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.