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India Today issue dt August 23, 1999
August 23, 1999

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Elections 99

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REVIEWS
Plastic Emotions

New makeover for an old filmi formula.

By Anupama Chopra

Kohram: A kitsch of Kargil, colonels and fake identities.
Dollar Dreams:
Is the great American dream a myth or reality

Movie: Taal
Director: Subhash Ghai
Cast: Anil Kapoor, Akshaye Khanna, Aishwarya Rai

Aishwarya Rai and Anil Kapoor in Taal Subhash Ghai is Bollywood's master of melodrama. For 22 years, he has, Hitchcock-like, played the audience like an organ. Rhetoric-filled confrontations and 70-mm drama have helped him to establish an enviable record of 11 hits. But as a younger generation of directors takes over the reins of Bollywood, Ghai is seeking to reinvent himself. With the earlier Pardes and now Taal, he has sought to grow beyond his own formula. He is looking for a new voice. Unfortunately he doesn't find it in Taal.

Taal is, in Ghai's best showman tradition, a sweeping saga of love, moving from Chamba to Mumbai and ending in a grand finale at Toronto. It's glitzy, it's gorgeous but it's also plastic. Ghai takes a story so old that even his hero (Akshaye Khanna) acknowledges in a dialogue that this often happens in the movies: a city boy (Khanna plays an NRI) falls in love with a pristine pahadan (recall Raj Kapoor's Ram Teri Ganga Maili). The mountain girl (Aishwarya Rai) and her musician father follow the pardesi and are insulted by his family.

But the girl has a golden voice and is discovered by an entertainment baron (Anil Kapoor) who makes her an international star. She almost marries the impresario but changes her mind minutes before the ceremony because, as Ghai reminds us, an Indian girl doesn't change her values by wearing western clothes. Her first love is her only love.

Ghai has some finely orchestrated moments -- a lyrical kissing scene, the tempestuous confrontation between the two families and Kapoor's introduction. A. R. Rahman's glorious music fills every frame, becoming almost a fourth character in the triangle. The choreography, largely by Saroj Khan and Ahmed Khan is stunning. But it isn't enough.

Ghai's strength has always been his son-of-the-soil earthiness and in Taal he seems out of element. He tries too hard to be hip but the strain of trying to outdo Karan Johar and Company. is evident. The baron's studio, designed by Bollywood's high priestess of the contemporary, Sharmishta Roy, is always occupied by leotard clad ready-to-rehearse dancers. There is a slew of brand names -- BPL, MTV, Kenstar and love scene built around a Coke bottle -- and the impresario is relentlessly cool. It seems more like self-conscious posturing.

All of Kapoor's energy and Rai's polished performance cannot rescue Taal's meandering narrative and clumsy climax. In interviews, Ghai has repeatedly said that Taal is not a "typical Subhash Ghai film". It should have been.


Two's a Crowd

A kitsch of Kargil, colonels and fake identities.

By Anupama Chopra

Movie: Kohram
Director: Mehul Kumar
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Nana Patekar, Tabu, Danny Dengzongpa

Don't believe the hype. Kohram has as much to do with Kargil as Major Saab had to do with NDA cadet training. Mehul Kumar has insisted that he has shot extensively in Kargil and Rajouri but in Kohram, Kashmir looks remarkably like Mumbai's Film City. And the story line is about as authentic as the locales.

Kumar takes a few headlines -- the Rubina Sayed kidnapping case, militancy, proxy war, corrupt politicians -- ladles in some patriotic dialogue, religious sentiment, vigilante justice, even a cabaret and serves up a Bollywood-style topical entertainer.

Kohram has Krantiveer-like crude energy and the first half moves at break-neck speed with Amitabh Bachchan and Nana Patekar, both army men, matching wits in a cat-and-mouse game. But proceedings slow to a crawl in the second half and the novelty of watching Bachchan and Patekar palls. In fact, Kumar's solution to the Kashmir problem -- the army playing terminator both with militants and politicians -- would be dangerous if the film weren't so infantile.

Here an army colonel (Bachchan) misses his target -- a corrupt politician -- three times. The militants led by a glaring Mukesh Rishi are fumbling fools. Patekar in the role of an army major pursues the colonel by disguising himself as a stammering photo-journalist. Tabu, a woman police inspector who collects hafta by threatening to kill people, falls in love with him. Jackie Shroff, playing a dead body in the first scene moves a facial muscle. Absolutely anything is possible.

The question, of course, is who's better. Bachchan, alternatively breathing fire and brimstone as the colonel and playing comedy as a Banaras ka bhaiya, partially recreates the old magic. But he looks haggard and weary to the bone. Patekar thankfully abandons the ranting psycho act for more controlled histrionics. But ultimately, neither of the two can take Kohram above the status of a comic book.


Shortcut to USA

Is the great American dream a myth or reality?

By Amarnath K Menon

Movie: Dollar Dreams
Director: Sekhar Kammula
Cast: Anish Kuruvilla, Priyanka Veer, Santosh Kumar, Satya, Anil

Dollar Dreams (DD) is about six characters in search of a dream and the dream here is a promised land called America. In his gently ironic debut film US-based computer professional Sekhar Kammula, 30, has satirised the national obsession with going abroad.

The dream inevitably turns sour. The journey, through on-the-make middle men promising jobs or visas -- the all important H1 variety, a must for US bound professionals -- is tortuous. Having survived the obsession with the US himself, Kammula effectively exposes the underside of "the land of opportunities". The film also satirises fly-by-night teaching shops that churn out quickie software programmers ready for export to America and the irrelevance of miscellaneous counselling sessions.

Rooted in urban middle-class sensibilities, DD falls in the same genre as Hyderabad Blues, Chalo America and Bombay Boys -- small, independent films made by young, debutant film makers with original storylines.

The film tells the story of a close-knit group of friends who are hell-bent on going to the US and striking it rich across the seas. The first (Ravi Raju) goes to US and returns with an American accent and insufferable attitude. The second (Santosh Kumar) learns how to hoodwink potential employers. The third (Anish Kuruvilla) is an engineer who just wants to get an MBA degree. It's his nagging father who's pushing him to go to the US. Kammula is scathing of this jaao (go) America mantra that pressurises young people to go abroad.

Anil Prashanth, in the role of the fourth friend, is happy to continue as a laid-back Hyderabadi with his charming wife (Satya). But when he discovers that even his mediocre friends are better off than him in the "States", he too is desperate to go. The only ones not to succumb to the societal pressure to emigrate are the earthy Sikh (Dashveer Singh) who's content with counting eggs and chicken in his poultry farm and the journalism student (Priyanka Veer). In a delicious twist, Kammula has the student conduct a survey on the aspirations of those who want to "chalo America" in pursuit of the yuppie dream.

What is refreshing about DD is its natural dialogue. This low-budget bilingual film -- English and Telugu -- is livened up by the occasional use of Hyderabadi slang. Kammula is also able to bring out the best in his cast -- most of them newcomers -- by allowing them to improvise and behave naturally. Cinematographer C. Vijaya Kumar captures them in candid shots from unusual angles.

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