Baazigar

Abbas-Mustan’s 1993 thriller is an out and out classic. It is a freemake of “A Kiss Before Dying”, but loaded up with all the requisite masala ingredients. Starring Shahrukh Khan in an award winning turn, along with Kajol and Shilpa Shetty, it is also high on filmi glamour.

Ajay (Shahrukh) is a nice boy who lives with his widowed Ma (Raakhee). She is suffering from some kind of post traumatic disorder, and Ajay pretends his deceased father and little sister are still alive and well, trying to preserve his mother’s happy memories. He is also secretly dating Seema (Shilpa Shetty), daughter of the filthy rich Madan Chopra (Dalip Tahil). It’s all very sweet until Ajay also turns up as playboy race driver Vicky and starts dating Seema’s younger sister Priya (Kajol). When Seema apparently commits suicide, Priya cannot believe it and keeps pushing to find her killer. There is a long flashback explaining Ajay’s hatred of Madan Chopra. Vengeance and overacting begets more vengeance and overacting, and Ajay/Vicky sets an increasingly convoluted plot in motion.

Ajay is initially presented as sympathetic. He has helped his mother through some traumatic times. His powers of manipulation and maybe self-delusion are also visible from the start. Good Boy Ajay is altogether too bouncy and hyper. I do like a bit of moderately evil Shahrukh, and SRK is much more believable as Vicky/evil Ajay than he ever is as puppyish Ajay. I like the intensity and calculation that he brings to his villainous side, and the flashes of stifled rage under the plausible charm. It’s an interesting character because first we see him as likeable and even heroic by filmi son standards and he maintains that pure motivation even as his actions become more and more reprehensible. Shahrukh really builds the layers of deceit while retaining enough sincerity that his relationships seem real. So much conflict. Also, the transformative power of a contact lens is really something. In some scenes it may be used to show the duality of his nature, in others just a costly error.

It pains me to say this but SRK cannot hold a candle to Chiru in the horseback or cape swishing stakes. I think the hat was to stop his hood blowing back. And he has no dynamic swish control of his cape. But compared to Manic Pixie Bride Kajol he does seem to get the better deal.

Shilpa Shetty is not given a huge acting challenge with Seema, but she is pretty and lively, and has a warm rapport with Ajay. She is a victim of 90s camera work and if you don’t recognise her butt instantly it might take a while before you realise it is indeed Shilpa arriving on the scene. Serious Fashion Question. Were zippers really such a novelty or was that moment in Kitabein Bahut Si just another chance to focus on Shilpa’s shapely derriere? I recall odd zippercentric choreo from some other films around this time so who knows. I suspect the answer is obviously the latter.

Kajol makes a bad girl entrance, strutting around, shouting, and snapping a belt like a whip, and cannot communicate in anything less than a shriek. She even expects big sister Seema to ditch her exams just to go be rich and idle at the races. But as Priya experiences more real emotions – loss, grief, anger and romantic love – Kajol takes it down a notch. Priya becomes more subdued but also harder, and she starts to notice, and question, some of the little details that don’t add up. She thinks she has a lead when Seema’s friend Ravi says there are photos from a party that show Seema and her mysterious boyfriend. But the killer hears of this and follows Ravi, staging another suicide. Priya takes matters into her own hands when her father, her fiancé, and even her old friend Karan (a policeman with a sad crush on Priya), all tell her to drop any investigation. It’s quietly impressive for a heroine to disregard the men in her life so thoroughly.

Raakhee is impressive as Mrs Sharma. She had minimal dialogue but her suffering was evident, as was her painful realisation about her beloved son. It’s all about loving your family…I felt bad for Priya that even if she stuck by Vicky to the end, she still got shut out by a filmi Ma.

Dalip Tahil plays Madan Chopra with spite and a dash of sleaze. He is very urbane and successful, and his daughters (who really were old enough to form memories but seemed not to have any clue) had no recall of how he became so wealthy. The veneer cracks as soon as his good name is threatened by scandal or by the complicated revenge plot, and Madan becomes a snarling dog in an expensively hideous microfibre suit. Siddharth Ray is chunky and despondent as Inspector Karan. And if ever there was a story that did not need Johnny Lever, this is it.

The Anu Malik soundtrack is so familiar, and so cheesy. Ah, the porno sax background version of Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhein. But the picturisation on SRK and Kajol is iconic, taking place in one of those not for profit nightclubs that sacrifices paying patron seating for a dance floor the size of an ice rink. Even Batman seems to be a fan.

Ajay’s own crimes are shown with more realistic detail, and somehow the struggle adds to the disturbing attraction repulsion thing Shahrukh has going on. He is given to exposition and declaiming and I quite liked his line :“You are like the invalid who needs crutches to walk but has no hands to hold them” Food for thought. Overall though the film takes an energetic but not very realistic approach to the action and violence. Bullets cannot kill a man but drop a fishtank on someone and they’re a goner. The finale is full throttle and the props department lashed out for a really big tin of red paint.  It’s almost 20 minutes from the first gunshot to the very end.

If you’ve already seen Baazigar, maybe it’s time to dust it off for a rewatch. Some things in the film haven’t aged so well as its stars. The story wouldn’t work in our digital/social media world as Facebook would have tagged Ajay before he knew it. And people today answer their own phones which they carry everywhere. But if you are one of the 973 people on earth who haven’t seen it yet, maybe it is time to experience this classic. 4 stars! (Johnny Lever, you cost the movie a star. You and your comedy sidekicks. Repent!)

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Raees

raees-movie-poster

Raees (Shah Rukh Khan in case you haven’t worked that out) grows up working for the local bootleggers, learning the business from the inside out. His mother (Sheeba Chaddha) tells him that no business is beneath them, and no religion is greater than business, as long as they don’t harm anyone. Raees hates being poor, and hates being treated unfairly. He wants respect, money, success. He’s the kind of guy who will exploit the tiniest gap to create something you could drive a fully laden truck through. The man trying to stop him is the eccentric and equally driven Superintendent Majmudar (the excellent Nawazuddin Siddiqui).

The film is directed like it was the 70s, the story is set in the 80s/90s, but only the technology dates things. Seeing Raees threatening someone over the phone was something else when that phone was a dinky red racing car one. The Fatehpura neighbourhood is a lively backdrop, teeming with people going about their day in the narrow streets. The songs suit the film and tend to advance the story more often than not (the Not being Zaalima). I wasn’t convinced by Sunny Leone as Laila but that sequence is quite gripping.

 

I think they did a good job of harnessing Shah Rukh’s uncle dancing tendencies and enigmatic walking powers, and I am rarely averse to colour and movement. Overall Rahul Dholakia directs with good pace and attention to the emotional arcs, but he throws everything into his story and that is to the eventual detriment of the film. There are too many subplots unravelling towards the end and the energy fizzles out.

Raees has strong ethics in business and personal life. You can argue the toss about selling illegal booze, but he only sells quality gear not the adulterated hooch that killed people when he was a kid. The experiences in his youth have a clear influence on shaping the adult and I felt Raees was believable even if his fight skills were more suited to a Bond. The audience applauded his shenanigans – the chai glass and the press entourage got the loudest cheers – and they seemed to appreciate Raees as the guy who was doing one wrong thing but was otherwise a hero. He is the Angry Young Man who wants to give his family a secure future and help the people who have helped him. His lifelong friendship with Sadiq (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) adds another layer of humanity, exposing some of Raees less heroic moments. Shah Rukh’s performance is solid but occasionally is too much like vintage Raj or Rahul, although Raees shows more intent than would usually accompany the up-close décolletage inspection. He’s charismatic, nerdy, and impulsive, but also calculating. One question though – Does SRK have an eyedrops sponsorship? First Dear Zindagi, now Raees…

Raees is an anti-hero who knows when he has committed a serious crime and it doesn’t always sit easily with him. I watched an old interview with actor Michael Caine and he was asked about how he could bring himself to play an evil character and make him seem so human. He said the man wasn’t a monster to himself, so he could play him with characteristics of both a decent guy and a cold blooded villain. I think that is what works with Shah Rukh’s portrayal. He looks at ease in Raees skin whether he is praying at his mother’s grave, being carried through the streets in triumph, or going on a brutally efficient killing spree. He shows unusual self-awareness for a filmi hero and a degree of struggle with the consequences of his path. People may see him as a god but he knows he isn’t.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui is Majmudar, that most problematic of policeman – the one who wants to get his man.  His epic entrance at the best and tackiest party ever was a perfect set-up for what was to come. Majmudar has a fascination with Raees. He is determined to shut him down but he quite enjoys Raees spirit. I liked how Nawazuddin would smirk, showing a hint of exasperation and a gleam of genuine appreciation when Raees bested him. That and all the sarcastic one liners. Majmudar spent time tapping Raees’ calls, using the helpfully labelled Phone Tapping Centre from the Central Props Department, and seems almost wistful when he overhears a personal call. But then he is still cold and calculating in his pursuit. Raees was the opponent he needed in order to be that cop who never gives up even when the system is against him. Nawazuddin steals all the scenes as Majmudar permeates Raees’ life and he is a strong and unyielding presence that exasperates the pragmatic businessman. Raees and Majmudar treat each other with respect and as much honesty as is possible, and are the most morally articulate characters. They’re both smart, neither has to be a fool or do anything out of character just to move the plot along, and both actors are terrific in their scenes together.

Mahira Khan gives a good and largely understated performance as Aasiya, Raees’ wife. There is no sizzling chemistry but they show a comfortable joy in each other’s company that speaks to a longstanding relationship between neighbourhood sweethearts. In a scene when Raees came home covered in blood, Aasiya gives him a searching look. His reaction of self-disgust and culpability is what reassures her. She knows his line of business and she believes in her husband. Despite being in the domestic background, it is obvious that Aasiya is respected and liked in the community and she steps up in public when needed. True, she appears to have a baby without a pregnancy but frankly I’ve seen stranger things in Hindi films.

Sadiq (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) rounds out the important people in Raees life and his performance is endearing and realistic. Friends since childhood, Sadiq is the only one apart from Aasiya that can see Raees as just a bloke. They keep some of their cute childhood mannerisms, retell old stories, and they look out for each other no matter what. Even when Raees flies off the handle, Sadiq is there to try and talk him down or remind him of what’s important. It mustn’t be easy to carve out your own space when SRK is going the full Rahul, but this friendship works.

The cat and mouse between Raees and Majmudar dominates, but there are some excellent character actors in support. Atul Kulkarni is charming and vile as the calculating Jairaj Seth who won’t easily let his former employee best him. Narendra Jha is Musa Bhai, the enigmatic Mumbai based don who helps Raees set up on his own.

Raees is at best morally ambiguous, and the ending may not be what you expect, but I enjoyed the film. Rahul Dholakia directs with a vintage masala flavour, but unfortunately messes up the formula so it gets a bit diluted towards the end. It’s an uneven ride but worth it for the excellence of Nawazuddin and SRK and the retro cops and robbers style.

Fan (2016)

Fan- Movie Poster

Aryan Khanna (Shah Rukh Khan) is the reigning King of Bollywood. Gaurav Chandna (Shah Rukh Khan) is 25 years younger and is known in his colony as Junior Aryan Khanna. The resemblance is demonstrated in one awesome, heartfelt, funny talent show turn. He is a superfan, rational in all areas of his life except where Aryan Khanna is concerned. Junior’s passion becomes as destructive as it was once supportive. Aryan says he owes his success to his fans, but he doesn’t want them in his life. Gaurav doesn’t see a distinction between the public persona and the man – he made Aryan Khanna a king, and he can unmake him. Do stars owe their fans anything more than being a star? And why do we care so much about professional liars and dresser-uppers?

Maneesh Sharma gets a great performance from Shah Rukh, a veteran of the twofer deal. Aryan is the big star who lives in in a marble and crystal bubble. All the trademark SRK mannerisms are there – the sarcasm, the dimples, the charm. He lives in Mannat, his wife is called Gauri, he has kids, he gets paid to dance at big society weddings, gets into fights with other stars, is always late, has bad art, owns props and costumes from SRK films. But is he reeeeally SRK? That’s one layer of the game Shah Rukh and Maneesh Sharma play with the audience in this most meta masala. Gaurav is a youthful puppy faced Aryan lookalike. His characterisation goes beyond the fancy visual effects and body doubles to look like a young version of himself. Gaurav has a jaunty walk and several of his hero’s mannerisms too, but just a little bit off beat or jerky looking so it’s close but not perfect. When Gaurav is “doing” Aryan, his expressions change and his voice lowers in pitch to heighten the resemblance.

There is of course a supporting cast, but this is so much about the herocentric world of star and fan that Shah Rukh is in almost every shot. I liked Shriya Pilgaonkar as Gaurav’s crush, Neha. She is a pretty girl next door type and has a good rapport with the nervous and jumpy Gaurav. Yogendra Tiku and Deepika Amin are excellent and very believable as loving parents with a blind spot to their son’s weirdness.

Manu Anand’s cinematography makes Fan look amazing. Bombay is the contrast of Aryan’s cool world with the grimy, seedy, well-worn and fabulous city, Delhi is the intimate and homely neighbourhood, and the Dubrovnik sequence has echoes of Bond. Gaurav has a great chase scene with the police in Mumbai where he leaps from window to window, hanging from canopies and AC units, eventually wrecking the tiffinwallahs delivery success rate by sending dhabbas flying.  But guts and adrenalin can only take him so far, he stills gets nabbed. When Aryan chases Gaurav through Dubrovnik, it is beautiful as well as a pumping action scene. And Aryan has 25 years of being an invincible hero under his belt.

Fan-Gaurav meets Aryan

There is a moment where had Aryan behaved differently, Gaurav would probably have gone home and calmed his farm. But Fan uses old SRK interviews to tell us that Aryan won’t step back from putting himself first, or he wouldn’t have been driven enough to make himself into a huge star. Aryan takes a swing at the press for missing the point and talking about his image when the real story was overlooked. Some confrontations with British police felt OTT to me in terms of the acting (is it just lame white extra acting?), but my experience arriving in London probably doesn’t compare to, say, SRK landing at an American airport. Sharma also blends in footage taken outside Mannat and from the recent Temptations Reloaded tour. So Aryan is shaped by incidents that echo Shah Rukh’s past. It’s a smart way to both add cred and amp up the meta to stir up more questions.

The visuals also convey both the inner worlds and the tension between Aryan and Gaurav. Gaurav’s room shows that Aryan occupies all the space in his life. When the crowds outside Mannat disperse, they leave detritus in their wake – thongs (I’m Australian, that is not as dirty as it sounds), paper, stuff – as the only sign they exist. When Gaurav waits outside to see Aryan on his birthday, the only thing he hears is his own voice. When the POV switches to Aryan, we get a wall of noise and a sea of faces. In one fight scene, the hate is palpable. Aryan really wants to hurt Gaurav, and Gaurav is too far gone to stop himself. As blows are traded their posture starts to mirror each other, almost as though one man was fighting himself.

It’s not perfect. The movie would have ended really quickly had any law enforcement agencies thought to look for fingerprints, DNA, reliable witnesses, or just done their job. But why use science when you can play cat and mouse with your characters and with the audience? Viewing companion The Mahesh Fan felt the second half got a bit unrealistic in the context of the rest of the film being underplayed by Bollywood standards. I didn’t mind the action scenes at all, as I thought it showed in a very filmi way what Aryan was – a movie hero. Of course he could handle a motorcycle chase, a rooftop fight, a long emotional speech, all without batting a stunning eyelash. That is what made him Aryan Khanna. (Sidenote – The Mahesh Fan was an extra in Chak De India and says SRK was given the nickname No-Show Shah Rukh because of his perpetual tardiness. We laughed a lot when Aryan rocked up hours late to an event.)

This is a smart film about the industry, about fan culture, and stardom. There is even a little thread about aging gracefully in the public eye (or not – maybe as one waxwork attests). There is temptation to read into every line and interrogate every symbol, but Fan is also a well-executed ripping yarn and entertainment. All the working bits of your brain can be happily occupied watching it. The Mahesh Fan’s verdict was it needed more songs, more dancing, and about twenty minutes less in run time. I can see her point, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment. I am so happy I love, and am a bit disturbed by, this film. Nice one No-Show!