ice cold, like his father.

Vishnu (Kay Kay Menon) is the son most like his father in ambition, but lacking focus and self control. The tension in father-son relationship is well depicted as Vishnu challenges his father’s authority and decision making. The dynamic between Shankar and Vishnu is also fraught as Vishnu desperately wants to be taken seriously, to be the next Sarkar. Quick to flare up or retaliate he has no ‘off’ switch and only intermittent self awareness.

The pain of rejection drives him, and makes him vulnerable to manipulation. Vishnu is co-opted by his father’s enemies, and spirals into confusion, hate, anger and regret. He is an oddly sympathetic character despite committing some of the most heinous acts. I think that is due to the complex and changing emotions Kay Kay invests him with. Kay Kay is expressive and emotional where Amitabh is smouldering control.

The Nagre mansion is a world away from the glaring light and sound of the streets. It is almost timeless, and full of shadows and silhouettes. All around there are men at arms working out and waiting for trouble. The family live in a small pocket of domesticity within the encampment. It’s a bit claustrophobic, but also serene and sometimes beautiful. It is the price Nagre pays as he needs to be safe but accessible to the people who give him his status.

All around Mumbai there are shadowy figures in dark room havings meetings and plotting Subhash’s downfall. The story is well written by Manish Gupta, and gains in intensity as more deceptions unfold. Kota Srinivasa Rao is the repulsive Selvaramani, chortling his way through schemes and double crosses. His idea of honouring a friendship is requesting a quick death for someone. Anupam Kher has a small role as an anti-corruption politician and still manages to try and upstage everyone with a hammy death scene. Raju Mavani as Vishram Bhagat is the everyman type of villain – he seems perfectly reasonable yet he is calculating and meticulous in scheming to dethrone Nagre. Telugu actor Jeeva as Swami is less successful. His mannerisms and dialogue delivery are hammy, and while I believed he was a serious threat his wig didn’t convince me at all.

Supriya Pathak delivers a good performance as the mother watching her son go off the rails and placing her family in deadly jeopardy. Tanisha is likeable as Avantika, the foster daughter who is in love with Shankar. Katrina Kaif is not entirely terrible as Shankar’s American based girlfriend Pooja. But the women in Sarkar are background – providing all the support systems and needs for the menfolk, but not often in the spotlight. These relationships are important, and there is a lot of affection between family members but the men take care of business while the women take care of the men.

The visual design and camerawork throughout Sarkar is excellent and reinforces the drama and emotion. The majority of the film is shot in tight close ups, making the characters the focal point. When things move out into a broader shot, the background detail and bustle of extras and locations gives a strong real world flavour. Amar Mohile’s music is dramatic but not intrusive and the sound effects and orchestration are very effective.

It’s a fairly grim movie. There are lots of unlikeable characters and they do some despicable things. But it is such an accomplished film and just drags me in to that world. Every time I see it Amitabh reminds me yet again of why he is such a legend. Sarkar Raj was a worthy sequel, and builds on Sarkar very well. I’m cautiously looking forward to Department to see if RGV and the Big B can do it again in a different story. 4 stars.

Heather says: This isn’t one of my favourite Amitabh films despite the fact that I think he plays the part of the aging gangster well.  I think the problem is that the story of the film doesn’t engage my interest until near the end and I just don’t care enough about any of the characters to want to know what happens to them. However it does have some good points and the end is almost worth sitting through the preceding hour and a half. I do like how cold and clinical Amitabh appears and that his ruthless Don does have a more compassionate side. However that’s not enough to make me like him and since he’s not a malicious criminal either I don’t find him very interesting to watch.  His son Vishnu is more engaging and Kay Kay Menon’s performance is good enough to make me feel at least some aversion for his sleazy character, but Abishek as Shankar is incredibly wooden and quite tedious throughout. The most enjoyable scenes in the film for me are those with Selvar Mani and Virendra Swami, partly because Kota Srinivaso Rao and Jeeva both put in a very good performances and because those two characters do have some personality. The rest of the cast are all fine, and in fact many of the support actors draw my attention much more than the main leads. However I have no idea why Katrina Kaif bothered to turn up as she may as well not have been there for all the impact her character had on the story. I thought her role was fairly pointless and much better reasons could have been used for Shankar’s initial reluctance to help his father.

There are a lot of meaningful pauses and significant looks throughout the film which make it even slower. I was distracted looking at the set dressing (which was excellent!) and when there was dialogue found that I was concentrating on understanding the Hindi and trying not to look at the subtitles, rather than watching the action. The film itself is well shot and the general idea of the story is interesting, but the characters are so lacking in any type of appeal that it never really connects.  It’s not even that I found them dislikeable, they were just rather dull.  I give Sarkar 3 stars, mainly for the ending and a convincing if uninspiring performance from Amitabh.

Reshma aur Shera

Reshma Aur Shera is one of my favourite films in any language. I don’t often like romantic tragedies as all too often I feel I’ve wasted my time watching people I don’t care for as they do idiotic things that could have been avoided if they weren’t so one dimensional or stupid. But each time I watch Reshma Aur Shera, despite knowing what is going to happen next, I fall in love with it all over again.

The love story is simple but engaging and Waheeda Rehman and Sunil Dutt light up the screen with their chemistry and brilliant acting. The tragedy comes from the spectre of death in a tribal feud set against the hope for change. Producer, director and star Sunil Dutt and writer Ali Raza created a full context for the lovers and that sense of place and family, the depth of the characters,  makes their predicament feel more immediate and of consequence. It also makes the film entertaining beyond just the romance, and it isn’t all gloom and despair. There is joy, fun and beauty too.

Reshma (Waheeda Rehman) is the daughter of Chaudhury of Pochina and Shera (Sunil Dutt) is the eldest son of his enemy, the Chaudhury Sagat Singh. These families have been picking each other off for years.

They meet at a fair in Jaisalmer, at the Durga Puja (she is also the presiding deity of the story). Shera fancies Reshma on sight and, like a good girl, Reshma coyly avoids him. The fair is wonderful looking, and I had moments of feeling I was watching a documentary rather than a set. There is so much to see with Reshma as she darts around enjoying the amusements, the snacks and the shopping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ecstatic music of a qawwali brings them face to face again, and in this heightened state a deeper emotional connection forms. I love this picturisation as it takes the viewer deep into the scene, with the vocals conveying the intoxication and pain of love. And it features a very young Sanjay Dutt (who developed his unique sense of rhythm early on it appears).

Once they discover each other’s identity, Reshma asks Shera to sacrifice her at the altar – a blood sacrifice not a marital altar. She wants to protect her brother Gopal (an outrageously handsome Ranjeet), and offers her life in place of his. Shera had already rescued Gopal from his own brothers earlier that day, proving himself honourable if unpopular with his kin and further impressing Reshma. Shera is determined their love will succeed and Reshma wants to believe.  They meet in the temple before leaving for home, and decide that they can have each other and bring about an end to the feud if they are careful.

Back in their villages life goes on, except that Shera and Reshma sneak into the desert to meet at night. Despite the stalker-ish beginning to the romance, it is a passionate mutual attraction and they both have a share in conversations about their future.

Family and friends are an important part of who Reshma and Shera are and why they do what they do. And the supporting cast is so impressive – Vinod Khanna as Shera’s nasty brother Vijay, Amrish Puri as an elder in Shera’s village, Jagant and Sulochana Latkar as Shera’s parents, the dashing Sudhir as the qawwali singer, Padma Khanna as an uninhibited nautch girl, Ranjeet as Gopal, Rakhee in a small but high impact role as Gopal’s wife, just to name a few.

Waheeda Rehman is simply amazing. Reshma evolves from a pretty young thing, giddy with excitement, to a more sombre young woman passionately in love with an enemy.  She realises she should send Shera away for good, but cannot sever their bond. Finally running out of options, Reshma challenges Durga to prove herself by taking on life as a woman on earth and see how that feels. Waheeda is just magnificent as she demands help in return for all the sacrifices to the goddess. And Durga does give her an answer.

Despite a ponderous voiceover at the start of the film extolling the Indian woman’s virtue of sacrifice, Reshma is not a passive sacrificial offering but rather uses herself as a means of creating change. When she makes up her mind, she does it to save Shera and stop the feud from claiming everyone she loves. She is determined and forceful, a far cry from the blushing girl she was at the start. It’s a challenging role and she delivers a beautiful characterisation.

While I initially thought Sunil Dutt looked a little too mature to be Shera, he has a certain appeal and even plays some unexpectedly goofy and sweet moments. He transforms from a lad about the fair to a future leader challenging his own father. His internal conflict is evident – the Rajput sense of honour and the man who wants a happy and peaceful future with the love of his life. Shera seems to benefit from the close relationship he has with his mother and his respect for Reshma, being prepared to think outside the heroic norms. But where Reshma suffers loss after loss and creates a solution of sorts, Shera reverts to type becoming as vengeful and bloodthirsty as his father and brothers.

Chotu (Amitabh) is a mute and is neglected by brothers Vijay and Jagat unless they need his sharpshooting skills. He worships Shera who treats him kindly and seems to be his only friend. Amitabh’s performance is beautiful, quite restrained and very moving. Chotu is a sad and confused young man, following his father’s path. He is ultimately responsible for killing Reshma’s father and brother, and that sets the final train of events in motion. While Sagat Singh takes the boys to a brothel as reward, Shera swears vengeance on whoever the killer was.

Their mother (Sulochana Latkar) emerges as a powerful force. Initially she wants Shera to follow his father’s order and kill Gopal, putting her sons above all else. But once things implode, she takes matters into her own hands to save what is left of her family. She takes Chotu to Reshma’s village and offers him as a sacrifice. The confrontation in Reshma’s home is gut-wrenching. Chotu is traumatised and disgusted at himself, and Rakhee as Gopal’s widow faces a life in ruins. He wants to die, can’t bear the pain of betraying Shera and knows he is doomed. This sequence is the one that gives me a lump in my throat every time. I can identify with the motivations of all the characters, and it seems impossible to reconcile their needs.

Creative versus destructive energies underlies much of the character interactions and is often divided on gender lines.  Not that the women are all about popping out babies and nurturing – I mean that their energy seems more focussed on preserving their homes, and on renewal and regeneration. They might destroy something or someone, even themselves, to achieve it but they have a positive goal rather than just aiming for obliteration of an enemy.  The action in the film may generally follow the men but the women are making choices that drive the story. It’s also a film rich in symbolism and visual themes. The motifs of fire and circles reinforce the cycles of destruction and rebirth.

The cinematography is beautiful, and S Ramachandra captures the harsh light, the muted earth tones and the vibrant fabrics of Rajasthan. The costumes and jewellery are stunning, and the buildings look real and lived in, with glimpses of details in kitchens and bedrooms. Plus – lovely music by Jai Dev, choreography by Gopi Krishna (assisted by one Miss Saroj Khan), and playback singers Asha, Lata, Manna Dey.

My DVD is missing about 20 minutes of the complete film so there are a couple of large gaps, one of which probably shows the killing of Reshma’s family. It’s so frustrating but the story is still clear and you can fill in the gaps.

The first time I watched Reshma aur Shera I was stunned. I immediately wanted to watch it again but as with any decision about true love versus a passing fancy, I decided to give it some time. Love it is. It is such a captivating film, and a beautiful work of art. I cannot recommend it highly enough. 5 stars!

Katherine at Totally Filmi is coordinating a month long celebration of women in Indian cinema. Links will be collated at Delicious so keep an eye on that page for lots of other articles and blog posts to be added throughout March.