Majboor (1974)

I watched this after reading Anu’s review, and am so glad I did. Majboor is a low key thriller, and apart from a couple of minor missteps, is both suspenseful and makes sense.

Ravi Khanna (Amitabh Bachchan) is a smart young man, working as a travel agent. One rainy night he deals with his last client Mr Surendra Sinha (Rehman), and accepts a lift from the man as there are no taxis around. Some time later the police (Iftekhar and Jagdish Rai) come to interview him as Mr Sinha was abducted that night, and found dead in a gutter. Ravi is innocent, but nervous as the police are taking a keen interest in him as the last known person to see Sinha. The stress seems to be triggering severe headaches, and he goes to the doctor. The diagnosis is far more serious than tension. Ravi has a brain tumour that must be removed. But the doctor scares him with a range of possible outcomes from paralysis to blindness or maybe being right as rain so he leaves without making a decision. Ravi has a widowed mother (Sulochana), a sister in a wheelchair (Farida Jalal), and little brother Billoo (Master Alankar). He is the sole provider and can’t contemplate a life where he becomes a dependant. Believing he is probably going to die either from the tumour or the surgery, he hatches a scheme to frame himself as the killer and collect the reward money for his family. But once in prison, he faints again and is taken to the hospital and operated on. He has a perfect recovery and then has to deal with the other death sentence. Ravi regrets his choice now he can live, and he escapes to go in search of the real killer.

Amitabh is perfectly cast. Ravi is educated, has a decent job, takes good care of his Ma and siblings, likes a lairy outfit or two, and has a pretty and very modern girlfriend in Neela (Parveen Babi). When Ravi is first questioned about the dead man he seems collected, but later goes to see his friend who is a lawyer. He knows how things can turn out when the police start paying attention to a person. When the headaches kick in, Amitabh does some excellent faces (see a small selection here).

Generally he plays Ravi as a down to earth guy with no superhero stuff. At least, not until the final scenes where Ravi is out for justice. When he realises he has escaped one death sentence but still has another looming he acts decisively and within the realms of what he can reasonably achieve. I liked his problem solving approach which was to ask questions and think about the answers, using force when needed but not at all if he could just look tall and threatening. Amitabh adds some little reactions and expressions that show Ravi can be spiteful or calculating too, and he really made the character feel solid and believable. Except for his bright red suede “on the run” outfit. What was Ravi thinking?

Parveen Babi got very little to do, and lots of spare hair to carry around while she did it. The 70s presented a few fashion challenges and I can’t say I like the micro-ruffled vesty thing she had to wear, nor the ear-blocking flowers. Neela was supportive of Ravi and he involved her in his plans in the same way luggage can be considered part of a trip. The film would be no worse off if her role hadn’t been written which is sad. And in the final scenes I had to wonder why Ravi left Neela to hold the fort when it would have made so much more sense for him to stay and her to go. Or you know, both of them tie the bad guy up. Anyway. As you can see, I haven’t much to say about Neela.

As Ravi investigates a significant ring that could lead back to the killer, he has some lucky breaks and benefits from his own logical procedural thinking. One very lucky break for him, and for the audience, is the arrival of Michael (Pran!). Michael is a thief, fencing his wares through Prakash (Mac Mohan). He is also the only witness to who killed Sinha. Pran rocks up committing a robbery then bouncing straight into the excellent Daru Ki Botal Mein. What a talented multi-instrumentalist Michael is.

Pran is flamboyant, theatrical and loads of fun. Michael is who he is, and is so comfortable in his own skin. Pran gets some excellent dialogue and makes the most of every moment without being obnoxiously OTT. And Michael is pivotal to the story. He wants to do well for himself but he made Ravi a promise. Will he sell Ravi out to the killer?

Ravi’s family mean the world to him. Ma (Sulochana) is quietly spoken and shy, but mustered up her courage to go and ask Narendra Sinha (Satyendra Kapoor) not to demand the death penalty. Renu (Farida Jalal) is in a wheelchair and the reason is never explained, there is no great drama about operations for her, she is just Renu who tries to make the best of things. Farida plays her with a veneer of manic happiness that can easily turn to tears but Renu is also quick witted. I liked that neither woman was required to have a tragic flash back or do anything other than be themselves. It was just a nice middle class family with sensible aspirations. Master Alankar is quite good as little Billoo, although when he started singing the dreary Dekh Sakhta Hoon in place of Ravi I began to hope for another kidnapping.

The supporting cast is chock full of quality actors. There’s Iftekhar and Jagdish Rai as the competent and sensible police officers, Satyendra Kapoor as the brother hell-bent on seeing Ravi hang, D.K Sapru as Neela’s understanding and non-judgemental dad, Mac Mohan as a squeaky voiced dealer in objets of dubious provenance, and the list goes on. All of their characters seems to be a good fit for their milieu, acting in ways that are consistent with their positions. It is nice to see a thriller stay grounded through the minor characters and how they go about things.

Ravi Tandon keeps the tension up and Salim-Jhaved’s screenplay weaves all the characters into a convincing world for this story. There are a couple of things I question in the final confrontation but I suppose if you pay for a leading lady like Parveen you may as well drag her along for the ride. The soundtrack (Laxmikant Pyarelal) is more effective in the background than in the songs, but the songs are well integrated and part of the action.

Amitabh is at his peak, and this is a ripping story told in a more realistic style than many of his hits. See it for the super cast, and enjoy the suspenseful story. 4 stars!

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Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001)

Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham

K3G is an indulgence that I only allow myself to luxuriate in occasionally.  While I love the first half of this film, despite all its flaws and typical Karan Johar extravagances, I just wish that the second half came anywhere close to the emotional appeal of the opening melodrama.  Considering the stellar cast it’s particularly disappointing that the whole doesn’t live up to the promise of its parts, but at 3 ½ hours maybe only watching the first half isn’t such an issue.  It also contains my all-time favourite Shah Rukh song with plenty of shots featuring SRK in those lacy see-through shirts, which is probably enough of an explanation for my love of this film, but K3G also brings back memories of learning Hindi and actually starting to understand dialogue without subtitles.  Special for a few reasons then, but this song is still the best part of the film.

For those who haven’t seen K3G, it’s a fairly routine story of your basic multimillionaire family and the ups and downs of their domestic relationships.  The Raichand’s live in a large ostentatious stately home which seems as far removed from India as it is possible to get despite the fact that it’s supposed to be relatively close to a lively market in Chandni Chowk.  It’s the kind of family where running late means having to hop on the helicopter to get home in time for Diwali celebrations, but despite all the lavishness of their lifestyle, it’s a family where there is a lot of love.  This is emphasised in the opening credits as Nandini Raichand (Jaya Bachchan) plays with her young adopted son, but it’s also obvious in the interactions between Rahul (naturally this can only be Shah Rukh Khan) and his father Yashvardhan Raichand (Amitabh Bachchan) as well as in the later scenes with his mother and younger brother Rohan (Kavish Majmudar).

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Problems arise when Yash decides that Rahul will marry Naina (Rani Mukerjee) who seems ideal for the position of rich man’s wife entrusted with carrying on the family traditions.  However Rahul has other ideas as he has fallen in love with Anjali Sharma (Kajol), the daughter of a local shopkeeper in Chandni Chowk. Just to keep things in the family, Anjali is the niece of Rohan’s nurse Daijan (Farida Jalal) and has a younger sister Pooja who is roughly the same age as Rohan.  This helps later on in the story, although initially it just seems another way of emphasising the gap between the two families.

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The first half of the film sparkles with the romance between SRK and Kajol while the various family relationships add depth and interest to the story.  The two grandmothers, Achala Sachdev and Sushma Seth, ensure a typical Indian family feel despite the Anglicised mansion, while the glaring discrepancies between the Raichand’s home and the (somewhat sanitised) streets of Chandni Chowk are used to good effect.

Kajol is lively and boisterous as Anjali, while SRK is more retrained and less dramatically emotional which helps keep things under control.  There is a smattering of comedy in the romance too, which both SRK and Kajol handle effortlessly, and the appearance of Johnny Lever in comedy uncle mode is thankfully kept to a minimum and doesn’t disrupt the story.  The other characters all fit in too – the young Rohan is petulant and spoilt, just as a rich kid should be, while Anjali’s younger sister Pooja (Malvika Raaj) is bratty and approaching obnoxious at times, which does actually tie in reasonably well with her later persona.

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Naturally Rahul chooses love over duty and ends up cast out of the bosom of his family, although he does have Anjali and her sister Pooja as compensation.  Of course, this is a Karan Johar film, so it’s no surprise when we reconnect with Anjali and Rahul ten years later to find that they are living in a large and opulent home somewhere in London, despite the fact that Rahul left with nothing – pretty impressive work!

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But things start to fall to pieces once Kareena Kapoor enters the picture.  This was the first time I’d seen her in a film and it was also the last for a very long time – based solely on this dreadful performance. Hrithik Roshan as the grown up Rohan is also sufficiently unimpressive, seemingly unable to decide between the role of hot and macho student running amok in ridiculously expensive cars, or emotional wreck searching for his brother.  The two completely derail the romance and it’s hard to come up with any reason why Pooja has to dress like a call girl and act like a complete airhead.  The film also dives deep into overindulgent farce as Anjali complains about her son becoming too English (hmm, could this be because they’re living in England and he’s attending an English school?) while Rohan decides that staying with his brother while pretending to be someone else would be a good way to reconcile his father and brother.  Because that would definitely work.

If you can ignore all the self-indulgent weeping from Rohan and the insufferable unpleasantness of Pooja, the rest of the film is endurable, although unbelievably long and drawn out with a ridiculously contrived ending.  Karan Johar goes overboard trying to tug on his target NRI audience’s heartstrings with a rendition of the Indian National Anthem which seems totally out of place, and there are far too many references to ‘loving your parents’.  Even apparently when they don’t love you and repeatedly tell you so.  There are a few moments where the easy flow of the first half is almost recovered, but overall the second half is disappointing at best, particularly after such a good beginning.

Thankfully though there is still SRK, who is as charismatic as always, and the Shah Rukh and Kajol jodi works even while the story around them falls to pieces. If only the whole Kareena Kapoor and Hrithik Roshan storyline had been cut, this would have been a much more enjoyable film, although still not perfect.  Still, I do recommend watching right up until the interval – after that it’s at your own risk!   4 stars for the first half, but only 1 for the second.

Duplicate (1998)

If not for the presence of Shah Rukh Khan I probably would have avoided Duplicate, since I’m not a fan of slapstick comedy and usually detest buffoonish characters. But despite all the farce I totally loved it, although even though I’ve now watched it multiple times, I’m still not entirely sure why it appeals to me so much. Of course Shah Rukh in a double role is enough to explain at least some of the attraction, but no matter how many times I watch Duplicate I still find it funny even though I know the plot is preposterous and the end completely ridiculous. It all comes down to the charm of the lead couple and an excellent supporting cast who manage to hold the film together, keeping it genuinely entertaining the whole way through. Plus there isn’t even a whiff of Johnny Lever which is always a win in any Hindi comedy as far as I’m concerned!

Shah Rukh plays the dual roles of Bablu Chaudary – a rather gormless and naïve chef, and his duplicate in appearance Manu Dada – a vicious gangster out for revenge on his former partners in crime. He keeps the two characters totally separate and it’s always very clear who he is at any time in the film.

Bablu is the son of a Punjabi wrestler and since he has no desire to follow in his father’s footsteps he is a severe disappointment to his mother (Farida Jalal). Bablu comes across as the lovechild of Frank Spencer and Norman Wisdom as he indulges in pratfalls and causes general mayhem when he goes for a job interview at a posh hotel. Despite all the face-pulling and foolish grins, Bablu isn’t quite as stupid as he looks and gets the job after proving he can whip up a rather un-Japanese looking Japanese meal in 20 minutes while dancing with various vegetables and duly impressing the banquet manager Sonia Kapoor (Juhi Chawla) with his multi-tasking skills. It’s quite silly but rather engaging at the same time.

This initial attraction between Bablu and Sonia develops into a romance that isn’t quite as creepy as it might have been given Bablu’s essentially child-like nature and Sonia’s more mature outlook on life. Although she is appalled when his secret fantasy is to feed his bride potato dumplings on their wedding night, they do seem to reach an understanding during the songs. Sadly Juhi’s character seems to have been cursed with the worst shoe costume designer ever as she appears in a number of terrible ankle boots throughout most of this, but otherwise it’s a very cute song and there are some good shots of Prague in the background.

While Bablu is getting to know his boss, Manu escapes from jail although why he is wearing nifty pleather pants accessorised with circa 80’s Madonna-style jewellery for his jail-break is a total mystery. Manu is on the trail of his previous accomplices who set him up for his jail time and then absconded with all the loot from their criminal activities. The gang includes Dhingra (Sharat Saxena), Gappa (Rana Jung Bahadur) and Gulshan Grover as Shalaku – the man who rather significantly does not have a death line on his hand. They are an incredibly inept gang of criminals and seem totally unable to recognise Manu when he turns up to kill each of them. Of course he is a man of mystery and a master of disguise, at least according to the equally inept police team who are out to catch Manu and send him back to jail.

Manu dresses in drag as part of his plan to get past security and eliminate Dhingra. I have to say that although Shah Rukh does make a particularly ugly woman, he is disturbingly convincing as he dances provocatively before whipping off his wig and revealing his true persona. It’s a classic scene and it’s made even better by the wonderful decor in the background.

It’s inevitable that the police find Bablu and mistake him for Manu which starts off a chain of mistaken identity that Manu uses to his advantage. But Manu makes a mistake when he captures Bablu’s mother as this forces Bablu to take action. Bablu decides to impersonate Manu to get his mother back from the gangster’s clutches and while his attempts to mimic Manu’s menacing persona fall far short of the real thing, he does manage to convince Mnau’s girlfriend Lily (Sonali Bendre) and Manu’s gang. This leads to a totally crazy song where Sonia is out with Manu, thinking he is Bablu, while Bablu does his best to avoid Lily’s attentions. I’ll just point out that Karan Johar was responsible for Shah Rukh’s costumes and leave it at that since I think that explains it all.

The confusion gets more and more ridiculous but Shah Rukh keeps it easy to decipher whether we’re watching Bablu pretending to be Manu or Manu pretending to be Bablu, even if the police, Shalaku and his cronies, Sonia and Lily can’t manage to work it out. Although Shah Rukh overplays both characters it works in the film since it’s all totally over the top and silly. Watching Bablu (pretending to be Manu) and Shalaku battle it out in a bathtub (thankfully) full of bubbles and squeaky toys should have been absurd but instead it’s hilarious.

The supporting cast are all excellent and Farida Jalal is perfect as Bablu’s mother. Her loud and overbearing personality make it seem quite understandable that she would have a son as foolish as Bablu and her rapport with her son comes across clearly. Sonali Bendre is also well cast as the sexy girlfriend Lily, and ably portrays her obvious attraction to bad boy Manu warring with her common sense. Lily is quite aware that Manu takes her for granted and only wants her for one thing, but she still can’t help herself and is irrestibly drawn towards him. Shah Rukh also manages to convey an aura of dangerous desire even though Manu really is quite repulsive with his repetitive tongue flicks and strange sneers.  There is so much detail in Shah Rukh’s performance that it does take a few viewings to fully appreciate every nuance. I love the way that Manu uses a burning TV set to light his cigarette as he leaves the scene of one of his crimes, and also snags some chicken from the table on the way out while Bablu lets every emotion show in his expression, exactly like a small child.

Juhi Chawla is one of my favourite actresses and she is simply wonderful here. I’m not sure how she manages to keep a straight face through some of Shah Rukh’s more insane moments, but she plays Sonia as quite a serious career woman with a tendency to lecture in English. Although I do prefer her romance with Shah Rukh in Yes Boss they still make a sweet couple here. This is my favourite song from the film and I love the way Bablu changes his expression as he looks from Lily to Sonia and also manages to totally change his posture and body language – brilliant!

Apart from the great performances, there are plenty of small touches that make this film appealing. Bablu lives in a very colourful house with a wonderfully brightly painted bathroom and some very groovy pictures on the walls while Manu’s garage has lots of cheery graffiti. The songs by Anu Malik are memorable and the picturisations are all well done with Farah Khan being responsible for the excellent choreography which of course suits Shah Rukh perfectly. Monish Bahl pops up in a small but important role as the hotel manager Ravi Lamba, and Tiku Talsania is very funny in his brief appearance as the bumbling Inspector Thakur. Kajol also appears briefly in a blink and you’ll miss it guest appearance which I didn’t even notice amongst all the other craziness the first time I watched the film. Although there is plenty of slapstick it is used well and there is plenty of comedy in the dialogue and the situations to help stop the film from becoming too farcical – at least until the end. But really, I think it’s Shah Rukh’s performance and his ability to make his characters so appealing despite their flaws that really make this such a watchable film. I can’t say that it’s good because it does have a nonsensical plot and everyone is overacting like crazy. But it is entertaining, it does make me laugh and it’s a film I can watch over and over again without having to resort to the FF button. 4 stars.