Thursday, July 19, 2007

Dance, groove and love

First there was the song. The story came later followed by the film. That in a nutshell is the evolution of Bollywood. Not to be confused with Indian cinema, which developed rapidly throughout the country in a different songless manner. In the first few years, the songs were a beautiful companion to the Bollywood stories; the song knew its place and never dared take over the story, and likewise, the story knew of the song's existence and ensured that the songs never looked out of place in the movie. As a result, absolute vintage musical gems were produced thru the 40's upto 1960's. Everyone has their favourites from that era but Guru Dutt and Raj Kapoor stand out as just two outstanding examples of film-makers who acted and directed memorable films such as Pyaasa, Kagaash ke Phool, Shree 420, Awaara, Barsaat, Mera Naam Joker.

The 1970's brought a change to the Bollywood landscape. While some classic Raj Kapoor films continued into that decade, a new breed of films landed on the market -- the 'angry man' action films lead by Amitabh Bachchan. Titles such as Sholay, Don, The Great Gambler , Trishul, Deewar, Kaala Pathar were some of Bachchan's biggest hits. While Amitabh's angry characters fought for the simple man, catchy dance numbers started the initial separation from the story. 'Item' numbers (or slut dance numbers as I like to call them) gained more in prominence and had nothing to do with the story -- it just so happened that our brave hero found himself at a party or a club where a woman was dancing her heart out; the dancer threw herself onto the hero who acknowledged her presence in his typical macho manner, had his way with her and went off to save the world. While this trend of 'item' numbers continued in the 80's, a new breed of parallel art cinema also entered Bollywood's language as well. These art films sometimes didn't have songs and focused more on story and character development.

Alas, the art film movement vanished by the start of the 1990's. In fact, even commercial Bollywood languished in the early 90's, existing in a lost phase -- there was no trend or tone to be gathered from the decade's first releases. All that changed in 1994 when Sooraj R. Barjatya released Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, a film with a marriage-love story theme but packed with 14 songs (much more than the existing average of 6-8). It was a huge box office hit and signaled to Bollywood that songs and marriage plot were in. The next few years saw nothing but love stories and marriage films with countless songs. By now, the songs had nothing to do with the story and in fact, a lot of films developed its songs first and then bothered crafting a story around the songs. Even Yash Chopra who directed story oriented films in the 1970's jumped on the band-wagon and along with his son, Aditya, started making these lovey-dovey song, dance stories.

Thankfully, the demand for something 'different' from the audiences gave a brief hope at the end of the 1990's and start of early 2000's as some directors attempted songless films with bold stories. After mixed success, most of these films disappeared to be replaced by complete foreign film remakes. While in the previous decades, Bollywood had only borrowed few elements from Hollywood and foreign cinema, the years from 2001 - present have seen full fledged remakes of stories from Hollywood to Europe to Eastern Asian cinema. And ofcourse, the songs are present there as well. Some directors attempted to carefully integrate the songs into the film, but most film-makers shot songs as a separate entity -- the story takes a break while the actors dance and continues after the 3-5 minute song. For the most part though, the story had a reason to exist with the song only serving to attract audience members to the theater. That is until now, when a film has been created where the songs dominate the film. There is a tiny story but it is squeezed in between songs that one hardly notices that the film even has a story. In the past, the story made compromises to let the song exist. However, this time, it is the song that is making a compromise to let the audience see a bit of the story.

The film in question is Shaad Ali's Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. This Yash and Aditya Chopra produced film starts and ends with a song danced by Amitabh Bachchan. In between the two songs, we get multiple love stories starring Abhishek Bachchan, Lara Dutta, Bobby Deol, Preity Zinta. After the initial song has ended, Rikki Thukrall (Abhishek) runs into Alvira Khan (Zinta). The two exchange their separate love stories with Rikki describing his love tale with Anaida (Lara) and Alvira mentioning her fairy tale love with Steve (Bobby). The narrated love stories come complete with songs, ofcourse. And then Rikki and Alvira imagine if both of them were not engaged to other people, what their love story would be like. Cue another song. Now, we have three love stories going on at the same time -- Rikki & Alvira's along with Rikki & Anaida plus Alvira and Steve. Thankfully, we are allowed a few moments of hilarious scenes in between the songs. Out of nowhere, the film's last 20 minutes stuffs us with an endless rendition of the title song, over and over again. The excuse we are given is that the actors are taking part in a dance competition but even by Bollywood's standards, the dance is plain awful -- the song is infectiously catchy but everything else around the song is a real waste. The only thing worthwhile about that song is in between the dance rounds, we see characters dressed in costumes from Bollywood hits of the past such as Mera Naam Joker, Bachchan's Shahenshah, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Mr. India, etc.

So what is one to make of this excuse of a movie? There is plenty to like in the film with Lara Dutta's fabulous acting as a prostitute and Abhishek's charming performance as Rikki. Ofcourse, Abhishek looks more and more like his father when he is freely acting. The only negative in terms of acting is Preity Zinta -- over the last few years, I can't determine if Zinta is to blame for playing her characters annoyingly or she is innocent and only gets annoying characters to play in films? The film is packed with some hilarious tender moments, especially between Abhishek and Piyush Mishra as the two wander around London. Also, there is a hilarious scene involving Rikki and Steve as they drive on a motorcycle while a musical clip from Sholay is played in the background -- that was a cute touch as that Sholay song featured both actor's fathers, Amitabh and Dharmendra. So the film is not afraid to showcase previous Bollywood films, but despite all the cuteness can't mask the fact that the story is only a placeholder until the next song comes along. Cue song and let the Jhooming begin.

Mindless entertainment value: 7/10
Story & Screenplay: 4/10
Direction: 5/10
Music: 9/10
Acting: 8/10

The screenplay is dull for the first 20-30 minutes and since the film is set in London, annoying character compromises are made as per the recent trend in Bollywood showing love/friendship stories between Indian and Pakistani ex-pats continues. Why can't Bollywood show a story about people as opposed to bringing jingoism and religion into it everytime? If one blinks, one might miss two cameos from the stars of BBC's hit comedy The Kumars at No. 42.

No comments: