Koyla

As it seems has been the case with many other people, my path to Bollywood addiction started with Shah Rukh Khan. A late night chance viewing of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge on TV and I was instantly hooked. So I was slowly working my way through his older films (and loving pretty much all of them) when we had a discussion in Hindi class about films that were so bad they were good (you know exactly what I mean here!) and the subject of Rakesh Roshan’s Koyla came up. So of course after hearing the description, this became a must see film, and despite all the violence, gore and trashy OTT characters it’s fun and quite frankly an addictive film to watch. Koyla is certainly not my favourite SRK film, but hidden amongst all the craziness there are some really wonderful moments, particularly in the songs where Madhuri also shines.

But of course the main reason for watching is this:

And a bit of this:

Where to start with such a crazy film? Shah Rukh Khan is Shankar, a mute slave to the incredibly evil and megalomaniacal Rajashahib (Amrish Puri). Shankar is introduced running with the dogs he has trained and the implication is clear that Raja regards him as just another one of his well-trained animals. Leaving aside the fact that Shankar has a truly terrible mullet, as does Raja himself, there is also the very questionable decision to make Shankar wear such immense shoulder pads. It’s hard to believe this film was made in 1997 and not the mid eighties considering some of the fashion choices in this song:

Raja is obviously a bad man with his bad hair and a ’mark of evil’ mole. He also has an even more sadistic and quite insane brother Brijwa who, in trashy bodice ripper novel style, tries to drag off every young woman he encounters.

Despite an intimate relationship with his secretary Bindya, Raja is hungry for another young woman, and eventually tricks Gauri (Madhuri Dixit) into marriage. We first see Gauri frolicking around the fields with a gang of children all high after eating cannabis laddoos. Possibly this is supposed to show how innocent she is, but it’s really just very ‘what the?’ instead. She’s easily tricked when Raja sends a photograph of Shankar instead of himself as the potential bridegroom. A sadistic tyrant Raja may be, but at least he is somewhat aware of his own shortcomings as a potential groom. After a sham of a wedding, Gauri tries to escape but she’s a typical wishy-washy heroine and doesn’t manage anything effectual. Although perhaps fainting is understandable when she tears off the grooms veil to show Raja instead of Shankar! Compare and contrast:

Bindya is displaced in Raja’s affections and ends up as all fallen women do as she is disposed of into the local brothel. This treatment of Raja’s former lover starts to open Shankar’s eyes to the depravity of his owner – it’s taken him 20 years but it’s a start. When he discovers the deception behind Raja and Gauri’s marriage he feels compelled to protect her and when finally Raja kills Gauri’s brother Ashok (Mohnish Behl in a very brief guest appearance) Shankar finally escapes with her into the jungle.

So how do you pursue your wife and slave when they have run off together? By helicopter of course! There is plenty of First Blood style action and Shankar does manage some amazingly intricate traps for a man on the run with no obvious resources. Finally Raja manages to catch up to the fugitives and cuts Shankar’s throat before sending him to his death over a cliff. Amazingly, Shankar just happens to be discovered by a local healer who sews him back up again and restores his voice as a useful side benefit. Gauri meanwhile is destined for the brothel (Raja is not a man of novel ideas), where she finds a protector in Bindya. Because of course, the impure fallen woman has to come good before she is killed in any proper Bollywood film.

There are explosions, plenty of revenge killings and bucket-loads of blood, but finally Shankar does prove that good will always win over evil, especially when good has such an excellent (and frequently used) hero run.

The story has plenty of holes and yet it all makes sense if you just ignore the questions of why and how. There is a flashback to explain exactly how Shankar lost his voice in the first place and why Raja rose to his current level of power. The end ties everything up with the greedy exposed and everyone important and still left alive is redeemed in the end, even Ashok Saraf’s irritating Vedji. This is one of the first films I saw where Johny Lever’s character had a more serious role to play and he pulls it off very well, with only one or two dips into irritating comedy as Vedji’s son and Shankar’s friend. This is probably the best song of the film featuring the two with Shankar’s friend supplying his ‘voice’.

What really does work well in this film is the slowly developing relationship between Shankar and Gauri. There is plenty of chemistry between the two, as there always seems to be with SRK and his leading lady, and they have some very heart-felt scenes particularly when Shankar has no voice and SRK is relying on facial expressions and body language alone. This is one time when SRK’s tendency to overact works very well in his favour and his emotions are excellently expressed. The gradual maturation of Gauri from frightened girl into a woman who helps fight back at the end is well handled. And of course any time Madhuri is dancing she is entrancing. The songs by Rajesh Roshan (lyrics by Indeevar) are the high points of the film and Saroj Khan has done an excellent job with the choreography in each.

But the rest is just plenty of OTT wonderfulness and a surfeit of blood and gore with a healthy helping of revenge. The violence is too cartoonish to be difficult to watch, although there is a dark undercurrent as much of the violence is directed against women. Thankfully though, all the bad guys get their comeuppance and there is always a good song just when the death count is in danger of getting too extreme. It does have an 18 rating which I presume is as a result of the number of attempted rape scenes and general adult themes throughout, although it’s really not as suggestive as many Hollywood films. The bush surgery is excellent and I did particularly like the casts for Shanka’s broken arm and leg which imploded with no apparent ill effects when he started running. Of course he was back to full health and fighting fit in a very short time like all true heroes should be. And perhaps it’s that heavy vengeance burden that explains those shoulder pads earlier!

Koyla is not a film for the faint hearted and I wouldn’t recommend it as a must see film for everyone. But if you like your BW to have the baddest villain and the most extreme trials for a hero and heroine, then it’s definitely a film you should see. 3 stars.

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6 thoughts on “Koyla

  1. I am always baffled by the amount of love this film generates among some bloggers. I, too, saw it in my journey through SRK’s filmography, and I count it as among his worst. I can understand the “so bad …” part, but not the “… that it’s good” part. Three stars for this? This really brings out the shortcomings of the star rating system. If one were just looking at your final ratings, then one would conclude that this is of equal quality to something like — well, I can’t recall one offhand, but any of the several much better films that you have also given 3 stars to.

    I think even SRK love can’t blind one to how bad this film is. The only worse case is Anjaam, which I couldn’t even finish, but which some find “hilarious.”

    BTW, I also think you give too easy a pass to the violence against women here. I have seen you get all worked up just because someone makes an off color joke, but here you’re able to accept the horror of a woman being forced into a brothel? However “cartoonish” you find the villain to be, I don’t see how you can ignore the actual impact of his actions. Oh, well, as always, YMMV.

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    • Hi mm,

      It’s a shame you don’t enjoy ‘so bad they’re good’ films. There are so many classic sci-fi films for example which fit perfectly into this description, and many BW films too! SBIG generally refers to a film which is really is bad but is still entertaining, although not for the reasons the director or producer expected, usually because of poor acting, direction, storyline or similar. In the case of Koyla, everything is taken to extreme excess and it becomes amusing rather than shocking because it’s just too OTT.

      The star system is purely my reaction to a film. Koyla gets 3 stars because it’s a film I’ve watched many times, and in particular I love the songs. It is certainly not to everyone’s taste as you point out.
      Heather

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      • Heather, I perfectly understand the concept of SBIG films, and indeed have enjoyed several of that ilk. I was just saying that I wouldn’t apply that tag for this particular film. I only found it bad, with nothing loony enough to fall into the SBIG class. I don’t like Karan Arjun, either; another one which was a great big WTH? for me. But I did like Koi Mil Gaya and Krrish, so sometimes Rakesh Roshan can break out of this mold. Oh, yes, I found KNPH also enjoyable. So maybe it’s just his films without his son that I don’t like. 🙂

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      • I like quite a few of Rakesh Roshan’s films including Khoon Bari Maang – the crocodile that roars gets me everytime!! I think I must just like films with plenty of over the top melodrama 🙂
        I don’t mind KMG or Krrish but nothing about them really stands out for me – but then I’m not a Hrithik fan 😛 I’m happy to watch him, but he wouldn’t be the reason I’d go to see a film. I have to confess I haven’t seen KNPH though so pehaps I should give it a go – always happy to be converted!
        Heather

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  2. I have also seen Koyla many times and I enjoy it even though it;s not a good film. I don’t know why – perhaps because it’s so OTT the violence doesn’t affect me negatively and SRK and Madhuri play it so straight they manage to inject some human feeling into the whole thing. It has a very fairytale quality, with evil and gruesomeness everywhere but good just about wins the bloody battle.

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    • Hi rossywar,
      I think for those of us who do enjoy this film it is hard to explain why such a terrible film is still so watchable 🙂 It’s not just all SRK and Madhuri, although watching the two of them in anything is always entertaining. You’re right about the fairy tale quality – it’s good vs. evil on an epic scale and Amrish Puri makes an excellent monster substitute.
      For me it’s the quality of the songs that keeps me coming back again and again – and once I start I end up watching the whole film! It’s very addicitve for sure 🙂
      Heather

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