Ab Tak Chhappan (2004)

Ab Tak Chhappan Poster

The film opens with a pile of clothes and shoes on a beach, and someone whistling “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow”. A man is wading in the sea, maybe suicidal, maybe cleansing his sins. Or just washing off the bloodstains on a nice sunny day.

Sadhu Agashe (Nana Patekar) is an encounter specialist. He is honest and pragmatic about what that really means, and is untroubled by any ethical concerns. He is doing a necessary job as the legal system cannot stop gangsters, so extreme measures are required. The cops are basically just another gang in the Mumbai ecosystem. Within the department there are people jostling to take over his prime position. Imtiyaz (Yashpal Sharma) is a sook who wants to be the top cop but lacks Sadhu’s instincts and connections with the useful informers. Shukla (Nakul Vaid) is the wide eyed newbie, determined to deliver justice through state sanctioned murder.

Zameer (Prasad Purandare) is an offshore crimelord, running operations from his luxurious Malaysian retreat. He has a random Australian girlfriend and a strange attachment to Sadhu Agashe, who he often calls for a chat. The cat and mouse game between cop and crim is tense and disarmingly friendly by turns. New Joint Commissioner Suchak (Jeeva) has a different agenda from outgoing Mr Pradhan (Dr Mohan Agashe) and the department has to learn to navigate the new landscape. When Sadhu Agashe is put on the other side of the gun, he uses all the resources at his disposal to try to outwit his adversaries.

Nana Patekar is both ordinary and charismatic, and delivers a compelling performance that carries the film. Agashe is a public servant tasked to kill bad guys and has no obvious ethical issues with his job description. He believes he is taking care of a problem afflicting the general population, the people he swore to protect. His simplicity is deceptive, a man who acts first and stops to feel and care later. His relationship with wife Nammo (Revathi) is loving with lots of nagging and joking in a comfortable couple-y way. She is a political science teacher and yet exhibits no qualms about what her husband does, or the potential danger to herself and their son. I know they have been married for years but I still expected that when Shukla brought his fiancée Vaishali (Hrishitaa Bhatt) over for dinner that they may talk about what it meant, or at least how to get blood out of clothes. It was just such a non-thing in their lives. Revathi is elegant in a comfortable middle class way that suits Nameeta, not blingy or impractical looking. Revathi doesn’t get a lot of dialogue but her silent interactions and bustling about the home show Nammo is the cornerstone of his life. She is warm and grounded which plays well against Nana Patekar’s sharper edges. When people break the unwritten law that keeps family and dependants out of the fray, they mess with the only thing that could influence Sadhu Agashe to be moderate.

Yashpal Sharma and Kunal Vijayakar have prominent supporting roles and play the world weary seen-it-all-before cops to perfection. Justice is not their priority, hitting their targets (literally) is more important.  Nakul Vaid is suitably wide eyed as the rookie on the team. Agashe sees potential in the kid, and shares his jaded wisdom with his protégé but I wouldn’t say the boy was all that innocent to start with. Looking queasy when you shoot someone is not necessarily an indicator of moral fibre. Jeeva is threatening and oozes corruption as Suchak who disrupts the team with his new agenda. Mohan Agashe is weary and understanding as Sadhu’s old boss, the only man he really trusts and respects. Their conversations shed light on Agashe’s motivation and his view of the world, and point out the dangers if he sets a foot wrong.

Shinit Amin set his story in the non-glamorous Mumbai of films like Company and D, a dog eat dog city. Traffic is constant, everyone knows everyone else, the honour code is fairly strong. No matter what happens, gangsters and cops all stop to watch the cricket and even a hardened criminal should be entitled to a cup of tea and a lift home after he has been beaten to a pulp. There are rules. And then there are laws. The film was produced by RGV and it is like the sensible version of (the very disappointing) Department. There is an internal logic, cause and effect, nothing happens out of blind coincidence or guess work.

The background score by Salim-Suleiman is dramatic without being too obtrusive. Their soundscape helps create a sense of urgency and velocity as the protagonists travel through the hurly-burly of Mumbai.  The camera also navigates the rabbit warren of streets homes and office, giving a feeling of being a fly on the wall. Faces are often framed in close up but off centre, maybe to underscore the unknown and secret sides of human nature. Or maybe just because it looks cool. There is a lot going on in the background and periphery as people go about their work and daily business. It’s a lively yet very contained filmi world.

There is a lot of violence and death in the film, but it is almost understated. The characters hardly notice the carnage, so nor did I. I was more interested in the why than the what. And the implication of the corruption of the system and the internecine conflicts was far more frightening than a shooting.

This is a solid film with a well thought out plot and excellent performances. It’s not uplifting but neither is it completely depressing. It is a different way of looking at that filmi chestnut – where do you look for justice? And does doing something bad to prevent something potentially worse ever work out? 4 stars!

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Dor (2006)

Dor

Dor is one of those rare gems in Indian cinema – a film with strong female characters and an engaging story that keeps you hooked right to the end. There are excellent performances from all the cast and the visuals are stunning with beautiful shots of Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan.  It’s a story that contains many aspects of love and friendship, but it also shines a light on the life of women in rural India and the harsh realities of losing the protection of a husband in a patriarchal society. 

The film tells the story of Zeenat (Gul Panag) and Meera (Ayesha Takia), two completely different women in matters of personality and culture, and how their lives become intertwined.  Despite their many differences the two women also have some commonality as they are both recently married and their husbands have left to work in the Middle East.  In the opening scenes, director and writer Nagesh Kukunoor uses similar events in the lives of the two women to illustrate differences in their temperament and situation which rather neatly gives the bare bones of the plot, as well as introducing the characters.

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Gul Panag suits the character of Zeenat and perfectly captures her stubborn independence.  Zeenat is a Muslim woman from a small town in Himachal Pradesh who is determined to live life on her own terms and maintain her freedom.  For example, when her suitor Aamir (Rushad Rana) comes courting Zeenat rejects his advances in favour of repairing her house – personally I would have put him to work! This down-to-earth practicality and lack of sentimentality is repeated throughout the film which has the effect of making the few romantic moments much sweeter as a result of their rarity.

Despite her independent nature, Zeenat does love Aamir and when word comes that he has been detained in prison for the suspected crime of killing his room-mate, she immediately springs to his defence.  Zeenat is convinced that the death must have been an accident and is dismayed to learn that Aamir has been sentenced to death unless she can obtain a pardon from the wife of the dead man.  Zeenat has a close relationship with the local Imam and takes his advice on how to track down the young woman who may be the means to Aamir’s freedom. 

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Although she doesn’t know anything about the woman’s whereabouts, Zeenat heads off to Rajasthan with a small bag, a photograph of the two men and a huge amount of determination and optimism.  Her faith in the universe seems to be answered when she meets up with a Behroopiya (Shreyas Talpade) despite the fact that at their first meeting he tricks and robs her.  However it is the Behroopiya who does manage to lead her in the right direction to find Meera. 

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Throughout the opening scenes with Zeenat, we are also introduced to Meena and her very different outlook on life.  Meera is happily married to Shankar (Anirudh Jaykar) and has no problems living within the confines of a strictly traditional family in Rajasthan.  Ayesha Takia portrays Meena as young and innocent, flirting as she dances joyously for her husband, and becoming upset that he is leaving to work abroad.  Her youth is also shown in her pride that it is her husband who is earning the money which will buy back the family’s ancestral home.  However as the story progresses and Meena finds out that Shankar has been killed, she exhibits maturity along with strength and resilience as her world crumbles around her.

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Ayesha Takia is very impressive in a role that demands  her character go through a major upheaval in her life and cope with the aftermath.  She makes the transition from young wife to virtual living non-entity as a widow very naturally and brings out every emotion as Meera has to deal with her new status in life.  Her reaction to the suitcase of her husbands clothes is perfectly nuanced and her moments of joy as she discovers friendship are beautifully acted.  It’s not surprising that she won a number of awards for her performance here.  One of my favourite moments is when she dances in the desert with Zeenat and the Behroopiyah – perfect!

Although at times the contrasts between the two women seems a little too contrived, for the most part the juxtaposition of their different lives works well. The grief and devastation shown by Meera for the double blows of the death of her husband and her loss of freedom is realistically portrayed while Zeenat’s self-contained grief is tempered with her determination and drive to save her husband at all costs.  Both actors seem very well suited to their roles, and Shreyas Talpede adds just the right amount of comic relief as the Behroopiya.  This character appears to be some kind of a guardian angel or possibly just an embodiment of Zeenat’s subconscious, as he watches over Zeenat and gives her advice.  It’s effective, especially when added into the more dream-like landscape of Rajasthan. 

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DorThere is one misstep in the film with the director playing a sleazy businessman who is renting the house in Rajasthan.  His repellent suggestion to Meera’s father in law feels filmi and false compared to the rest of the screenplay, although otherwise both Girish Karnad and Prateeksha Lonkar are excellent in the roles of Meera’s in-laws.

The background score by Salim – Sulaiman Merchant is beautiful and although there are no song and dance numbers the dancing within the film is spontaneous and just wonderful. This is another excellent song which shows Zeenat’s journey from Himachal Pradesh along with Meera’s symbolic journey from wife to widow.

Although not credited, Dor is based on a Malayalam film Perumazhakkalam which perhaps explains the quality of the story.  I’m still trying to track down a copy of this original film with English subtitles as it also won numerous awards and I’d like to compare the two.  However, Dor is still an enchanting film and the two leads ensure that the quality of the acting is as impressive as the screenplay and Sudeep Chatterjee’s gorgeous cinematography.  Although there is an underlying theme relating to the plight of women and their lack of value in some parts of India, it’s counterbalanced by Zeenat’s fierce independence and fighting spirit, so Dor never feels too preachy or morally worthy.  it’s a simple tale, beautifully told and I thoroughly recommend it.  4 ½ stars.

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Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi requires some determined suspension of disbelief. A prematurely middle aged man marries a bright, lovely young girl immediately after she experiences a family tragedy. He loves her on sight, she doesn’t see him at all. He changes himself to become a man she could love. But he does it in an extreme way. He masquerades as another man, utterly different from his everyday self, and starts to woo her. What happens if she recognises him? What if she prefers the ‘other man’? How can he get himself out of this situation? And who will win the big dance competition?

I’m not telling.

I really like this film. It has excellent acting by Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma, and characters I could empathise with or understand, even when I didn’t agree. I know some people object to the premise that she doesn’t recognise her husband immediately. Personally, I think that if you suspect every man who looks vaguely like your husband or boyfriend is him in disguise, you probably have bigger issues than the film does. Aditya Chopra hits some false notes including a ridiculous sumo wrestling interlude, but it’s really a story about people not gimmicks so I can turn a blind eye. There is ample entertainment in the romance, humour (please note I am not using the C word), dancing and music.

Surinder Sahni works at Punjab Power (motto: Lighting Up Your Life) and lives all alone in his family home, a huge ornate house. He is an unassuming man who has fallen into a rut. Until he falls for Taani. Seeing her disappointment on top of her grief he wants to do something to make her happy, or at least stop her from giving up on happiness. Surinder is considerate as well as shy and doesn’t presume on his new wife. He sleeps in the attic room and calls her Taani-ji, so painfully polite. Suri doesn’t do macho or overbearing – he is atypical for a romantic lead. In his own beige way he tries to show his feelings, hoping his actions will speak for him. He sees her laugh watching movies and tries to understand the appeal of filmi heroes but he is worlds away from that flashy style. This is one of my favourite Shah Rukh performances. He plays Suri as mostly subdued, with a shy romantic streak blooming as he dares to dream.

The expression on his face when he sees the tiffin Taani has prepared for him is priceless. Shah Rukh strikes the right blend of physical comedy and heartstring tugging pathos as Suri.

 

 

Suri’s flamboyant hairdresser friend Bobby (Vinay Pathak in excellent form) helps with a makeover. The idea is Suri will go watch Taani at her new dance class, and then surprise her with the new look. But he can’t stop himself from trying to get closer to her. And so Raj is born; vulgar, extrovert, inappropriate Raj Kapoor who can say and do things that Suri won’t.

Shah Rukh doesn’t play Raj as cool – he is a nerd’s idea of a cool dude and always that bit off key. I’m not surprised Taani didn’t recognise him. He has terrible fashion sense and constantly over-accessorises (thanks to Aki Narula). There are some delightful moments of Raj getting cocky, only to have Suri’s panic leak through when he doesn’t know what to do next. Raj becomes Taani’s dance partner for a competition – another touch of fate or divine intervention. The relationship has a rocky start but Taani can’t help eventually responding to Raj’s simple warmth.

He helps her reconnect with life in a way that Suri’s patient hands-off approach doesn’t. Shah Rukh portrays two quite distinct characters, and I could see Raj growing and becoming more of a second skin over time.

Raj is a drug that Suri cannot kick. When Bobby challenges him, Suri admits he can’t stop. The deception escalates and as Raj he taunts himself over his failure. This dark tone of self awareness and self delusion made Suri’s deception seem more real.

He created a mask and resented being trapped behind it. As Suri he wants Taani to see the real Suri, and fall in love with him as he is. As Raj, he is spontaneous and affectionate. But what happens to Suri if Raj succeeds in winning Taani’s love? And if Suri kills off Raj, what will that mean to Taani?

Taani is the apple of her father’s eye, and about to marry the man she loves. A few tragic minutes later she is married to Suri and relocated to Amritsar. At that time she may not have cared much for her future as she was traumatised and grieving. Anushka has a natural and happy quality, but she can turn that off in an instant, and she portrayed the conflicting emotions and loyalties very well.  Taani rarely looks at her husband, and certainly doesn’t see him so I could believe she didn’t recognise him in disguise. The more Suri tries to engage her, the more she blocks him out. She’s not a crying whinging wet dishrag though – Taani is a spirited woman and even does a Dhoom style motorbike stunt. She really comes to life when she forgets herself in things that had been her pleasures in her old life, especially dancing.

She resents feeling indebted to Suri even as she appreciates his generosity, but is making the best of things. Taani doesn’t have friends in Amritsar apart from Raj, who refuses to not be allowed to be her friend, so he is her only confidant. She comes to a crisis point, and I think it was as much about wanting to actively live again as her attraction to Raj.

Taani finally allows herself to love and to reconnect with life. While Anushka is very pretty she seems real, not a plastic beauty, and I found her convincing and appealing. I also had severe wardrobe envy when I saw Taani’s clothes, especially her lovely embroidered dupattas.

The theme of a couple brought together by God is always present. The presence of religious observance and ritual in their lives helps give that more resonance as it seems like a genuine belief not just a dramatic conceit. The gold of the temple at Amritsar is picked out in  Taani’s dress, the yellow tiffin, Suri’s car, the new bedsheets and flowers Taani leaves in his room. For him, Taani is divine love and she is lighting up his life.  The corny picturisation of Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai can’t detract from the message of seeing an aspect of divinity in the one you love, or who loves you.

I really like that it shows Suri seeing himself as Suri, but Taani sees only Raj. The tension in the bizarre love triangle is well maintained even in lighter moments. I think that the inherent acknowledgement that some characters were not always behaving well made it more palatable and less WTF, so the resolution is oddly satisfying. My eye-rolling muscles barely got warmed up, I just went with it and enjoyed the unravelling.

Whether it is the bustle of Amritsar, Suri’s majestic old house, Taani’s clothes, the framing or the use of colour, Ravi K Chandran makes it look stunning and it’s a total pleasure to watch. This traditional sounding song is over the opening titles but not on the soundtrack, and it is a beautiful start to the film.

The Salim-Sulaiman soundtrack is mostly excellent and Jaideep Sahni’s lyrics seem to match the story very well. Haule Haule is beautiful, and the choreography is perfect uncle-in-love style. Retro tributes are now old hat, but the clever lyrics made up of film songs and titles and the vocal by Sonu Nigam lift Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte. Shah Rukh really gets the style of the Hindi film greats he mimics, particularly in the Rishi Kapoor segment. Lara Dutta is miscast as Helen, but Rani as Neetu more than makes up for that. I much prefer the songs Vaibhavi Merchant choreographed. Shiamak’s style is too reminiscent of 80s TV variety shows and I’ve seen enough of that to last me. Dance Pe Chance and the dance competition numbers are not memorable, although I appreciated Anushka and Shah Rukh maintaining their characters in the dances so they worked as drama rather than as songs. But so much colour and movement can’t be a bad thing.

See this for an unusual romance, good songs, beautiful visual design and of course the lovely performances by Shah Rukh and Anushka. Just remember to suspend that disbelief! 4 stars!

Heather says: I am quite ambivalent about this film. On one hand I do really like Shahrukh’s ebullient Raj and most of the time I like his characterisation of the more reserved and introverted Suri. But on the other hand there is much of the story that I don’t like, and I’m not very impressed with the character of Taani despite Anushka Sharma’s best efforts.  Taani seems a very superficial character and the few personality traits she is allowed to display switch on and off depending on how much comedy Aditya Chopra wants to include in the scene. When she is allowed to be cheery and feisty I quite like her, but most of the time she is too one dimensional and is only there as a reason for Shahrukh to play dress-up.

As far as the story goes, I don’t like the way that Taani is pressured into marriage with Suri at such a difficult time in her life. However even worse is the direction the story moves in later on, when Suri decides to make his wife choose between Raj and himself. It’s manipulative, very unfair and just plain wrong. I don’t see how such a plan can possibly demonstrate true love and I think Taani would be much better to leave Suri and Raj altogether!

What I do like though is the character of Bobby Khosla and I think that Vinay Pathak did a great job with his role as Suri’s friend. There are a few scenes near the beginning where the character of Suri is initially developed that are also quite sweet and hold a lot of promise but unfortunately I don’t think the film ever delivers on these. While both Shahrukh and Anushka bring everything they can to their roles, ultimately it’s the story that lets it all down in the end. The songs are great and I love Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte, but for the rest, it’s not a film I particularly enjoy. I think it’s worth watching for Shahrukh, who does have some excellent comedy moments and he at least seems to be enjoying himself. The rest is disappointing. 3 stars.