Khal Nayak

Khal Nayak poster

Subhash Ghai’s Khalnayak is a fairly predictable cops and robbers story twined with references to the Ramayana which adds depth and resonance.  There are some excellent performances, stylish visuals and excellent music. But at a shade over 3 hours, the pace is stately to the point of plodding and there is too much emphasis on the meaning, and not quite enough on the drama.

Ram (Jackie Shroff) is assigned a case to bring down a terrorist organisation. Ballu (Sanjay Dutt) is the poster boy for Roshida’s (Pramod Muthu) gang. When Ballu escapes from jail, Ram is accused of neglecting his duty to go spend time with his girlfriend Ganga (Madhuri Dixit). When what looks like every policeman in India is put on Ballus’ trail with no success, Ganga finds a way to infiltrate the gang. She sees that Ballu is not quite as bad as he seems, although he is far from being misunderstood. Eventually the police close in, and Ganga is caught between Ram, duty, and her empathy with Ballu.

Madhuri looks stunning and delivers a strong and engaging characterisation. There is nothing simpering or weak about prison officer Ganga. When she sees an opportunity to help Ram restore his reputation, she asks for his support. Then she does it anyway. When she sees Ballu needs medical help, she just goes and gets a doctor because it is the right thing to do. Madhuri does some wonderful deliberately bad acting when Ganga, having captivated Ballu, joins the gang and goes on the run.

Then in Aaja Sajan Aaja she is simply incandescent as she dances for her Ram. Madhuri was also lucky as Ganga dresses in Indian attire, not the hideous synthetic 80s gear that Ballu wears when he tries to impress.

 

Sanjay Dutt is so very good in some scenes that it makes me angry at how bad he is for much of the film. He adopted a range of bizarre grimaces and physical tics that I think were meant to emphasise the animal side of Ballu, but just made him look ridiculous and clumsy. When he dropped the exaggerated mannerisms and just channelled the emotions, he was compelling and raw. While asserting his ownership of Ganga, Ballu accidentally defends democracy and becomes a Nayak for those people. His awakening to being respected and enjoying that feeling was nicely done, even though there was a lot of literal flag waving to make sure the point didn’t escape unnoticed.

Jackie Shroff is perfectly competent as Ram, and only tries to tear his clothes off once so that was good. For my money Ram is the least interesting character. He knows he is right, everyone knows he is right and he is not averse to using extreme force against Ballu to prove how right he is. While there is an interesting dynamic between hero and villain, there is minimal character development for Ram. A relationship between Ganga and Ballu would be a Very Bad Idea but I thought marrying Ram could be a bit suffocating.

The Ramayana elements were more obvious to me on a recent re-watch than when I first saw it, particularly the twists on that narrative. I couldn’t help but compare this with Mani Ratnam’s Raavanan (which I greatly prefer to the Hindi Raavan). In Raavanan, Ram revealed his darker side and could become as Ravana but Khal Nayak seems to say rather that Ravana has the potential to be Rama. I liked that the question of what makes a hero or a villain was articulated and that this was more than a glorification of Rama. Ganga didn’t sway from her beliefs when she was frightened, and kept her faith in Ram. Ram wanted to believe Ganga but society and the law demanded she was still put to trial. I was annoyed that she had to have her virtue validated by a thief and murderer, a man so despicable in the eyes of the law that he had besmirched her just by his proximity but whose word was still worth more than hers. I know she is Sita and he is Ravana, but still. The film plays with some of the conventions especially around the notion of hero and villain. Ram is also helped by Ballu’s testimony, his reputation restored by the hand of a sinner.

Ghai doesn’t quite go the whole hog but he does use a range of staple masala ingredients and has a lush visual style. Ram and Ballu have bloody fights that crash through walls and take to the treetops. There are long lost childhood friends and dreary paeans to motherhood. There are coincidences, speechifying and tearful reconciliations galore. The evil mastermind Roshida has a nasty disposition and lots of cats who do a fabulous job of reacting to stuff.

Rakhee gets a lot of screen time as Arti, not all of it crying. Neena Gupta makes an impression as the striking Champa. Ramya Krishnan is charismatic as Ballu’s girlfriend Sophia, and also gets both versions of the title song. What a waste to have her in such a small role, but how great to have so many powerful actresses in one film. The female characters are strong and quite distinct, but Subhash Ghai stays firmly within the conventions of 90s masala so none of them break the mould of Ma, the friend, bad girl etc.  Oh, and Anupam Kher does his customary shtick as Pandey the prison warden.

There are interesting observations about the conventions of parenting and filial behaviour. Ganga tries to evoke Ballu’s sentimental side by talking wistfully of how much he must love his Ma and how hard it must be for him to live on the run. He calls Ganga out on trying to manipulate him through sentiment, but he rejects that as unimportant to him. Question – If a villain shouts ‘Ma!’ in his sleep and there is no one to hear it, does he have feelings?

Mind you, when Ballu is beating Ram up because why not, Arti hits Ballu for assaulting Ram, Ballu shoves her so Ram belts him for hitting a Ma, then Ballu fights back and Arti comes back at him to stop him using violence.  A move straight out of the Nirupa Roy Filmi Ma Manual.

The songs are extensions or amplifications of the narrative as well as being beautiful and usually pleasingly melodic.

I am not so fond of that title track, although it does epitomise early 90s style and Ramya Krishnan works that beaded gear for all it’s worth.

Khal Nayak-Fruitbat

I had to pity choreographer Saroj Khan. Between Dutt’s own ‘dance’ style and the outfit given to Ballu in the final song, he looked more like a demented fruitbat. Seeing Ballu and the boys try their seductive dance moves on Ganga was highly amusing. But she choreographed some beautiful dances for Madhuri. I went to see the Temptations Reloaded show up in Sydney last year, and the roof nearly came off when the opening bars of Choli Ke Peeche played.

The first hour of the film could be condensed to around 20 minutes with no great loss, but things get much more interesting once events are set in motion. While it is a visually strong and often darkly dramatic film, the pace suffers from Ghai’s concentration on symbols and stylised elements rather than closely following the emotional arcs of the characters. Very much worth watching, but some patience is required. 3 ½ stars!

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ABCD (Any Body Can Dance)

ABCD

I love this film!  I don’t care that it has a clichéd storyline and watching it feels a little like sitting through a marathon session of Fame episodes. I don’t care that for most of the cast acting is at the amateur end of the scale, while Kay Kay Menon and Ganesh Acharya take scenery chewing to an entirely new level.  ABCD is a movie about dance that really is all about dance. There are actual dancers for a start – people who can genuinely move and they get plenty of opportunity to showcase their skills. Plus Prabhu Deva – I don’t need anything more.

The story is one that occurs regularly in dance-based films.  Rich privileged kids versus the poor underdogs, so no prizes for guessing the final outcome. But Tushar Hiranandani’s screenplay adds in some back story for a few of the dancers featuring romance, drug addiction, parental oppression and a few other issues besides which helps make a connection with the young unknown cast. Although I say unknown, most of the dancers have competed in India’s dance competitions such as Dance India Dance, so I’m sure they are all well known within their home country, but they aren’t household names in Australia.

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Kay Kay Menon is Jehangir Khan, the owner of a successful dance company (JDC) which has just won the TV dance competition Dance Dil Se despite apparently not deserving first place.  JDC’s choreographer Vishnu (Prabhu Deva) is disappointed by the fixing of the competition, Jehangir’s attitude and by the introduction of a new choreographer from the US (Mario Fernando Aguilera) which also means he is out of a job (Not that the JDC dancers look terribly impressed with their new choreographer!).  But before he makes it back to Chennai, Vishnu spends a few days with his friend Gopi (Ganesh Acharya) where he watches a group of kids escaping from the police using their parkour skills and sees them dancing at the Ganpati festival.

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Seeing their potential, Vishnu decides to teach these kids dance for free, and such unimportant details such as how he is going to manage to survive without a paying job never really enter into the picture at all.  This set up for the rest of the story takes a long time, and there are a few too many drunken discussions on the roof of their building, but finally we do get back to the dancing.

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The rivalry between Jehangir and Vishnu is echoed in the initial stand-off between Rocky (Salman Yusuff Khan) and the more streetwise D (Dharmesh Yelande). Also eager to dance is Chandhu (Pumit J. Pathak) who has his own personal demons to overcome while other members of the group include Shaina (Noonin Naem Sha) a bar dancer, and eventually Rhea (Lauren Gottlieb), one of Jeghangir’s dancers who defects after Jhangir gets a little too close and personal at a rehearsal.

I was very impressed by Lauren Gottlieb who looks great dancing, but also manages very well with her spoken Hindi.  In fact she’s so good that I wasn’t sure at first if she had done her own dubbing, and she was much more understandable than Prabhu Deva. Her acting isn’t brilliant, but she’s as good as the rest of the cast, so she doesn’t stand out in that regard and I like that there isn’t any need for an explanation as to why a Westerner is dancing in the group. She’s just accepted as a dancer, and that’s it.

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Once Vishnu has assembled his group, he enters them into Dance Dil Se, despite his insider knowledge that the competition is rigged for JDC to win. Of course he also knows that things will be different this time! This is where the film gets much better with plenty of rehearsals, dance routines, and a fantastic solo from Prabhu Deva at a night club where he easily out dances everyone else.  It’s wonderful to watch, and even if some of the choreography isn’t quite to my taste, it’s hard not to be impressed by the dancers.

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While Jehangir plots and plans, his new choreographer turns the group into ballet dancers (interestingly Mario Fernando Aguilera actually runs a ballet school in Delhi in real life) and Vishnu’s group learn various life lessons while dealing with their own problems.  It’s more inspirational than the trite platitudes make it seem and culminates in this wonderful dance in the rain as the group try to keep their dance studio open and keep D dancing despite his father’s disapproval.

This was ‘India’s first 3-D dance movie’ but I watched it in a conventional theatre so can’t comment on the 3D effects, although I could tell that a number of the shots had been added in solely for that purpose.  The film is beautifully shot and the colours are amazingly clear and vibrant, even on the standard DVD.  The dancers are all excellent and have so much energy that it’s exhausting just watching. They do show a great commitment to costumes as well, but I’m a little disappointed that they didn’t actually perform in any of these outfits!

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Remo is best known as choreographer and knows how to get the best shots of his dancers.  Including so many choreographers in the cast ensures that that the dancing is of a high standard, and pretty much any time there is music there is dancing. All the different dance groups that perform show just as much commitment to their routines and even JDC’s ballet routines are beautifully done.  The final dance off between JDC and Vishnu’s DDR is excellent with just about everything possible thrown in. If you don’t want to know who wins stop watching the clip below at 6 minutes 50 seconds.

High energy dancing, great routines and of course the amazing Prabhu Deva make ABCD a film which rises above the unoriginal story to provide entertainment for more than just dance enthusiasts. Don’t miss Saroj Khan in the end credits when she makes an appearance dancing with Prabhu Deva, Ganesh Acharya and Remo. It’s a perfect end to a film that really is all about the dancing. 4 stars.