Dharam Veer

Sometimes in a world full of mean spirited decision making and demonstrations of crushing privilege it really does the soul good to see some unambiguous comeuppances and outrageous costumes. This being a Desai film, I got my wish. But the exercise of privilege and bad decision making was never too far away, although usually dressed up in fabulous boots and an explosion of ruffles.

However. The very sensible and worthy women in this film get short shrift and I did have the occasional moment of murderous rage.

Princess Meenakshi (Indrani Mukherjee) is out in her gilded chariot, searching for game to hunt. She spies a stuffed tiger on a rock in the river and goes to kill it even more. Villains appear, paid off by her brother Satpal Singh (Jeevan, aka Creepy Jeevan). Just as her death seems imminent, a stranger appears. The unknown warrior is Jwala (Pran!), who had been alerted to the kerfuffle by his trusty falcon Sheroo (Sheroo). Meenakshi offers him any reward he names, and he names her. Jwala has been harbouring a secret love for the princess, and had made a hideous statue of her. She is a woman who believes in keeping her word, and I think was swayed by his artistic flair, and they marry there and then with the fire as their witness.

Then follows some tiger wrestling, a misidentified corpse, and Meenakshi becoming catatonic with shock.

She remains in shock long enough for her father to get her married off to Pratap Singh (Pradeep Kumar) who says he doesn’t mind that she is basically a living doll.

How good was Pratap Singh to stop her killing herself, and accepting that she had an heir in the oven while acknowledging that he had no right over Meenakshi’s body. But how does a headache provide a pregnancy diagnosis? But how creepy is Pratap Singh to marry an unconscious woman and plan to consummate the marriage. You know you’re in a topsy turvy world when that is one of the good guys.

Satpal Singh steps up his efforts to rid himself of rivals and avoid unpleasant destiny. More bad decisions help the chaos along and babies are swapped, swapped again, and face near certain death. It’s only about 20 minutes in the movie at this stage and already there is so much plot.

Question: If you picked up a baby swaddled in red velvet who had been delivered by a falcon, and you worked for the palace that was awash with rumours of a baby swaddled in red velvet who had been stolen by a falcon, would you not put two and two together? I’m not blaming Sheroo for protecting his family. But come on humans!

In what represents the present day Meenakshi’s babies have grown up (a lot) to be Dharam (Dharmendra) the adopted son of the blacksmith, and Veer (Jeetendra) the prince.

And Satpal’s son Ranjeet Singh is played by Ranjeet so you already know all you need to know about him. But here are some of his many moods.

Will Dharam and Veer ever find out they’re twins, not just bromantic soulmates? Will Ranjeet ever meet a woman without trying to rape her? Will the family be reunited, true love win, and villains get their just deserts? Whose couture will reign supreme? And what of highly intelligent and faithful Sheroo?

The heroes are the least interesting people in the film, which may explain the costume choices. If you lack substance, add more ruffles. Perhaps a fringed leather mini dress will distract from the absence of matter between your ears. They have some cracking dialogues, especially when their friendship is under strain and Dharam calls Veer out on his privilege. But they also do bad comedy costumes and behave boorishly to the people they supposedly love. Pran is my pick of the heroic litter. His costumes and wigs are a sight, he has a sparkle in his eye when he leaps into the fray, and he has integrity. He isn’t great at decision making, but who is in this world. Luckily Desai amped up the action with jousting, gladiator style fights, and pirate action on shonky looking ships so there is no need for nuanced acting. Now if 80’s Chiranjeevi had some of these fancy duds added to his wardrobe, I’d be delighted. There might be some boot plagiarism afoot as this is a Megastar-less Megaboot treasure trove.

Meenakshi is a stickler for the law and honour but she understands her son and sees through his flouncing. Her weakness is that she expects everyone to be as honourable as she is. And Indrani Mukherjee’s probably younger than her “children”. She and Jwala are kept apart due to their own unbending principles. But she is warm and approachable as a mother, and is affectionate to Veer and Dharam.

However women aren’t actually people with individuality, needs, or rights. When Dharam’s mother is murdered and the royal family is framed, he demands a mother to replace his mother. The queen must go be his Ma. And he is genuinely delighted. It’s like his poor deceased mother never existed, as long as he had someone to feed him and tell him he was perfect. And he had no remorse about taking the queen, his bestie’s mother, away because a manly man’s man needs his mummy.

Pallavi (Zeenat Aman) is a bossy, entitled, aristocrat. Sadly she fails to put a stop to Dharam and Veer who tag team with dated shtick about having to keep a woman on a tight rein so you can be sure to break her. That would have been justifiable homicide I reckon. Dharam thinking that he can just take any woman because he is so awesome is very unpleasant and when he ties Pallavi up and sings to her about how he is worthy of her love…blergh. Dharam’s amazing super strength and very short skirts eventually win her over, because it’s not like she has a day job or anything to occupy her mind. On the upside Zeenat gets some fabulously OTT costumes and some kickarse action scenes which slightly compensate for her “dancing”.

Speaking of “dancing” – Jeetendra is literally carried around for most of this.

Veer meets Rupa (Neetu Singh) when he is hiding from Pallavi’s brother and fiancée and of course has to scrub Rupa’s back while she is in the bath. It’s interesting that the older generation in this film are no nonsense about sex and relationships but the “boys” are quite sleazy. It’s a shame Veer wasn’t more like his progressive but creepy dad. Oh that’s not a good aspiration.

Veer falls for Rupa but like his BFF, decides that treating her mean will keep her keen. Rupa is almost raped by Ranjeet. And then when she is traumatised and shaken, Veer pretends he has no feelings for her. Unfortunately before Veer can sort out their engagement, Ranjeet wins Rupa from the gypsy king and things look grim. Rupa was indignant at the injustice but she didn’t get anywhere with actually changing the outcome. It took Dharam speechifying to make the men decide they could do the right thing. But generally, Rupa was up for rescuing herself and others and never sat back waiting for a miserable fate. Neetu is feisty and fun, and certainly made the choreographer’s life easier.

Manmohan Desai is a master of apparently throwing random masala ingredients together but actually having a tightly plotted and well planned story to tell. Dharam Veer has the stars, the spectacle and the silliness in spades. 4 stars!

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Jab Tak Hai Jaan

Jab Tak Haai Jaan is a slow, deliberate romance with lush visuals, improbable events and attractive people that persist in their beliefs long after a period of reflection and reconsideration is warranted. A typical Yash Raj film in many respects, with the notion that love is all you need, it sheds some of the YRF dated coyness when exploring a modern romantic relationship. Maybe it’s affection for the Yash Raj heyday or sadness for the recent passing of Yash Chopra, but despite some issues with the story, I found the style appealing and almost timeless.

Shah Rukh Khan is Samar Anand, an introverted bomb disposal expert who chases after death. Katrina Kaif is his first love, Meera, a rich girl caught between being dutiful and being happy. Anushka Sharma is Akira, the ambitious young journalist who stumbles across Samar and decides his story must be told. Samar’s early romance is revealed via a diary Akira finds. I really liked the way the plot was constructed initially but when the love stories intersect Aditya Chopra unleashes all the daft medical and action plot twists he could fit on what was left of the post-it note he wrote the screenplay on. But until that all started to unravel, I was caught up in wondering how it would be resolved and who would get the happily ever after ending.

In some respects Shah Rukh was more convincing as 28 year old livewire Samar than Katrina was as his 21 year old girlfriend. That is less evident in stills so I ascribe that more to his energy and performance than just makeup and styling. Samar was too good to be true as he navigated life in London and juggled multiple menial jobs, being everyone’s friend. But the floppy-haired puppy enthusiasm was punctuated with some sarcasm and smoulder that gave him more bite. Shah Rukh’s dancing in Ishq Shava exposed his weakness in current dance styles. I thought it could have been choreographed and shot better to support the illusion of his youth.

The 38 year old Samar in 2012 was a different man, and I could see why a bright young girl like Akira would be attracted to him. He was worlds away from her usual flighty boyfriends and had an intensity that matched her own drive. The stubble, rougher haircut and a more determined physicality made soldier Samar a more daunting and attractive presence. He portrayed the transition of a man in love from the first flush of hope to the cold anger of a passion denied. The romantic scenes between Meera and Samar are quite frank and acknowledge the physical relationship without being sleazy. There were many opportunities for Shah Rukh to overact and he took very few of them. Samar is a perfectly unreal hero but Shah Rukh puts the heart in his character.

Katrina was disappointing after some good performances in recent films, and lacked warmth and expression. I could understand Meera’s character but rarely felt much for her. Meera and Samar were very convincing as the newly in love who imagine they are too cute for words but are actually a bit sickening to everyone around them. They lived in a bubble of romantic fantasy. Katrina as the 10 years older Meera was more effective as her reserved demeanour and greater fabric to skin ratio gave her more substance. Her decision making was still flaky and for someone who is supposed to have such a strong religious affiliation her lying to Samar was questionable. I was raised a Catholic so the idea of giving up something to show God you meant business is quite familiar. While I don’t share the belief I could recognise it as something people I know do as a matter of course. Only not to such a filmi extreme.

Anushka was let down by some truly stupid behaviour by her character but leaving that aside, her acting was excellent. Her warmth and rapport with SRK was lovely. They had some nice scenes talking about love and what it meant to them, and a believable affection developed between Akira and Samar. She spends time following Samar about on his work – defusing bombs! as if! – and of course she falls for him. Akira was a modern city girl with a career on her mind and not a chiffon sari in sight. I did wish she would wear more appropriate clothes in some scenes as she seemed to live in micro-shorts regardless of climate or custom. Mind you, Anushka has the legs for it. As the ‘other woman’ corner of the triangle, Anushka gave Akira a real sense of possibility, of being a viable alternative to the past love in Samar’s life. She spoke up for what she wanted in life and love.

The final section of the film is loaded with so much improbable melodrama and outright WTFery that the love story is swamped. I don’t want to get too spoilery but can anyone imagine a scenario in which a suspected bomb is found in London and a brown skinned man muttering about Semtex and fuses is allowed to casually wander in and assist the police? The drama could have been heightened without all the silliness and sidetracks.

The supporting cast occupy so little of the story that if you don’t take to the Big 3, there is little respite. Rishi and Neetu play small but important roles, and Akira has a fun fanclub of soldiers in the Bomb Disposal Squad. Anupam Kher is mercifully restrained as Meera’s dad.

The scenery in Ladakh and Kashmir is superb and one of the reasons I would recommend a big screen viewing of this film. London is presented as a beautiful and slightly magical city, the perfect backdrop for a fairytale love. There are nods to YRF classics that enhance the vintage filmi mood and it’s all a bit dreamlike.

Musically this is a bit disappointing but I think that is more to do with the placement and the picturisations than the actual songs by AR Rahman. Saans is reprised several times (happy as I am to gaze at SRK in a wet t shirt, or less) and Heer was a non-event. There is little dancing, and what there is lacks good choreography (or suitable dancers). I just don’t think a ra-ra skirt or a silly hat compensates for not doing the steps justice.

I must be getting nostalgic in my old age. Despite all the faults I found much to sink into and enjoy in Jab Tak Hai Jaan. See it for a charismatic and committed performance from Shah Rukh, the bright and beautiful Anushka and the lavish visuals. Do stay for the tribute to Yash Chopra over the closing credits.

Heather says: I’m a Shahrukh fan, so of course I was going to enjoy Jab Tak Hai Jaan no matter how ridiculous the plot, but what surprised me was just how much I absolutely loved it! Sure, there were problems with the story, mainly due to the dodgy medicine and bomb defusing Temple mentioned, but Yash Chopra really did have a gift for displaying human emotions and portraying love as a grand and enduring passion without forgetting that love can also be small, petty and selfish. The classic Yash Chopra motifs are here; a love triangle of sorts, separation and sacrifice and that’s what makes it come together so well for me.  Of course it helps that Shahrukh was back on form with effortless transitions between the happy and jovial Samar during his relationship with Meera and the more silent, reflective and stoic soldier when he meets Akira. The little flashbacks to his previous character with the occasional joke work perfectly and his chemistry with Anushka was great.  Not so with Katrina who was stiff and wooden despite the promise of the earlier scenes.  I don’t think either her styling or the character helped, but she just wasn’t convincing as Meera and she’s another actress I’ve added to my ‘must not be allowed to cry in a film’ list!  Anushka on the other hand was scintillating and looked incredibly beautiful. Her life and energy was infectious and her part of the story (apart from some dodgy Discovery Channel moments) worked very well.

As Temple says, the film looks magnificent is worth watching for the scenes in Ladakh and Kashmir alone. But more than that, there are solid performances and a return to classic Bollywood romance that can’t help but enchant. Sadly it is the end of an era, but with Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Yash Chopra has proved that he really was the ‘King of Romance”.

Kaala Patthar

Kaala Patthar is a total masala package that has something for everyone, plus a dollop of social justice. The essential characters are present – heroes, anti-heroes, spirited heroines, eye candy, villains. The main players are outsiders who find themselves caught in the conflict between profit and humanity played out in a privately owned coal mine. There are no surprises in the plot, but some excellent performances give the drama added substance. And director Yash Chopra also provides fights, songs, romance, bromance and dodgy science to complete the masala formula.

Amitabh is recognisable from the first glimpse of his tall figure and loping stride. Vijay is an enigma, full of smouldering anger and despair as the man trying to escape his past and perhaps make his future a short one. He is educated, and has an uncanny ability to wear white trousers in a coal mine without getting too grubby. The mines were a place to hide as he served his largely self-imposed punishment. A former ship’s captain, he made the wrong decision in a moment of stress and paid the price, although how a private shipping line captain could be court-martialled is never explained. Vijay was with the workers but didn’t consider himself one of them, constantly speaking of their struggle and their lives. He was friendly enough, and is seen to have a smile and a laugh in several scenes, but it is clear this is his own personal purgatory. Time and time again he risks his own safety to prove to himself that he is not a coward. Amitabh’s performance is outstanding, convincing even as he utters the most pompous dialogues. He plays Vijay with compelling restraint and brooding energy.

Sudha (Rakhee), the company doctor, is drawn to the educated, articulate miner and he is attracted to her integrity and dedication. They have strong chemistry in their understated scenes alone together even though at times she looks more like his Ma – but perhaps that’s just the caretaker in her character coming through. And Rakhee does look like a mature woman, not a fluffy girly heroine. Sudha and Vijay appear as adults weighing up a future relationship, not kids chasing each other around a park. Sudha seems to have a greater capacity for forgiveness, or at least the understanding that we need to let ourselves off the hook sometimes.

Ravi Malhotra (Shashi Kapoor), the new engineer, is all shiny and action oriented, a stark contrast to the weary and bitter Vijay. Ravi is concerned about the miners but doesn’t seek to be one of the masses, just to manage them in a more humane way. He isn’t all talk – he buys new machinery and makes changes to try and improve worker safety, and forces management to pay a promised bonus. The people rejoice!

I like that the ladies dance neatly in lines and are mostly segregated from Mac Mohan and the rest of the miners who seem to prefer a freestyle approach.

Ravi’s popularity and success irks money hungry boss Puri Dhanraj (Prem Chopra). Ravi is charismatic and the role is a good fit for the charming and articulate Shashi. He has a light but not frivolous energy that helps keep the moralising from bogging the story down.

Anita (Parveen Babi) is supposedly an investigative reporter, but if she ever investigated anything more complex than choosing a lipgloss I will be very surprised. She is very pretty but it’s not always enough. Anita writes an article that is highly critical of the privatised mine, and while this annoys Dhanraj, it pleases Ravi which might be Anita’s priority. Although Anita’s character was interesting, Parveen’s screechy acting in the more dramatic exchanges was painful so I was relieved when she reverted to flouncing around the countryside with Shashi.

Mangal (Shatrughan Sinha) is an escaped criminal who has taken refuge in the anonymity of the mining camp. I don’t think of Shotgun as a particularly subtle actor and this performance didn’t change that perception, although it is very enjoyable. Mangal swaggers around camp, stirring up trouble and trying to be the top dog. He is bad through and through, until he comes good when it counts. His final scene is totally unbelievable, he overacts wildly, and I don’t think his decision could really have been that helpful, yet it is a perfect masala redemption.

Channo (a radiant Neetu Singh) makes a living selling ornaments and trinkets to the miners and their wives. She is boisterous and bright, and even Vijay responds to her warm personality. She and Mangal have an unconvincing romance and I got the impression that Channo picked him more because he was new blood rather than any real attraction in the first instance. Channo has a couple of significant scenes, and one decision is pivotal. There is a very suspenseful scene where Channo is pursued and almost raped by some ne’er-do-wells from the camp, saved in the nick of time by Mangal. It seemed odd that a girl who knew the area so well would take a lonely path she was clearly a little nervous about, no matter how big her hurry. So while it was dramatic and Neetu was very convincing, it jarred and I wondered if there was a better way for the plot to turn.

Neetu is more than capable of handling the emotional range Channo requires. And her presence means at least one of the female cast can dance!

The supporting actors are excellent. Well, Prem Chopra played the usual Prem Chopra type sleazy villain with no redeeming qualities but he does it so well and he is pretty much the yardstick for that kind of role.  Mac Mohan as card sharp Rana and Parikshat Sahni as Jagga stood out, and it was nice to see Iftekhar in a fleeting appearance. While there is an impressive cast of supporting artists, most of the extras are an anonymous backdrop of the unacknowledged masses. There are some moving scenes of miners waiting in silent vigil outside the house of a dying colleague, or waiting for Vijay as he has treatment. They bide patiently, watching everything and waiting their turn.

The music by Rajesh Roshan is excellent and while there are only a couple of big song and dance moments, the songs are all integrated into the story and do reveal much about the characters and the environment. Shashi’s entrance to Ek Rasta Hai Zindagi perfectly expresses his nature and the different world he is coming from. Ishq aur Mushq has a bittersweet tone that matches Sudha and Vijay’s burgeoning relationship.

Yash Chopra is a talented story teller, and Salim-Javed’s script is excellent especially the dialogues. The mine is a bleak non-glamorous backdrop that allows the people to dominate. It’s a visually dark film, with lots of scenes in the tunnels or at night, so the performances draw the eye rather than fancy sets or costumes.

I have some issues with the decision making in the final scenes (I suspect that in real life, it would not have been a happy ending if people did what they did but you know, filmi physics and all that), and the set construction team relied a little too much on papier mache but these are small quibbles. You can’t beat Kaala Patthar for excellent character focussed vintage masala,  with the bonus of a fabulous cast. 5 stars!

Heather says: Kaala Pathar is vintage Yash Chopra from the days before he got tied up in NRI romance stories and when he was still producing films that were both novel and entertaining. It’s a great story full of action, melodrama and issues of social justice which speeds along to an exciting conclusion. The characters are compelling, and the female actors make up for their limited time onscreen by their impact on the story – softening their male counterpoints enough to allow more insight into their personalities.

I love the way the two leads Vijay and Ravi are introduced, and that their respective characters can be deduced after just a few moments in their opening scenes. Instantly the coal begrimed Vijay is established as anti-authority with heroic tendencies as he ignores the company line and charges into the mine to rescue some trapped workers. It’s Amitabh in his ‘angry young man persona’ and it’s no surprise to learn later on that he harbours a dark secret or that he believes pain is his destiny.  Ravi on the other hand, is immediately recognisable as a ladies man when he first appears via a song, wearing a jaunty cap and sporting a rather fabulous scarf with a motif of large white daisies. Happy and with a more relaxed attitude to life Ravi is idealistic with more socialist views and really not my view of a ‘typical’ engineer. But then again I’m rather prejudiced since I know so many engineers. Ravi’s drawing which demonstrates exactly why mine shaft number 4 is so dangerous is classic Bollywood engineering at work, and his skills in this area may explain why Ravi is working in such an undesirable job.  Shatrughan Sinha turns in a great performance as the escaped prisoner Mangal and allows yet more melodrama to be added to the story.

The various romances are handled in a subtle and subdued way which works well within the disaster movie format and I appreciate the restraint shown here. Rakhee Gulzar is beautiful as the doctor working under such difficult conditions while Parveen Babi gets a chance to show some teeth as the more feisty Anita, and Neetu Singh gets the best moves.  I even like Prem Chopra’s unrealistic and totally villainous mine owner who has no redeeming features whatsoever. It’s all very Dickensian and melodramatic, but so much fun. The story is generally well paced, although rather long, and I felt that the scenes of the inevitable disaster at the end did drag on a little. The mine walls were also a little shaky and I’m sure everyone could escape more easily, if not as spectacularly, if they’d just push the walls aside. Despite the occasional dodgy effects and rickety sets, the disaster theme is well depicted and I was interested to learn that the mine disaster portrayed here was based on real life events at Chasnala. A must see film for sure – 4 ½ stars.