Freitag, 31. August 2007

Sanam (1997) - Review in English

About the story: Gaurav (Vivek Mushran), son of wealthy Seth Yashpal Anand (Anupam Kher), gets his military training near the border to Pakistan. Near the camp there’s a village whose inhabitants are hostile to India, seal themselves off to Indians and let terrorists from Pakistan store weapons and ammunition there. In this village, Gaurav meets pretty Sanam (Manisha Koirala). She falls in love with him, but he rejects her advances. One day, he explains to her the reason for his behaviour: All his life, Gaurav has been overshadowed by his elder brother Narendra (Sanjay Dutt), aka "Hero", a perfect winner in life who means the world to his father. Gauram’s only desire is to finally become equal to his glorious brother, and he can’t allow anything to distract him from this purpose. Only when Sanam later in a tempestuous night saves his life, he admits that he loves her, too. When Sanam’s village finally decides that it, after all, belongs to India and therefore is threatened by the terrorists, the moment has come for Gaurav to prove himself...

To be honest, Sanjay’s role in Sanam is not very much more than a special appearance. The leading role this time is played by Vivek Mushran who unfortunately is rather mousy and unimpressive, even in the action packed climax where you’re desperately longing for Sanjay to appear. But poor Vivek doesn’t have an easy stand against a squad of splendid co-stars, among others Manisha Koirala who hardly ever was more charming and clearly dominates the first half of the film. The Zero Hour strikes after one hour and sixteen minutes when Sanjay enters the scene and, together with Anupam, grasps the film for the following 37 minutes.

What a glorious father-son jodi! Anupam and Sanjay are like mischievous little children and pranksters who feed each other lines and surpass each other in wit, humour and delightful mimics. Want some examples? Sanjay lets his fingers glide through his long mane, Anupam imitates the gesture which of course is completely useless and saves himself with the bold allegation that "once I had such hair too". Or: Sanjay pretends to be his slightly inebriated father’s mirror image (both dressed in funny pyjamas and jelly bag caps *g*). Or: Anupam, sporting a "Mr Universe" shirt, boasts about training weight-lifting for the Olympic Games – until Sanjay discovers that the weights are only wooden and secretly applies him with real weights. Both of them permanently challenge each other, be it jeep and motorbike races or table tennis matches on the office desk – with books instead of rackets. I especially love the scene when Anupam claims that anything his son can do, he can do too; and when Sanjay, souvereignly smiling, draws a big comb out of his pocket and starts combing his mane, Anupam draws out a tiny little comb and combs his moustache... (And just don’t think that I’ve already given away everything! *g*)

Sanjay got just very little screentime in Sanam but makes hundred per cent use of it. He and Anupam are the film’s highlights, alongsides with Manisha who really is terrific. Unfortunately some comic sequences typical for Hindi films of that time prevent me from recommending the film without any reservation, but the two pranksters Sanju and Anupam with their splendid chemistry make the film absolutely worth a watch – I hardly ever similarly laughed myself to tears with them like in this film. And when Sanju at a college function floors the house with a song in which Narendra dreams of having romances with nearly every actress and model of his time (Rekha, Karisma, Raveena, Sridevi, Juhi, Urmila, Tabu, Kajol, Shilpa, Sonali, Aishwarya, Sushmita, Madhuri etc) and you see "Hero, we love you" written on the wall – then what else can you do than approve to it?

Produced by Hanif-Samir; Directed by Aziz Sejawal
152 Min.; DVD: Time, English Subtitles (including songs)
© Diwali

Vijeta (1996) - Review in English

About the story: Advocate Durga Prasad (Alok Nath) operates his chancellery together with three junior lawyers. One of them is easy-going Ashok (Sanjay Dutt) who mainly feels responsible for the arguements where you have to get a bit rough. Right now, things tend to go wrong for Durga – an important file doesn’t reach him in time so he loses a case in court, and one of his clients, a gouvernment employee (Anant Mahadevan) who innocently has been sacked by corrupt gouvernment officials, is murdered in broad daylight. When Durga nevertheless wants to fight the case to posthumuosly clear his client’s name, he and his wife Laxmi (Reema Lagoo) are massacred in front of the court house. Ashok eye-witnesses the murder and thus now knows that gangster Vidhya Sagar (Paresh Rawal) is behind it. After a futile try to make Sagar accountable in court, Ashok takes matters in his own hands and starts killing Sagar’s henchmen. Police D.I.G. Jagdish Chaudhary (Amrish Puri) soon suspects Ashok to be the killer and instructs police inspector Vijayalaxmi (Raveena Tandon) to keep tabs on Ashok. Though Vijaya and Ashok are in love with each other, Vijaya duteously takes Ashok to task. As a result they start quarreling about the sense of the law and henceforth fight each other; Ashok continues his acts of revenge, Vijaya tries to prevent him from doing so – and both have no idea about who is their real enemy...

The Raj VCD’s cover shows a short-haired, bleeding and heavily armed Sanjay Dutt and thus raises fears that Vijeta might be – similar to Namak which also was dumped on the market in 1996 – a result of long-term shooting and then, after Sanjay’s release in 1995, hasty and sloppy editing; in short, a film full of continuity flaws and without dramaturgic stringency. But it’s the distributors’ secret why this photo was placed on the VCD cover as Sanjay not once in the whole film looks like this. Vijeta rather turns out to be a film obviously shot within quite a short time span – at least if you take Sanju’s hair-style as a rule.

The dramaturgic stringency, however, is another story. Though the plot comes very compact and clear (and without disturbing sub-plots), the sequence of scenes sometimes seems a bit uninspired, and the loads of (not always motivated) flashbacks to Ashok’s and Vijaya’s happiness in love allow at least the presumption that they are stopgaps for scenes which after Sanjay’s imprisonment and release never were shot as the existing material was sufficient for an acceptable movie. But maybe I’m completely wrong with these speculations and the script simply never was more than average from the start.

Anyway, Vijeta is no sensation but always worth a glance – except one acting weakness called Paresh Rawal. This man can play very good villains but why he in Vijeta, spoiled by a wimpy Hitler moustache, had to imitate the Maharani character from Sadak is something probably only he himself and the director do know, especially as he never by a long chalk attains the subliminal dangerousness of Sadashiv Amrapurkar but appears quite ridiculous and therefore cannot be taken seriously as the bad guy.

Otherwise the cast is solid and convincing. Alok Nath and Reema Lagoo unfortunately only have little space to distinguish themselves, but merely their first scene was worth their appearance – the scene where Reema reconciles naughty Sanjay with angry Alok, with Sanjay sporting once again his most delightsome innocent mischief-maker air – when he looks at you like this you simply can’t be angry with him. Then you forgive him anything, even that he absolves this film experienced but sometimes nearly uninspired. No, this does not mean that he acts badly; after all, Vijeta was made in the early 90es when Sanju was in top form in front of the camera and always was convincing, even when he was not completely focused. But in comparison with other films made at the same time as Vijeta, you’ll see the difference: Sanjay is very good, but his performance lacks that special spark with which he upgraded other movies so vitally.

Maybe this time it was partially also his co-star Raveena Tandon’s fault. Though they were once again an optically beautiful couple, Raveena is just too smooth for a police inspector who self-confidently is to bid defiance to Sanjay, she lacks the conciseness of e.g. Anita Raaj who as Sanjay’s opponent would have been quite another Challenge for him. On the other hand, towards the end Raveena for a short time shoulders the sole responsibility as the hero and even shows astounding dogfight abilities (I suppose it was Sanju who taught her some kicks). Even Amrish Puri this time is to be seen in partially unusual situations, e.g. lawn mowing, as percussionist or – dressed as a buccaneer – in the rather crazy clip "Neend Aati Nahin".

As I said, Vijeta is, by the standards of that time, a relatively concentrated and compact production; in Sanjay Dutt’s filmography, however, it is not more than average. Even Sanjay himself obviously was not very much inspired by the plot. But to give him his due, his gesture triggering the showdown once again was simply gorgeous.

Produced by Anil Rathi; Directed by K. Muralimohan Rao
152 Min.; VCD: Raj Video, without subs; slight sound disorders towards the end.
© Diwali

Donnerstag, 30. August 2007

Namak (1996) - Review in English

About the story: Pravad Sharma, the little son of the wealthy businessman Lalaji (Shammi Kapoor) and his wife Shanti, called Biji (Nirupa Roy), pals up with the poor boy Gopal. While they are playing, Pravad unintendedly shoots at Gopal, and as he believes to have killed his friend he runs away. But Gopal has survived, and though Lalaji never gets over the loss of his son, he admits Gopal to his family. Gopal (Sanjay Dutt) is deeply devoted to his foster family – to the parents, the sisters Asha and Sunita and to their husbands Suresh and Gullu (Gulshan Grover) even though the latter always causes trouble for him. Even as a union leader in Lalaji’s firm, Gopal regularly has to face problems caused by Gullu. Like Biji’s brother Mamaji (Prem Chopra), even Suresh and Gullu are after Lalaji’s wealth. But when Lalaji passes away and Mamaji, Gullu and Suresh intend to take over command in his household, Biji puts her trust completely in loyal Gopal who, by the way, has given his heart to doctor Anju (Farha Naaz), a young relative of the family. A newspaper report about Lalaji’s death gets into the hands of Pravad (Siddhant Salaria) who has grown up with a foster father (Raza Murad) and a foster brother, Jagdish (Shakti Kapoor). When Pravad by this article learns that he never killed his childhood friend Gopal, he immediately takes the train home. But Jagdish follows him, throws him from the train and presents himself as the prodigual son to Lalaji’s family. To become master of the house, he conspires with Mamaji, Gullu and Suresh against Gopal, and together they kick up a mean intrigue which makes Biji throw Gopal out of the house...

Namak (= salt) suffers heavily from the adverse circumstances of its making. As so often at that time, the production time spanned many years, and rarely the thus lacking continuity affected the result as fatally as here. The figure of Gopal looks like having been played by two different actors, and the problem is not just that Sanjay looks different in various scenes but curiously with the looks even the character changes. The "younger" Gopal is gentle and humble, the "older" Gopal is wild and defiant – it’s like Aman from Saajan and Ballu from Khalnayak alternately had played this role. The final blow for Namak was that it obviously wasn’t completed when Sanjay was imprisoned in 1994, and I suspect that Kawal Sharma at that time lost his interest for Namak and just wanted to make use of the sympathy wave which greeted Sanju when he was released in October 1995. So he quickly got the film edited without shooting the missing (and partially very necessary) scenes and skimped the dubbing (with Chetan Sashital dubbing for Sanjay) – the film’s sound quality is an act of impudence; Shammi sometimes sounds as if he had sent his lines by radio from outer space, and Sanjay without his voice is always only half the fun even though Chetan again did his best...

Fact is that Namak gives the impression of being terribly unfinished. The sequence of scenes is sometimes adventurous, and many moves are in limbo, unmotivated and remain unexplained resp. unsolved. For example: When Gopal saves Lalaji’s life, he gets seriously injured and lies half-dead in hospital – how is it possible that only shortly thereafter he merrily returns home? Why was Anju completely forgotten for about a whole hour? What happened to Pravad’s girlfriend Anita who, like him, was thrown from the train by Jagdish’s buddies? And above all: How died Lalaji?

But I don’t want to badmouth the film completely as it nevertheless has its moments. Seldom Sanjay showed similarly strong emotions as in his scenes with Shammi and Nirupa. And plots about usurpers are always interesting as you can be curious about whether and how their intrigues will be unveiled. Plus, Namak has several villains which partially develop and grow (though unfortunately rather unmotivated). The final, however, is extremely sentimental and syrupy – people who say that the end of Ek Rishtaa is beyond belief supposedly have never seen Namak.

In my opinion, Namak today might just be interesting for die-hard fans of Sanjay Dutt. Shammi’s fans can spare it as Shammi remains pale and exits rather soon. Even Farha’s fans don’t need it as Farha was completely wasted. No, the only reason to dig out Namak is a Sanjay who at times really moves to tears. But even in this regard you can get much better films than Namak which, if I had to decide, should never leave the company of Qurbani Rang Layegi and Johny I Love You in the VCD archivals.

Produced and directed by Kawal Sharma
Ca. 146 Min.; VCD: Indus, without subs; partially extreme sound disturbances during the dialogues
© Diwali

Andolan (1995) - Review in English

About the story: As an orphaned child, Aniket (Govinda) had been adopted into the family of factory worker Pradhan (Vikram Gokhale) and his wife Bharti (Farida Jalal) and found a loving brother in their son Adarsh (Sanjay Dutt). At college, self-confident Adarsh effortlessly wins the heart of pretty Anita (Somy Ali) while he has to give some tutoring to coy Aniket and shy Guddi (Mamta Kulkarni). Even though he is a full-fledged college prankster, Adarsh basically is an honest character, supporting the poor and the workers and not even shying back from a public confrontation with the don Baba Naik (Rami Reddy). But of course, thus he gets enemies – above all unscrupulous factory owner Sabra (Dalip Tahil) who enjoys minister Dalvi’s benevolence – and finally has to watch helplessly how Baba Naik, by order of Sabra and together with corrupt policemen, destroys his parents’ lifework. While Pradhan is killed, Adarsh is arrested and brutally tortured by the police. After his release, he starts a sanguinary reprisal action against his family’s plaguers and thus again ends up in legal hassles – and lands on the path of crime as politician Azad Deshpande (Ishrat Ali), who bails him out, persuades him that a war against the underworld cannot be won by blind fury, but only by becoming an equivalent opponent. Under Deshpande’s patronage, Adarsh becomes a wealthy businessman; he changes completely, loses all faith in his father’s values and becomes grim and stony. But by trying to use Aniket for his corrupt dealings, Adarsh breaks the brothers’ mutual trust. His world of corruption deeply shocks Aniket who decides to resolutely fight it. He leaves Adarsh, and the brothers become adversaries...

Not all movies starring the Sanjay-Govinda jodi are buddy comedies à la Jodi No. 1, and maybe the best counter-example is Andolan (= revolution). Though even this film starts rather witty with Sanju as the big college prankster – but very soon the story takes a dramatic turn and becomes an action thriller about crime and corruption. Symptomatic of this development are Aniket’s college buddy Subhash who, as police inspector, only with the help of alcohol bears the corrupt world he lives in, and Adarsh’s bitter accusations against the system where everybody is buyable and there’s no point in leading a decent life in accordance with values and principles – this can only make you unhappy as the bigshots and corrupt ones always are going to win. The disillusion reaches its peak when even an honorable man like Aniket finally sees no more chance for legal means in the fight against corruption, and the only facilities for the film to counteract this disillusion are (from our point of view) very vigorous patriotic phrases.

Andolan was released in 1995 which means that it was shot in Sanjay’s most prestigious puma years before July 1994. He is radiant with self-confidence, and it is a joy watching him even when he turns the cold and emotionless angel of revenge who systematically kills his enemies in heavy action scenes. And Govinda (more slender than in his later films) proves that he has more down pat than just the comedian he’s stamped as today – he can play serious roles, too. Somy Ali has a dream body, and Mamta Kulkarni (who bagged her role after Divya Bharati’s tragical death) is simply delightful, but both roles sink into oblivion after the college scenes. In spite of Govinda’s great performance, this movie is above all Sanjay’s. He even manages to keep the audience’s sympathies on his side despite Adarsh’s turn to the path of crime, as his avenge crusade aims to crush the story’s real swines and he himself is rather to be commiserated as his life was destroyed so senselessly. Again a coincidence of fiction and reality for the actor who had committed a criminal act to protect himself and his family against others’ crimes and for this was imprisoned at the time of Andolan’s release? Anyway, like Jai Vikraanta, even Andolan had been unfinished at the time of Sanju’s re-arrest in 1994. It is to Sajid Nadiadwala’s credit that he had waited for nine months, hoping for Sanju to be released on bail and to complete the film himself, before he finally gave Sanju’s only song still waiting to be shot to Govinda and engaged the professional voice actor Chetan Sashital for the dubbing of Sanju’s dialogues. Hats off to Sajid’s loyality – and to Chetan who did a terrific job in imitating Sanju’s voice and intonation.

Andolan is a very strong and intense film. Okay, the showdown is trash as trash can, but if you like the climax of Koyla you won’t have a problem either with the finale of Andolan.

Produced by Sajid Nadiadwala; Directed by Aziz Sajawal
162 Min.; DVD: WEG, English Subtitles (not for the songs)
© Diwali

Shabd (2005) - Review in English

About the story: Once-famous writer Shaukat Vashisht (Sanjay Dutt) is stuck in a crisis: His critics and readers lately reprehended his books for being unrealistic. But after two years, Shaukat seems to have overcome his writing block, and finally sits down at his typewriter – to the delight of his wife, university lecturer Antara (Aishwarya Rai). His imagination creates the heroine of his new book, Tamanna (= desire), whom Shaukat gives Antara’s features. This time he wants to stick close to reality, and he encourages Antara to enjoy life, even when young photography teacher Yash (Zayed Khan) openly courts her. More and more, fiction and reality merge in Shaukat’s view, increasingly he believes to be the one who pulls all strings and is able to write the fate of others. As Antara realizes the extent of his schizophrenia, she finally informs Yash of the fact that she is married, and tries to pull Shaukat back into reality, and into their mutual love. But instead of helping him, she unintentionally pushes him all the way over the edge to madness...

"What is reality?" This question pervades the whole film Shabd (= Word), and Leena Yadav does not make it at all easy, for the audience of her debut film, to answer this question. Where ends reality, where begins fiction and vice versa? Shabd is – as I want to state beforehand – a brilliant and exciting movie. It seldom happens that I am so deeply under the spell of a film like with Shabd, which left me stunned. Otherwise, only Raj Kapoor had this effect on me with his films from the 40es and 50es, although these are of course in a very different category than Shabd. But the effect on me was similar. Some stylistic elements – in particular the letters which come 'snowing' and later are coloured red – may not be to everyone’s taste; I found them fascinating because they matched the plot’s mystic and artificial mood. A writer invents a story, believes to have it in his grip, to write reality by way of his fiction, and thus to control us and our perception. The end was even more unsettling, and nearly drove me mad as well. Only when I watched it again, I understood the subtlety of Antara’s experiment, but this does not change the immense impact of the climax. Yadav, Rai and Dutt have accomplished a great feat here.

The film is carried by the brilliant acting performance of Sanjay Dutt. He did not play such a quiet, introvert character since Saajan – a far cry from his "bhais" and gangster roles, even from his Munnabhai character. Sanju expressed his gratitude to have been given this role in several interviews, and for those who know about his interest to play a big variety of characters, this is perfectly credible. Shaukat probably is his most ambitious role to date, and he shapes it with a lot of sensitivity. His slowly budding schizophrenia is all the more believable since Sanjay gradually develops the madness in his acting, and reigns in his emotional energy until this development reaches its peak – to then let it erupt dramatically in his scene with Antara on top of the cliff, when he beseeches her to prove him that reality and fiction are not the same after all, because his conceived reality becomes ever more painful for him, and in the end, when Antara's experiment literally makes him crack.

 Director Leena Yadav raved about him that "Sanju can just get into the moment during some scenes, that he sometimes breaks the line between acting and being. There are many moments in the film where he rose above the script and was completely engrossed in the character."

Aishwarya Rai is superb, too. She needs to be given more and more credit for her courage in choosing unusual roles in off-beat films. In Shabd she once again proves to be not only a beauty queen and great dancer, but a serious actress, too. She manages to make Antara, standing between her older husband and younger admirer, a credibility that leaves no doubt in her character's unshakable love to Shaukat, all the way to the end. Sanjay and Aishwarya do harmonise beautifully; their bed scene - oh yes, there is one, and it shows Sanju's still excellent body with terrific tattoos on his shoulders - has been shot in a discreet and tasteful way, which gives it a very sensitive and erotic touch.

Zayed Khan can not keep up with the combined power of his two co-stars, but he plays the amiable nice guy, and there is no need for him to do more in this film. The other characters are, frankly, unimportant. Shabd is definitely intimate theatre, very much like Saajan – but Saajan really was the classical love triangle between one woman and two men, while Shabd is basically all about Shaukat's (inner) world, in which he makes his beloved wife and a young stranger to protagonists in his novel, and which drives him ever deeper into schizophrenia and finally madness by his intended but increasingly hurting equalisation of reality and fiction.

As I said before, it is a truly brilliant film, which perhaps not everyone can recognise easily, but which will probably touch every viewer. (And if you like Sanjay Dutt and particularly his multifarious voice, get the soundtrack as well, which he enriches with spoken passages in several songs). Welcome to Shaukat’s World!

Produced by Pritish Nandy, Rangita Pritish-Nandy; Directed by Leena Yadav

137 Min.; DVD: Eros, English Subtitles (including songs), subtitles are missing in a few places.
© Diwali; Translated by Anamika

Jai Vikraanta (1995) - Review in English

About the story: Chaudhary Amar Singh (Alok Nath), chief of the village Jaigard, works hard to ransom his village from its debts to thakur Pratap Singh (Nisar Ahmad Ansai) and the thakur’s son Jaswant Singh (Amrish Puri). He has taught his values like honesty and non-violence even to his son Vikraanta (Sanjay Dutt). When Amar Singh refuses to sell the peasants’ land to the thakurs, Jaswant kills him and falsifies the purchase contract with Amar’s thumb print. As inspector Khote (Ranjeet) supports the thakurs, Vikraanta’s and his mother Sharda’s (Reema Lagoo) pleas for justice with the police are futile. So Vikraanta takes the law in his own hands and kills Jaswant’s father as the latter befouls the memory of Amar Singh in front of the whole village. When Jaswant in return burns down Vikraanta’s house and kills Sharda, Vikraanta turns into an outlaw and henceforth has only two ambitions left: to protect the poor from Jaswant’s cruelty and to avenge his parents’ death. While the peasants worship Vikraanta like a saviour ("Jai Vikraanta" = Hail Vikraanta!), Jaswant and Khote falsely accuse him to be a criminal and murderer so that honorable DIG Sher Ali Khan (Shahbaaz Khan) starts hunting Vikraanta. On the run from the police, Vikraanta entrusts his wife Nirmala (Zeba Bakhtiyar) and his little son Suraj to Sakhina Chachi (Aruna Irani), an old friend of his family. But when he comes to know that all three of them are in Khan’s custody, a confrontation between Vikraanta and Khan is no longer evadable...

Chapeau! Sultan Ahmed produced and directed a colourful, touching and thrilling first class epic, and I take my hat off to M. Akhtar (story) and KB Pathak (script) for their good job. This story has many strands which run side by side till they sooner or later cross each other, and even though events and revealings sometimes go head over heels, there is no twist which comes from nowhere, everything was rooted somewhere in the plot. Jai Vikraanta is a film to watch at least twice as at the second time you can reconstruct better the development of the characters and their destinies. Only towards the end I suspect that Ahmed cut out one scene as Vikraanta suddenly is at a place where he normally could not be; maybe this was a tribute to the film’s extensive length. But in the end, of the 195 minutes you wouldn’t have wanted to miss a single one.

Consequently, to make a short synopsis out of this opulent story is close to impossible. Mine e.g. lacks some strands and figures, also to avoid giving away some twists beforehand. Of course, this does not justice to these figures who are not less important than the ones I named, above all Shankar (Suresh Oberoi) who probably performs the greatest personal progression of all, but also Sakhina’s daughter Zeenat (Sabeeha), the law-abiding police commissioner (Saeed Jaffrey), unscrupulous procuress Maina Sundhari (Bindu) and honorable thakur Harnam Singh (Mukesh Khanna) who in vain tries to bring Jaswant to reason – they all play their part in the story, no one is just a prop. Maybe this was also the reason why the complete cast delivered a great performance and inspried each other to all the better achievements. As I don’t want to name all actors again I restrict myself to a) a special praise for Suresh Oberoi for his well-thought character study, b) a special thanks to Amrish Puri for his delectable dance interludes and for his cat jumper (*g*) and c) a credit to Shahbaaz Khan for having been such a strong and equal antagonist to Sanjay Dutt. (To Sanju himself I’ll return at the end.)

Obviously, Sultan Ahmed made Jai Vikraanta for several purposes. First, of course, to ask the question what people can/may/must do if they are denied justice by the authorities. Alok Nath’s appeal to non-violence is countered by Suresh Oberoi’s embittered question about what to do when you are accused for a crime and no one believes that you are innocent, and by corrupt policemen like Khote who drive honest and law-abiding people into desillusion and arbitrary law. Second, as a kind of side effect, Jai Vikraanta preaches brotherly co-existence of Hindus and Muslims which is celebrated fondly and not too didactically in one of the film’s many colourful dance scenes. And finally, like a golden thread, the special bond between a mother and her son crosses the film, in the form of the song "Rishtaa tera mera sabse alag" which Sanjay interprets at the film’s beginning in a beautiful and touching scene with Reema Lagoo.

As I already said, in spite of playing the title role this is not Sanjay’s film alone. Probably only in Vidhaata he had had to face a co-star cast like this before, and Shahbaaz Khan even was close to outplay him in their big confrontation scene. Of course, this does not mean that Sanjay was not good; he plays the outlaw à la Robin Hood (in a magnificent warrior outfit and with a bold combination of long mane, moustache and black tika on his forehead) with strong intensity and emotionality. But fact is that his tension while shooting this film must have been enormous as the borders between fiction and reality more and more disappeared for him. In 1993, Sanjay had been arrested after the Mumbai bomb blasts, accused of having been involved in this act of terror – a charge which took the courts fourteen years to acquit him of. What did he feel when he, as Vikraanta, in vain craved justice from the authorities or when other film figures asked questions like "what to do when you are accused for a crime and no one believes that you are innocent" – or when he told the police commissioner, "I respect the law of my country. If the law of our country can protect the innocent and punish the evil, then the destiny of our country is very bright"? When the film finally was released, Sanju was in prison as an under trial and as exactly the alleged but innocent murderer as his film character Vikraanta with his fight for the truth. He had not been able to dub his dialogues himself before he was imprisoned, and hats off to Chetan Sashital who attended to this task as he was a very worthy substitute for Sanju’s voice.

Produced and directed by Sultan Ahmed
195 Min.; DVD: Shemaroo, English Subtitles (including songs)
© Diwali

Dienstag, 28. August 2007

Amaanat (1994) - Review in English

About the story: Bus driver Vijay (Sanjay Dutt) lives in a small village which suffers from a persistent drought. The villagers’ only hope are well-filled wells of thakur Lankeshwar (Kiran Kumar), but the thakur will give them water only on the condition that they in return sell their land properties to him. Vijay accepts this condition and thus secures water supply to the village for one month. Then he takes all his savings and goes to Bombay in order to buy a tube well for the village. But as soon as he arrives there, his entire money is stolen. Shortly thereafter, Vijay saves a man’s life; it is Amar (Akshay Kumar), a thief who recognizes Vijay as the man whom he had stolen the money bag. Without telling Vijay the truth, Amar invites him to stay in his flat, and they become friends. Vijay gets a job at the rich Agarwal Seth’s (Mukesh Khanna) and works hard, but he runs out of time – the villagers are dying of thirst, while Lankeshwar, his brother Rajeshwar (Kiran Kumar) and Agarwal’s spoilt son Niranjan (Gulshan Grover) already decide about what’s going to happen with their land...

"He’s an angel" is the villagers’ opinion about Vijay right from the beginning, and that’s no exaggeration as Vijay indeed is almost too good for this world. A thoroughly altruistic man with a big heart which knows to forgive – up to a certain point, of course. In Amaanat (= belongings), Sanjay for a change embodies the hundred per cent nice guy again, and to play against this positive hero and that, moreover, as the thief who is the reason for his plight, was practically a suicide commando. But for once, Sanjay really was favoured by fortune concerning his male opponent: Akshay Kumar turns on his charm from the very beginning, never gives reason for doubt that he too is basically a nice guy, and his remorse about being responsible for Vijay’s and a whole village’s pain propitiates the viewers. Akshay and Sanjay harmonize splendidly from the first till the last second – too bad that up to now Amaanat remained the only film starring them together.

Apart from Sanjay and Akshay, all the others fade to minor characters even though e.g. Amar’s neighbourhood features some very lovable figures. The ladies are far away from carrying the story’s main burden; Hera Rajgopal as Gita got the best deal of them as she, supported by Vijay and Amar, may play her prank on the arrogant millionaire’s son Niranjan, while Kanchan as Vijay’s sister Radha is not very much more than a beautiful prop. And Farheen as Bijli who is in love with Vijay would have been totally wasted, were it not for her large dance clip towards the end (the music of which remarkably reminding of "Choli Ke Peeche" in Khalnayak) and her rememberable exit. Too bad, for all three ladies are charming and I would have liked to see more from them. On the other hand Kiran Kumar definitely plays one role too much; at least there is no dramaturgic reason for his double role as it nowhere in the story is necessary that the thakur has a lookalike brother.

Amaanat is a lovely, heart-warming story, a mixture of funny, sentimental and thrilling moments with its share of action scenes. And even after so many movies, Sanju still is able to spring surprises: Not only that, after in Khalnayak, he again sports a ponytail (!), he also presents his hip swing in no less than five long dance clips. I repeat: five! Within one single film, this might be his personal all-time-record. Chapeau, Sanju! ;)

Produced by Romu N. Sippy; Directed by Raj Sippy
152 Min.; DVD: Samrat, English Subtitles (including songs); very vague focus
© Diwali

Montag, 27. August 2007

Eklavya (2007) - Review in English

About the story: Rana Jaywardhan (Boman Irani), King of Devigarh in Rajastan, is sterile. Therefore once, following an old tradition, he had sent his wife Suhasinidevi (Sharmila Tagore) to a sage who should father an heir to the kingdom. But only when the Queen many years later is dying, the King learns that her twins Nandinidevi (Raima Sen) and Harshwardhan (Saif Ali Khan) had not been fathered by a sage but by his "worthless palace guardian" Eklavya (Amitabh Bachchan) whom the Queen had trusted completely. The King kills his wife and threatens Eklavya’s life. However, he himself is murdered by his younger brother Jyotiwardhan (Jackie Shroff) and his brother’s son Udaywardhan (Jimmy Shergill); Eklavya, nowadays nearly blind, doesn’t succeed in saving his worshipped King from being killed. While the irreverent inspector Pannalal Chohar (Sanjay Dutt) invests the case, Eklavya is banished by his own son, Harshwardhan, who dreams of starting a new life with the love of his youth, the servant Rajjo (Vidya Balan). But Eklavya is determined to fulfill his duty to the Royal House and to avenge his King’s murder...

Mahabharata meets Shakespeare. Tradition collaborates with presence. And above all reigns ethical and religious duty, the dharma. Eklavya (originally named Yagna) is a film about values and contrasts and narrates in powerful and beautiful pictures a story seemingly taken from a historic, fairy-tale-like past and nevertheless playing today, in a time where kings have no reigning power anymore but still can cause trouble to their subordinated peasants while untouchables like Pannalal Chohar manage to work their way up to top police jobs und therefore now approach their former rulers with disrespectful self-confidence. The scene in which Pannu to the King’s arrogant "We’ve been reigning here for 2000 years" blithely answers, "And we’ve been suffering here for 5000 years" is one of the most sustainable in this film.

The film’s visual language is strikingly beautiful. Magnificent colourful locations and strong detail shots – cinematographer N. Natarajan Subramanian conjures pictures as if Santosh Sivan had made Paheli II. They emphasize Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s quiet and concentrated narrative style which sometimes, however, is too concentrated. How often do you wish in other films that details would not be rolled out too much – but Chopra mostly didn’t even apply the roll which was harmful above all to the characters of the envious king’s brother and nephew whose enmity against the king is just given for granted but not explained or developed. That the intriguing Jyoti thus didn’t become just an average villain is thanks to the acting skills of Jackie Shroff who in his little screentime even manages to add to his character a touch of humanity. Jimmy Shergill, however, fails in his negative role; he tries to look gloomily, but you just don’t want to buy that he’s an evil swine.

A clearer profile got the King by Boman Irani (skillfully reciting Shakespeare sonetts) as an inscrutable and indecisive but subliminally dangerous character. Sharmila Tagore as his wife has only little screentime and unfortunately got no scene together with her son Saif Ali Khan. He left an ambivalent impact, mostly giving just a solid performance, especially to be seen in his scenes with the two strong actresses Vidya Balan and Raima Sen who as good as outacted him. (A special praise goes to Raima Sen for her interpretation of the mental disabled princess Nandini – convincing and without overacting.) But in his scenes and disputes with Amitabh Bachchan, Saif was in top form and showed the kind of performance you nowadays simply may expect from him.

Amitabh in the title role is, of course, the film’s linchpin. He plays the ageing, nearly blind and completely in the past living palace guard with his usual aplomb and with strong intensitiy. Often Chopra is relying just on the creative power of Amitabh’s voice, be it the letter scene in the beginning, the narrative sequences or the reckoning with Uday (where Chopra – a little insider gag – in the background shows scenes from his yesterday’s success movie Parinda). Thanks to Amitabh’s eloquence, even the scenes pontificating about dharma and fulfilling of duty are not exaggeratedly didactic, and fortunately Saif takes up Amitabh’s tone so that their final controversy avoids concisely but savely the border to kitsch.

And anyway, Chopra’s secret weapon against every possible touch of kitsch in this film is Sanjay Dutt. An untouchable who shows his side-kick the palace wall where his grandfather once had been immured alive as the kings’ lucky charme, and who does so not full of sopping emotions but hiding behind a dry-as-dust humour, as if not caring about anything – that’s something only a Sanjay Dutt can do. The only one whom this selfmade-man grants his unconditional admiration, is Eklavya whom he approaches with a refreshing childlike excitement, giving their later controversy an all the stronger effect. Sanjay’s role is small but loveable, and he plays it perfectly, so it’s just fair that it is he who is granted to finish the story with a delightful gesture. (Surely Sanju didn’t care about his role’s length as, due to his friendship with Vinod, he supposingly even would hace played a camel driver in this film without grumbling.)

It’s really a pity that after 107 minutes everything is over. I would have liked to know more about this story and its people, and to see more visually wonderful scenes like the one with the dove or Eklavya’s flashback out of the water. But this diminishes the pleasure just a little bit. Eklavya is a quiet, beautiful film with great pictures and a star cast hardly leaving anything to wish. A mixture of Paheli and Parineeta. And at any rate worth watching.

Produced and directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra
107 Min.; DVD: Eros, English Subtitles (including song)
© Diwali

P.S. Eklavya has been nominated as India's official entry to the Oscars.

Nehlle Pe Dehlla (2007) - Review in English

About the story: Johnny (Sanjay Dutt) and Jimmy (Saif Ali Khan) are two small-time crooks who end up in the same prison cell with clock-like regularity and who are not exactly fond of each other. When one day Jimmy encounters a dying accountant on the street who in his dying moments mentions Rs 30 crores hidden in the Hotel Rocksea, both crooks become waiters in this hotel. From now on they are occupied with three things: a) looking for the money, b) to get rid of each other, c) courting beautiful women. Johnny wins the heart of the hotel owner Pooja (Bipasha Basu) while her friend Kim (Kim Sharma) becomes involved with Jimmy. Johnny and Jimmy attract the attention of the hotel’s employee Balram (Shakti Kapoor) who acquired aforementioned Rs. 30 crores by fraudulent means and who orders his right hand man Diler (Mukesh Rishi) and his brothers to kill Pooja and the two waiters in addition to the accountant. They do not succeed and instead Balram himself is assassinated on Mauritius – much to the annoyance of Johnny and Jimmy who need him alive for their purposes and are now occupied with keeping the dead body "alive"...

I have had my share of painful experiences with Sanjay in brainless comedies and the animated credits revived bad memories of dead losses like Ek Aur Ek Gyarah and similar "masterpieces". But in comparison Nehlle Pe Dehlla (= ten on nine) is on the whole quite bearable, and at least Sanjay is not overacting. And when Sanjay does not overact even the most stupid movie usually can be salvaged to some extent.

And sorry, but the plot of Nehlle Pe Dehlla requires no brain-power whatsoever. Two small-time crooks chasing a large amount of money is ok, but to keep on dragging a body through all slapstick-situations imaginable and to revive it at the end as a dancing zombie with the help of black magic, is asking all involved to leave their brains at the door (maybe with the exception of Shakti Kapoor who as the body in question has to endure everything stoically).

Apparently, the makers of the movie were so preoccupied by the thought of what one could inflict on a dead body that they had little time left for such important matters as for example witty dialogue or really good slapstick which would not be out of place in a comedy. Though what the movie lacks in this respect is made up by Sanjay Dutt and Saif Ali Khan with their hilarious facial expressions and their occasionally dry as dust humour. They are masters in this respect anyway, and when after a somewhat lame start their interaction becomes better and better the two hours of the movie do not feel like a complete waste of time. As least less of a waste than what becomes of the part of the leading ladies: Bipasha Basu is reduced to being a beautiful clothe-horse, Kim Sharma has to hide any hint of sex-appeal behind childish behaviour and Neha Dhupia’s item number is relegated to the end credits.

Nehlle Pe Dehlla was ill-favoured from the start. The shooting went on for several years, repeatedly disrupted by the producer’s financial problems which occupied the courts up to the last minute before the movie’s release in March 2007. At this point, Sanjay and Saif apparently had given up on the movie and did nothing in terms of pre-release promotion. Sanjay had admitted frankly some years earlier (Filmfare 7/2004) that his initial interest in the movie evaporated with the protracted financial difficulties and the continual cancellation of dates for filming. Only his sympathy for the producer’s problems and his professional attitude stopped him from walking out altogether. He, like Saif, continued to find dates for a movie which was already doomed and could only end up as patchwork. However, one has to acknowledge that there are not too many continuity errors and the movie comes together as a coherent piece, especially in the second half. This is nothing to be sneezed at as in this respect Sanjay has far worse skeletons in his cupboard.

Produced by Mahendra Dhariwal; Directed by Ajay K. Chandok
124 Min.; DVD: Shemaroo, English Subtitles (including songs)
© Diwali; Translated by gebruss

Sarhad Paar (2007) - Review in English

About the story: At a military action, Ranjeet Singh (Sanjay Dutt) crosses the border to Pakistan and disappears without trace. Five years later the inhabitants of his village are considering him dead, only his wife Pammi (Tabu) and his sister Simran (Mahima Chaudhary) still cling to their believe that Ranjeet is still alive. Actually, shortly thereafter Ranjeet is released in the context of an exchange of prisoners. But he has lost his memory. In vain Pammi tries to remind him of the past they shared together. The only things which again and again flash up in Ranjeet’s mind’s eye are massive physical and psychic torture and the face of a man. One day, Ranjeet recognizes this face in the temple of Gurdwara. It belongs to the terrorist Bakhtavar (Rahul Dev) who now fears that Ranjeet could lead the Indian military on his trail. The encounter with Bakhtavar renders his memory to Ranjeet who from this moment on starts hunting Bakhtavar. At Simran’s wedding with Ravi (Chandrachur Singh) the fight between Ranjeet and the terrorists breaks out...

When Sanjay Dutt on November 28, 2006 finally was acquitted from all TADA charges, some producers – in order to take advantage of Sanjay’s popularity wave – suddenly were in a hurry to complete and release films with him which had been in production for a long time. Like Nehlle Pe Dehlla, Sarhad Paar – A New Dawn too had been in production for many years, a process which had become even more complicated when the makers amidst of the shooting decided to re-write the script as the original anti-Pakistani undertone no longer was adequate due to the political developments. This could not go well – and indeed Sarhad Paar, despite some beautifully self-contained sequences, makes just a half-baked impression. Absolutely beyond my grasp are the sound problems: Once Sanjay’s dialogue partner sounds like talking from outer space, and above all, some passages were obviously not dubbed by Sanjay himself, and I seriously wonder why this was necessary as Sanjay had used the time granted by his bail extension for, among other things, the Sarhad Paar dubbing. Had these passages been forgotten and then in a hurry been completed without him in order not to lose more time until the release?

Well, it was no big loss for Sanjay, for this Ranjeet Singh was nothing of a challenge for him and rather belongs to the category of "roles accepted for diversion’s sake". All in all, Sanjay is gravely underemployed in Sarhad Paar, especially in the first half where he even in the flashbacks to the happy times before his captivity hardly got something to do. A more complicating fact was that the film was partially shot in a time when Sanjay was under enormous mental pressure because of his court case and had to fight for every moment of concentration. And this shows. Okay, we know that Sanju is definitely able to deliver terrific performances even under brutal mental tension, Lage Raho Munnabhai is the best evidence for that. But maybe in Sarhad Paar too many things simply went wrong.

It surely is not his female co-stars’ fault. Tabu is wonderful, even though similarly underemployed as Sanjay. Mahima Chaudhary with her bubbling temperament is an adequate antagonist to the more quiet characters played by Tabu and Sanjay. On the other hand, Chandrachur Singh is the same sleeping pill as (nearly) always. Rahul Dev bestowes his terrorist leader with a more subliminal dangerousness which is very good for this character. About ten or fifteen years ago this would have been Sanju’s role, I bet.

Like I said: Sarhad Paar is no big-time. It seems unfinished, contains some unneeded comic scenes and a superfluous item number which also is so short that you wonder why it was included at all. But the film has its moments, especially the scenes with Tabu and Sanju are simply lovely (and I seriously plead for another casting of this jodi). And when Ranjeet in one of the flashbacks suggests himself as Pammi’s bridegroom, then for a moment the Sanjay Dutt as you know him flashes up. This is a scene to watch three times in a row. Too bad that it is the only one.

Produced by Nimbus Motion Pictures; Directed by Raman Kumar
108 Min.; DVD: Madhu, English Subtitles (including songs)
© Diwali

Shootout At Lokhandwala (2007) - Review in English

About the story: To fight terrorists effectively, ACP Shamsher Khan (Sanjay Dutt) has founded the Anti Terrorist Squad ATS and personally picked out this special troupe’s members. But even by the Mumbai police the ATS often is critizised because of it’s not always legal methods. Right now the ATS eyes a gangster group whose leader Maya Dolas (Vivek Oberoi) intends to separate from his boss in Dubai and to lead his own, merciless regime. When Khan on November 16, 1991 finally comes to know about the whereabouts of Maya and his buddies Buwa (Tushaar Kapoor), Fattu (Rohit Roy), RC (Shabbir Ahluwalia) and Doubling (Aditya Lakhia) in Swami-Building in Lokhandwala, he gets the building besieged by police forces. Soon a shootout between 286 policemen and the gangsters breaks out which lasts more than six hours and transfers the Mumbai suburb into a seat of war. But afterwards, Khan faces an inquiry and is accused of violation of human rights and of co-operation with the gangster boss in Dubai. Advocate Dhingra (Amitabh Bachchan) is to decide whether Khan and his assistants inspector Kaviraj Patil (Suniel Shetty) and constable Javed Shaikh (Arbaaz Khan) are to be made accountable for the blood-bath in Lokhandwala...

So-called "encounters", resulting in shootouts between the police and criminals and often just faked by the police to make their shooting on allegedly fleeing criminals apparently legal, obviously belong to the Mumbai police’s repertoire. Only a few days before the release of the film Shootout At Lokhandwala, another encounter had made headlines in India and triggered debates about these controversial police methods – and thus added brisance to the film, making it unexpectedly up-to-date, which was just in the sense of the makers who with their film, grounded on true events, not so much wanted to answer question as rather pose them and initiate controversies.

And they managed in doing so, especially with the film’s end which in this case, as the historical facts are well-known, for once may be anticipated: the acquittance of Khan and his assistants in court. So is it okay and legal if the police uses illegal means in their stride against terrorists? Are policemen praiseworthy heroes who follow the instriction "shoot to kill" (Khan) and create a blood-bath? Does this film glorify policemen who disregard the law?

No. Lakhia did what he could to at least query the unevitable acquittance. Was it justice? Was the killing of the gangsters during the shootout gangsters? Lakhia poses these questions and invites the public to find their own answers about just and unjust. Advocate Dhingra, while questioning Khan, Patil and Shaikh, leaves no doubt that the ATS men in his view are not a tittle better than the terrorists. And his question in court "if there’s a man with a gun in your garden, whom do you want him to be: Maya, Buwa or Shamsher Khan?" is in my opinion no plea in support of Khan; in fact, with this question Dhingra aligns the ACP with the gangsters (and Sanjay’s reaction is accordingly). For me, the end is in no way a rehabilitation of the police, and had Amitabh in the last frame not beamed like a newlywed olympic champion, the case would have been the more credible.

The blood-bath in Lokhandwala, where in 1991 within six hours 1755 bullets have been fired off, is the film’s highlight and with all its excesses of violence splendidly filmed. Before that, the viewer gets a chance to meet both the parties – and none of them is presented in a very beneficial light. The cops are mostly wrecked fellows with wrecked family lives, and the gangsters are inmature guys who just want to live and play and for this, of all things, have chosen blackmailing and killing. Genuine sympathy is hardly possible for any of them. Neither pity – not even when the boys in the end amidst the hail of bullets phone their families or girl-friends and tearfully bid them farewell. On the contrary, these apparent attempts to make the gangsters more "human" are immediately reduced to absurdity; e.g. when Buwa whines to his Tanu that he so much would have loved to live before he has to die – getting married, having children etc – and in the same breath once more reminds about how many people he has killed. Is there anyone who feels pity? Not me.

Cast and performances in the film are good, partially even outstanding. Sanjay Dutt gives an impressive performance of the uncompromising ACP Khan; by the way, his "historic model" Aftab Ahmed Khan, whom he studied thoroughly for this purpose, plays the role of commissioner Krishnamurty in the film. No less convincing is Vivek Oberoi, probably delivering his best performance since Company. Amitabh Bachchan plays his little role with a beneficial pinch of sarcasm and, by the way, has claimed no fee for his contribution due to his friendship with Sanjay Dutt, prescisely like his son Abhishek in the blink-and-miss appearance as the cop Abhishekh Matre. Oh well, a few women were acting in this action film too, and Amrita Singh as Maya’s mother proves easily that she has more acting talent in her little finger than Diya Mirza (reporter), Aarti Chhabria (Tanu) and Neha Dhupia (Khan’s wife) together.

All of them don’t have very much to do. But even the male roles would have profited from a little more character developing. Lakhia had better eliminated one or two of the useless songs (they are nice, but just fillers) and prosecuted a bit more characterization of the figures instead. Or worked out the plot with the Dubai boss a little more – just mentioning the fact that Khan was accused to have acted in favour or maybe even by order of this gangster boss, and later never returning to this issue, is unforgivable. Did Lakhia have to be considerate of the real ACP Khan who was part of the film unit – and in his day was rumoured for being a frequent visitor of filmi as well as underworld parties?

Shootout At Lokhandwala indeed raises many questions. And is blistering up-to-date. Not only in India where, like I said, such encounters still happen (even though until now no longer to such an extend as in Lokhandwala 1991). But even in countries like Germany where, at the time when this film was released, people seriously discussed the question whether a terrorist may be shot as a precaution.

Produced by Sanjay Gupta, Shobha Kapoor, Ekta Kapoor; Directed by Apoorva Lakhia
121 Min.; DVD: Rainbow, English Subtitles (including songs); with the DVD you get a little information brochure and a bonus DVD containing: Making of the Movie, Making of the Song, Interview of the Stars, Exclusive Premier Footage und Original Footage of Encounter Held in Mumbai 1991 By ACP A.A. Khan (however, all of these five chapters feature nearly permanently the same material...)
© Diwali

P.S. Liz Mermin made a documentary film about SOAL: Shot in Bombay. Here you can read my review.

Saajan (1991) - Review in English

About the story: The orphan Aman, who has a crippled leg, becomes friends with Akash. The latter’s parents make Aman part of their family, bring him up lovingly and regard him as a second son. However, the psychological wounds Aman (Sanjay Dutt) received in early childhood and his disability have left their mark on him. He expresses his pain and longings in poems which he publishes under the pen-name Sagar (as he does not want his beloved foster parents to get the mistaken impression that they are in any way responsible for his mental pain and anguish). Pooja (Madhuri Dixit) is a fan of Sagar’s poems and commences a close pen-friendship with him. When Aman gets to know Pooja in person and falls in love with her, he does not dare to tell her that he is her greatly admired Sagar, as he is afraid of rejection. Instead, he realizes a short time later that Akash (Salman Khan), whom he loves like a real brother, also has fallen in love with Pooja. Out of gratitude for Akash’s friendship and all the good fortune he received through it, Aman decides to sacrifice his true love for Akash’s sake. He advises Akash to pretend to be Sagar in order to win Pooja’s love...

Saajan is a typical Hindi Cinema love triangle: It is obvious right from the start not only that one person has to step back, but also who this person is. This leaves little scope for suspense, as the only remaining question is how everything is going to fall into place in the end. Furthermore, the plot is entirely focused on the three lovers, there are no external adversaries endangering them in any way. Without three strong leads a play like Saajan would probably have sunk without trace. This, however, does not happen when the love triangle consists of Madhuri, Sanjay and Salman, who are able to carry the roughly three hour long movie (while they are not to be held responsible for the aberrations of early nineties fashion). Madhuri is charming as ever, but largely restricted to the passive part of the object of desire of the two male leads, apart from one scene towards the end of the movie in which she expresses her opinion of the two gentlemen’s actions with refreshing frankness. As frequently in his earlier movies, Salman is full of high spirits and with his attractive sparkling personality and womanising ways he provides a good foil for the quiet, sensible and introverted Sanjay. Sanjay Dutt doubtlessly is the high point of this movie which became a great personal triumph for him and gained him the first Best Actor Filmfare Nomination of his career.

For somebody who doesn’t know Sanjay and his biography up to 1991 it may not be noticeable – but the more I watch Saajan the more I am struck by how deep an insight into his soul Sanju gives us in his (at times heartbreaking) portrait of a sensitive poet. How much suffering, despair and loneliness can be seen in his eyes when he is overcome by mental anguish! Aman has suffered a lot due to his disability. He does not regard himself as a full human being and therefore is easily affected by intentional or unintentional hurtful remarks. At the same time, he is boundlessly grateful for any kindness (which he never takes for granted) and does not want to upset his family which means the world to him. Similar to the funny and hyper Thanedaar the previous year, Sanjay must have surprised his audience with this part as it does not fit the picture of the agile, dancing and fighting hero, whom he frequently portrayed at this time. Nevertheless, the part of Aman is more in tune with his personality than any of the gangster and macho parts with which he is identified today. Why?

Although Sanju’s worst crisis (resulting from the Mumbai riots) had not yet taken place, in 1991 he already had gone through and survived depth which must have marked his soul in a similar manner to that of Aman: The harsh treatment in boarding school at the hand of teachers who did not want to be accused of preferential treatment of the son of two stars, the early death of his mother from cancer, his first wive’s suffering from cancer, the first steps in the movie industry, the desire to fulfill his father’s expectations, the hypercritical examination of Sunil Dutt’s and Nargis’s son by his surroundings and by the critics as well as the permanent fear of making mistakes, and in connection with this obviously his time of drug addiction, which almost cost him his life. At that point, Sanju must have been as lonely, insecure and vulnerable as Aman. The events of his youth had marked him as they had marked the movie character whom he portrays with such incredibly sensitivity - or who wants to doubt that Sanju’s much quoted childlike soul remains even today fundamentally vulnerable, insecure and lonely.

In my opinion, for the understanding of Sanjay Dutt as a human being, Saajan is as important as Naam which marks his successful overcoming of his drug addiction. If one wants to see a representation of Sanjay’s soul, Saajan is the movie to watch. It is a must-see for Sanjay-fans anyway. For me, it is going to remain always one of my favourite movies starring Sanju.

Produced by Sudhakar Bokade; Directed by Lawrence D’Souza
173 Min.; DVD: Eros, English Subtitles (not for the songs)
© Diwali; Translated by gebruss

Aatish (1994) - Review in English

About the story: As a child, Baba (Sanjay Dutt) has killed a stalker who attacked his mother (Tanuja), and afterwards sold himself to the underworld don Uncle (Ajit); renouncing his own life, he thus made education and a better future possible for his younger brother Avinash (Atul Agnihotri). Avi hero-worships his elder brother, until one day he learns about Baba’s criminal ways and scornfully breaks with him. While Baba atones for his crimes during a three-year term in prison, Uncle’s nephew Sunny (Shakti Kapoor) murders the old don, takes his position and kills Baba’s and Avi’s mother. Avi, meanwhile police inspector, starts fighting Sunny, but he never can throw off the stigma of being a criminal’s brother which makes his life poison for him. So when Baba after his release from jail returns home, Avi rejects him bitterly. Though deeply hurt, Baba accepts his brother’s attitude and goes to see his old friend Nawab (Aditya Pancholi) who, while Baba was in jail, has suffered a cruel fate bestowed upon him by gangster Kaniya (Gulshan Grover). Together, Baba and Nawab take vengeance on Kaniya – and as a consequence, Avi suspects them to work for the don Sunny...

Aatish (= fire) was the directorial debut of Sanjay Gupta who until today counts to Sanjay Dutt’s closest friends. Gupta films are highlights in Sanju’s filmography, and Aatish is no exception. Criminals with heart resp. good men who only due to the circumstances slide into the world of crime are Sanju’s speciality, and Gupta leaves complete freedom to him to carve out a role portrait which from the very beginning captures the viewer for Baba – without driving the other characters onto the backseat. Especially Nawab is also very intensely shaped with his ups and downs, and even though I’m no special fan of Aditya Pancholi I really like him as Nawab, more so as he harmonizes splendidly with Sanju – their reunion scene after Baba’s term in jail is heart rending, and the moment when Baba has to decide between Nawab and Avi gets under your skin. Of all the "younger brothers" Sanju had to deal with in his career (I remember shuddering that Vicky in Yalgaar), Atul Agnihotri definitely counts to the more talented ones; he descriptively conveys Avi’s problem, and thus even the brothers’ conflict in Aatish works very well (did I mention somewhere that I love stories about conflicts between brothers or friends?). Kader Khan plays a small but very important role as restaurant owner Kadar Bhai who for Baba and his friends always marks a sympathetic contact point.

The movie’s leading ladies may forgive me that I up till now ignored them. But what to do, Aatish is another movie where the women don’t play any crucial role for the story – at the most in a passive way like the mother who’s played by Tanuja with a lot of warmth. But neither Raveena Tandon as Baba’s girlfriend Nisha nor Karisma Kapoor as Avi’s girlfriend Pooja (originally Pooja Bhatt was casted for this role) actively decide anything in the story, they are mere eye-turners for the public and moral supports (and, of course, dance partners) for the brothers. By the way, both Raveena and Karisma at that time were quite new in the film business, and more than by their performances, they made headlines by their hassles on the sets of Aatish and, earlier, of Andaz Apna Apna.

Aatish – Feel the Fire is a forceful movie where Sanju gives an intense foretaste of his future gangster and underworld roles (with pain in his eyes). Even his faible for powerful final scenes, best known from films like Kroadh or Yalgaar, in Aatish once more shows to advantage. The first cooperation of the two Sanjays (Dutt and Gupta) was a promising start – and as we know today they didn’t promise too much.

(Finally I just want to make one short remark concerning the so often happening Hollywood soundtrack loans in Hindi films. If you really have to use a musical motive like "1492 – Conquest of Paradise", then please do it effectively like e.g. in Koyla. In Aatish it was simply wasted. Sorry.)

Produced by G.P. Sippy; Directed by Sanjay Gupta
162 Min.; DVD: Eros, English Subtitles (not for the songs)
© Diwali

P.S. In a Stardust interview (9/1993) Atul Agnihotri revealed that it was Sanjay Dutt who suggested him to the Sippys for the role of Avinash and that he would always be grateful to Sanjay for this.

Insaaf Apne Lahoo Se (1994) - Review in English

About the story: Lawyer Mahendra Pratap Singh (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) has married the widow Geeta (Gita Siddharth) whose little son Devilal, called Deva, permanently causes trouble. One day, after a stout controversy, Mahendra demands Geeta to decide between him and her son, whereupon Deva leaves the house – but not without swearing vengeance upon his stepfather. Shortly thereafter, Mahendra shoots judge Saxena when the latter catches him right-handed in bed with his wife Roopa (Beena Banerjee). Mahendra and Roopa frame Geeta for this murder, and on the basis of their testimonies in court, Geeta is sentenced to fourteen years imprisonment. As a consequence, her son Raja is born in prison but soon handed over to foster parents. After a fire catastrophe, Raja and his foster brother Mohan are taken charge of by a street entertainer (Sameer Khakhar) and his little daughter Rani, while Mahendra adopts another fire victim, little Anjali. Many years later, Raja (Sanjay Dutt) together with Rani (Farha Naaz) performs street shows himself and thus earns the money for Mohan’s (Shekhar Suman) studies; and after topping at the university alongsides with Anjali (Sonam), Mohan starts police training. Hardwarilal (Kader Khan), a criminal friend of Mahendra’s, wants his son Jimmy (Gulshan Grover) to get married to Anjali, but she, like Rani, loses her heart out to Raju. When Jimmy therefore tries to kill his rival, Raju is saved by a stranger; it is Deva (Shatrughan Sinha) who wants to use Raju for his vengeance on Mahendra – all the more when they by chance discover that they are half-brothers. Thus, however, Raju gets in conflict with the law and subsequently with Mohan who has become police inspector and now immensely suffers as he has to chase his beloved brother. When Roopa is found murdered, Raju is suspected to have committed the crime and Mahendra is to trial him, the trial converts into a settlement of many old accounts...

Similar to Adharm, Insaaf Apne Lahoo Se too managed to remain quite stringent and interesting in spite of a production phase which was even a few years longer than the then usually anyway extended dimension. Okay, there are some little gaps in the story, but such gaps were nearly as usual in Hindi films of the mid-90es as partially extremely weird costumes, the casting of primates (this was already my third Sanjay movie with a monkey – however, Sunder pleasingly stays more on the sideline) and idiotic minor characters. The last factor here once again was Gulshan Grover’s domain who, with brightly coloured hair (so that Raju usually addresses him as "Technicolor"), flounces through the film. Fortunately his film father Kader Khan doesn’t take the same line but deliberately remains a villain without ostentation.

Even otherwise the male squad is well casted. Kulbhushan Kharbanda as adulterous patriarch and lawyer suffers a bit from the script’s weaknesses which hardly give him any chance to motivate the development his character experiences, but he makes the best out of it so that he may be deigned his strong final scene. An even worse deal got Shatrughan Sinha whose role nearly has to be labelled as wasted which definitely is not his fault. Obviously all attention concentrated on Sanjay Dutt, and of course he doesn’t disappoint, even though this Raju is rather average and far away from Sanjay’s best achievements. But especially his emotional scenes with Mohan (the rather pale Shekhar Suman visibly improves only when he shares the frame with Sanju who must have been a strong inspiration for him) are wonderful, and when Sanjay, inebriated, fights a few goons in a pub, bangs against a Sridevi poster and with a merry „Aaaah Sridevi!“ gives the photo a smacking kiss, then you can watch me in the very rare situation of being envious of a pub poster. *g*

Very positive about Insaaf Apne Lahoo Se is the fact that the story offers several good female roles. Geeta and Roopa are the shorter ones, but Gita Siddharth and Beena Banerjee play them very credibly. The more productive ones are the ladies competing for Raju’s love. Sonam as elegant-sophisticated Anjali is here the perfect antagonist to the lively Farha Naaz as Rani who also can put up a fight if necessary and, especially in her first dance clip, whirls around with a radiance similar to Madhuri Dixit. Several times in this movie, Rani dances for her love to Raju who literally is torn between the two girls – which never shows better than in the clip where both, Sanam and Farha, seductively ensnare Sanju. By the way, this must have been one of the last scenes shot for this film, for the look Sanjay sports here (his attractive long-maned puma beauty at its peak) is hardly to be found in his other scenes which definitely were shot a few years earlier.

Finally, however, the climax is a slight disappointment. First Latif Khan perfectly increases the suspense towards the showdown in the court room, and this showdown even begins promisingly, and then Khan with a stupid bang destroys the effect. The more so as he afterwards doesn’t know how to end the story and opts for a final image which leaves a lot to wish. Too bad. A lot of potential was wasted in this film or fell prey to the extra-long production time. You can watch the film if you haven’t got anything better to do – but a real recommendation is something else.

Produced by L.R. Shaikh & Arun Kumar Muchhala; Directed by Latif Khan
Ca. 145 Min.; VCD: Eagle, without subs
© Diwali

Zamane Se Kya Darna (1994) - Review in English

About the story: Since his early childhood, Vikram (Sanjay Dutt) has to live with the stigma of being the son of a murderer who abandoned him and his mother (Reema Lagoo); that’s why all his thoughts about his father are full of hatred. Looking for a job, he comes across an ad in the paper, indicating that wealthy businessman Sardar Rajpal (Alok Nath) is in search for a manager. But when Vikram arrives at Rajpal’s, the job is already assigned to a man whom Rajpal believes to be his lost son Vicky, not knowing that this "Vicky" is a crook named Shakti (Shakti Kapoor) who knows Rajpal’s well-hidden secret: The businessman’s real name is Virendra Singh – he is Vikram’s father who years ago in self-defence had killed Shakti’s uncle and fled, and when he had come to know that his victim’s brother Gajendra Singh (Raza Murad) burnt down his house together with Virendra’s wife and little son, he had started life afresh under the name of Rajpal and raised the orphaned Anju (Raveena Tandon) – without having a clue that his family had survived the fire attack. Now Gajendra and Shakti see their chance come to take more revenge on Rajpal/Virendra: With Shakti as "Vicky" they plan to get their hands on Rajpal’s properties. Rajpal, however, develops a strong affection to Vikram who proves to be an honest and loyal workman. Slowly but surely, Vikram even manages to turn arrogant Anju’s aversion against him into love. When Gajendra and Shakti find out that Vikram is the real son of Rajpal’s (a fact still unknown to the persons concerned), they fear for their revenge plans and start intriguing against Vikram to discredit him in Rajpal’s eyes. And they are successful in their efforts...

In the early 90es, Sanjay simply succeeded in everything in front of the camera. Self-confident, with great charisma and in splendid mood for dancing and acting, he embodied most different characters, and he was especially convincing as the nice and good-hearted young man who with love, straightforwardness and courage achieves every goal. Vikram is a perfect example for this kind of role: a lovable man with noble ethic values and with moral courage which, after a first and foolish investment in the wrong man, afterwards regularly opens new ways for him. Even the scene when Vikram finally boils over and takes cross-gained Anju to deserved task, doesn’t diminish the character’s positive impression as Vikram even in this situation remains fair.

After Jeena Marna Tere Sang, Sanjay and Raveena are a beautiful couple again, but this time the initial situation is turned; in Jeena Marna Tere Sang it was Sanjay who first was the rotter while Raveena was his unfortunate victim. Now in Zamane Se Kya Darna, Raveena starts as the rich and arrogant brat whose actions against Sanjay become more and more eccentric (honestly, in my opinion she was shaped too harsh and negative) while Sanjay is the victim. He doesn’t put up with everything without contradiction, but no matter how meanly Raveena treats him, he remains the nice guy. Alok Nath is a specialist for father figures of all kinds, and here he is convincing as a father torn between two possible sons and tormented by guilt and conscience. And the ethnic clan led by Bhairon Singh (Gulshan Grover for once in a not-as-bad role) adds colour to the story as well as one of several cheerful dance clips, all of them starring Sanjay and Raveena.

The story is well-constructed, without unnecessary frills (except the absurd bull scene Shakti Kapoor has to absolve) or logic gaps. You just sometimes wonder how Vikram always knows exactly where he is needed to come to others’ rescue. But honestly: Who wants to know that? The main point is that Sanjay steps in and does his fist’n’kick act which simply belonged to his hero image – the more the better. Zamane Se Kya Darna is a feast for every Sanjay fan, and even as a whole it's a recommendation – not because the film is somehow gorgeous or genial, but it’s fun watching it. And listening to it. For in the 90es, Sanju even vocally continuously improved, using his voice pointedly as addictive means of expression. This was extremely audible in Khalnayak or in Gumrah, and now even here. Just take the train scene and Vikram’s cunning "prooomise?" – that’s Sanju live! *g*

There’s only one detail we mercifully want to forget now and forever: the costumes of Anju’s and Vikram’s group dancers in "Hey Doston". I really would like to know what the costume designer had in mind doing this kind of crime...

Produced and directed by Bobby Raaj
157 Min.; DVD: Eros, English Subtitles (including songs)
© Diwali

Meri Aan (1993; Special Appearance) - Review in English

In this film Sanjay does just a special appearance!

About the story: After his exams, Salim Khan (Ayub Khan) tries his luck in Mumbai. Rukhsar (Sabeeha), his renter Qawwal’s (Roopesh Kumar) daughter, falls in love with Salim who, however, gives his heart to Farheen (Farheen) whom he meets in a stormy rain night. Farheen’s brother, police commissioner Ashfaque Khan (Mukesh Khanna), approves of his sister’s choice – until he finds out that Salim is the younger brother of the underworld don Sher Khan (Shahbaaz Khan) whom Ashfaque has been chasing for ages. Furiously he humiliates Salim, forbids Farheen any further contact to him and appoints another bridegroom for her. But at the wedding, uninvited guests appear, namely Sher Khan and his partner Kaliya Patil (Deepak Shirke) who finally want to settle old accounts with the police...

Meri Aan is a film the world does not need (except maybe Ashfaque’s final message to Kaliya). Obviously the Eros folks knew this so they quickly decorated their DVD release with a portrait of Sanjay Dutt which attractively decks nearly a quarter of the cover. Just too bad that Sanjay doesn’t play any role in the film’s story at all. He only appears towards the end in one scene as himself: as guest star Sanjay Dutt at a charity event (for which producer and director Roopesh Kumar thanked him in the credits with the words, "I am grateful to Shri Sanjay Dutt for his kind gesture towards me"). So the DVD with Sanju on its cover is something usually called bluff package, so by rights, I should now give out a warning. Weren’t Sanju’s guest appearance just so touching and mind-blowing...

First of all he addresses his fans, gratefully acknowledging that he owes everything he has and is to their love. This is all the more touching if you know that this scene was shot shortly after Sanjay’s arrest for alleged terroristic conspiracy and his first relase on bail in 1993, so these words of thanks to his fans who didn’t abandon him really came out of Sanju’s heart. Secondly, the event Sanjay appears at in the film features a qawali contest, and of course the guest star insists on taking part in it – especially as Ravindra Jain wrote a tailor-made Qawali for him, a cheerful song entitled "Sanju Hai Naam Mera" (My name is Sanju). And the way Sanjay and Sabeeha as competitors interpret this qawali is heart-fresheningly positive and sweeping. Sanju looks beautiful in his red shirt, his tight black trousers and with his long mane, and he obviously enjoys the act which, after all, lasts eight minutes. He puts his back into his performance, is full of spirit and brimming with life. It is a real treat watching him. (And at the latest with this performance, Sanju definitely has redeemed himself for his qawali debacle as the 12-year-old debutant in Reshma Aur Shera. *g*)

As I said: You don’t need the movie Meri Aan per se. But if you love qawalis and/or Sanjay Dutt of 1993 in all his puma splendour, the film is worth its selling price for these eight minutes "Sanju Hai Naam Mera" are simply overwhelming. You mean I’m raving too much? Maybe. But what can I do when Sanju bowls me over with his hip swing and his words "I am the intoxication which can take over your senses"... ;)

Produced and directed by Roopesh Kumar
141 Min.; DVD: Eros, English Subtitles (including songs)
© Diwali

Kshatriya (1993) - Review in English

Prologue: Kshatriya is an epic about two royal families at enmity, and initially it’s quite difficult to keep track of who is who and belongs to which clan. Therefore I want to present the most important characters before I turn to the story.

The Mirtagarh Clan: Maharaj Bhavani Singh (Sunil Dutt); Maheshwari Devi, his wife (Rakhee Gulzar); Divya, their daughter; Vikram Singh, their son, aka Vicky (Sanjay Dutt); Raja Jaswant Singh, Bhavani’s younger brother (Vinod Khanna); Jenny, his wife (Nafisa Ali); Neelima, their daughter (Raveena Tandon); Madhu, Jaswant’s mistress (Meenakshi Sheshadri); Ajay Singh, counsellor (Prem Chopra); Shakti, his son (Puneet Issar)

The Surjangarh Clan: Maharaj Prithvi Singh (Dharmendra); Suman, his wife; Vinay Pratap Singh, their son, aka Vinny (Sunny Deol); Raja Divendra Pratap Singh, Prithvi’s younger brother (Vijayendra Ghatge); Vijay Pratap Singh, his son; Police Officer Thakur Ganga Singh (Kabir Bedi); Tanvi, his daughter, aka Tannu (Divya Bharati)

About the story: The royal families of Mirtagarh and Surjangarh are at enmity from time immemorial. Over years, innumerable warriors fell in battles for the right to sacrifice a calf at the annual Vijay Dashami Mela in Kali’s temple in Rajputana and thus pray for rain, until the rule was established that henceforth every year a single combat was to decide which clan had the right to make the sacrifice. Jaswant has studied and married in England and returns to India with progressive thoughts in mind, but soon he assumes his family’s reactionary and martial attitude wherefore his wife returns to England where she dies while giving birth to her daughter Neelima. Prince Vijay of Surjangarh and Princess Divya of Mirtagarh fall in love, but they are betrayed by Ajay Singh, and when Shakti Singh kills Vijay, Divya commits suicide. Prithvi blames Bhavani for the couple’s death and shoots him, while Jaswant in return kills Divendra. Shortly thereafter, in both clans another prince is born, and both Queens, independently from each other, send these sons to England for their education. There, without knowing about their families’ enmity, the princes Vicky and Vinny become close friends. More than that, Vinny falls in love with Vicky’s cousin Neelima, while Vicky and Tannu, the Surjangarh chief of police’s daughter, come close to each other. But as soon as the four return to India, their families’ ancient hatred catches up with them: Both Jaswant and Prithvi forcefully intervene against Vinny’s and Neelima’s love, and when Vicky comes to know that Vinny is the son of the man who killed his father, even their profound friendship breaks. It’s obviously just a matter of time until, at the next Vijay Dashami Mela, one of them kills the other in duel...

Kshatriya (= warrior) is a drama about generation conflicts, an epic about clan enmities and antiquated rituals – and about (I admit) one of my favourite issues: brotherly love or friendship put to the test where it either stands or fails (and then, ideally, is restored again). Here it’s Sanjay Dutt and Sunny Deol playing the conflict from close friendship till mortal combat (where they in seven tempestuous minutes definitely don’t spare each other). In view of the film’s generation conflict subject it was a casting coup that both of them got their real fathers Sunil Dutt and Dharmendra as their film fathers. Illustrious names like Kabir Bedi, Vinod Khanna, Rakhee Gulzar and Prem Chopra complete the cast which sounds like a who-is-who of the then notables in Hindi Cinema with just Amitabh Bachchan missing.

Having already shot several films together, Sunny and Sanjay were a well-attuned team. Both roles demand vulnerable emotions as well as cold unfeelingness and merciless pugnacity, and once again the two actors show their profound difference: Sunny is in his element when it comes to the tough, angry and combative scenes, and he toils with the sensitive sequences, while Sanjay effortlessly handles all facets of his role. It’s all the more annoying that his role, in comparison with Sunny’s, was treated rather as an orphan; Sunny has more screentime and even the characterly more interesting part. Sanju definitely makes the best of his role, but partially he was simply left in the lurch by the script writers and disadvantaged against Sunny. Not only due to character and screentime – even scenes with his own father were denied to Sanju (while Sunny had lots of them with Dharmendra). Concerning his female co-star, it was his bad luck that Manisha Koirala (for cases not known to me) had to be replaced by Divya Bharati. De mortuis nihil nisi bene, but I never was a fan of Divya’s, and especially not in combination with Sanju: Divya was fifteen years younger than him, her Tanvi doesn’t look older than 16, so no wonder that Vicky fights her advances tooth and nail as he definitely might risk getting sued for seduction of minors. With this kid at his side, Sanju even in this point just could enviously ogle to Sunny who happily could enjoy playing with classy Raveena Tandon who delivered a very good performance.

If you can live with all these disadvantages to Sanju and with loads of topless men who not always are an aesthetic sight (well, not everybody at that time could say "if you have it flaunt it" as rightly as Sanju *g*), and if you have a faible for sword combats, emotion-packed family dramas and colourful classical dance scenes, then Kshatriya surely is worth a try for you. But for Sanjay’s fans I repeat once more that Kshatriya is not a Sanjay movie but a multi-starrer where Sanju with his convincing performance partially was downright wasted.

Produced by Sunder Das Sonkiya; Directed by J.P. Dutta
179 Min.; DVD: GVI, English Subtitles (including), partially with hair-raising flaws...
© Diwali

Sonntag, 26. August 2007

Yalgaar (1992) - Review in English

About the story: Mahendra Ashwini Kumar (Mukesh Khanna) and Raj Pratab Singhaal (Kabir Bedi) have been childhood friends, but then they went separate ways: Mahendra, like his sons Brajesh and Rajesh (Feroz Khan), belongs with heart and soul to the police corps while Singhaal is supremo of a criminal syndicate. Brajesh gets murdered while on duty and leaves his wife Kaushalya (Neena Gupta) and his daughter Meghna (Manisha Koirala) in Mahendra’s care. Hot-headed Rajesh holds Singhaal responsible for Brajesh’s murder, but he has no evidence against him. Singhaal, on the other hand, anticipates a calamity when Mahendra is appointed Police Commissioner in his district. His son Vishal (Sanjay Dutt), desiring to get his father’s love and appreciation which Singhaal always denies to him, tries in vain to prevent Mahendra from assuming his office. When Mahendra finally finds evidence for Singhaal’s crimes and gets him arrested, Vishal hires a killer who murders Mahendra. Now furiously chased by Rajesh, Singhaal (who was able to leave prison by corruption) leaves the country and takes his family to Dubai: his wife Bharati (Maya Alagh), his younger son Vicky (Vicky Arora) and Vishal with his wife Anu (Nagma). As a pledge for his security, Singhaal even abducts Rajesh’s niece Meghna, who only now learns that nice Vicky she has fallen in love with is a criminal’s son...

Yalgaar is definitely a must-see. It takes more than three hours, but it is worth every minute, for the story is powerful and convincing told right up to the gorgious showdown and final. Feroz Khan, who not only produced and directed the film but also played hot-headed Rajesh himself, could count on a cast in top form. Mukesh Khanna and Kabir Bedi spare neither each other nor their film sons in their controversies, whereas Mukesh’s scenes with Feroz are by far exceeded by what Kabir and Sanjay conjure on screen – Kabir as the strict father who gives all his love to his younger son and always just blames and reproaches his elder son, and Sanjay as the elder son who longs for his father’s love and appreciation and helplessly has to watch how all this goes to his younger brother while he himself never manages to please his father and all steps he takes usually go wrong. Adorable Manisha Koirala delivers a terrific performance though this is just her third film, even Nagma is wonderful; I only want to cast a veil of silence over Vicky Arora, a newcomer who immediately after Yalgaar mercifully disappeared in the slot of oblivion again.

But I want to make another remark about Sanjay as this page belongs to him. In my opinion it is significant that the man who today primarily is known as a specialist for macho and gangster roles, even shone in loser roles when he was on the peak of his action career. Though Sanju had everything it took for shining winner roles: He was well-conditioned and as fit as a fiddle, and by the way, he rarely exposed his physique in all its state and puma beauty as much as in Yalgaar. But it’s just that in this strong body there is also a tremendously emotional and vulnerable human being. And this is what makes Sanju so special, even in his more tough roles – because he makes them so human. It is incredible what this man can express solely with his eyes; in Yalgaar too he makes Vishal’s complete mental disaster visible in them. The only glimmer of light in Vishal’s life is his marriage with Anu; an initial crisis is mended half-way through the film (especially in a beautiful dance scene of Sanjay and Nagma in pouring rain, ending in the pool with a long kiss), and the scene where Sanjay comes to know that he’s going to be a father and starts a conversation, overflowing with love, with his unborn baby in his wife’s womb, is one of the film’s most lovely and touching scenes.

No matter how dismissively many contemporaries judged this film, in my opinion Yalgaar is one of Sanjay’s best and most convincing performances in his puma years. (The word "puma years", I admit, is my own creation, derived from photographer Gautam Rajadhyaksha’s quote from 1997, "Sanju with his long mane and puma gait attracted people like a magnet. His boyish charm and disarming vulnerability make him well-loved in the industry." Since that, I call the years between 1991 and 1995 Sanju’s "puma years" – for who wants to contradict that he in those years was a downright beautiful puma...)

Produced and directed by Feroz Khan
192 Min.; DVD: Eros, English Subtitles (not for the songs); embarrassing: After chapter 20 the film is interrupted for a long B4U ad, and you can only return to the film by activating the menu, searching the chapters and directly clicking on chapter 21.
© Diwali

Sarphira (1992) - Review in English

About the story: Judge DK Sinha (Shreeram Lagoo) has sentenced a murderer to a long-year term in prison. In despair, the culprit’s wife takes poison and, dying, entrusts her baby Rajkishan to the judge and his wife (Sushma Seth) who take the baby in. Soon, they get two own sons too, Suresh and Deepak. Raju (Vinod Mehra) and Deepak (Sumeet Saigal) grow up to sincere young men; Raju becomes a lawyer, Deepak a police inspector. Whereas Suresh (Sanjay Dutt), who was preferred by his mother since childhood, becomes his father’s bitter disappointment – he is insubordinant, tends to violence and doesn’t care for conventions: Without hesitation, he professes his love to dancer Prema (Madhavi) who works in Balli Seth’s (Anupam Kher) nightclub, but only in order to earn the livings for her younger sister Neetu (Kimi Katkar) who is in love with Deepak. One night, Suresh gambles with Seth’s son Rocky (Shakti Kapoor), and when the latter cheats, Suresh starts a fight with him wherein he, unintendedly, kills Rocky. To avoid a report to the police and to keep his family out of this mess, Suresh accepts blackmail by Balli Seth who demands a large sum of hush money from him. To get this money, Suresh starts stealing and thus becomes a despicable criminal for good in his father’s implacable eyes. When he disinherits Suresh in public, the latter leaves the house in anger. In his bitterness, Suresh even breaks with Prema, not knowing that her life too has been shattered completely – and which part Balli Seth really plays in their lives...

Sarphira (= out of mind) is a similar case to Adharm, being shot over a term of several years. Some of Sanju’s hair-style changes in Sarphira are really funny this time, e.g. in a fight scene where every film-cut shows another hair-cut, or when Sanju with mullet jumps from the balcony and with short hair lands on the street. But obviously at that time neither makers nor public really cared for such continuity flaws, and ultimately, a film’s worth doesn’t depend on such hairy questions but on its story and how it’s told. And here, Sarphira is not quite as stringent as Adharm, it rather looks randomly patched up sometimes. Especially the role of Deepak gives an impression of having been added to the story afterwards for, together with Neetu, providing it with some youthful romance (before at least she quietly disappears) as the leading couple Prema and Suresh was responsible more for the dramatic than for the romantic element. And here we arrived at the advance Sarphira has in comparison with Adharm: It tells the better and more thrilling story with the more interesting characters.

"A mother’s love is like nectar for a child, but when blind, it becomes poison", states judge Sinha with regard on his, in his opinion, useless son Suresh who always has been pampered by his mother. This may be right, but on the other hand, thus the judge takes the easy way out. For what or who is the reason that Suresh feels not understood? Even Raju, whom I believe if he says that he loves Suresh, in case of doubt insists on prestige and conventions. No one even tries to understand Suresh, no one accepts that Suresh is a freethinker. Of course, this doesn’t per se make him an angel of innocence, but it doesn’t automatically make him a criminal either. Suresh has a good heart, he admits his mistakes if he makes them; he may not keep the best company, but these friends can rely upon him hundred per cent. Even if the stories are completely different, Sanjay’s Suresh often bewilderingly reminds me of James Dean’s Cal in East of Eden: rebelling against the conventions, but with a tremendous inner yearning for love and acceptation – and very vulnerable...

In short: Suresh is a perfect role for Sanjay, and he owes nothing to this character; anger, despair, rebellion, love, bitterness, remorse – nothing means a problem for him. (That he in one scene listenes to his own Saajan song "Mera Dil Phi" is a nice insider gag.) Madhavi delivers a powerful performance, too; she creates a forceful portrait of fate-battered Prema whose sado-maso dance in that nightclub has all potential of being a heart-stopper. Too bad that the final scene was so wasted – how many people have become guilty against the others, and then with one quick hug everything is said and done? Suresh by himself, just to name one example, would have to sort out so many things (especially with one person where his distanced behaviour is absolutely inexplicable)... but obviously this has been left to our complementary phantasy. Sure, to do this you first have to watch the movie – and I won’t prevent you from doing it.

Produced by B.L. Khaitan; Directed by Ashok Gaikwad
150 Min.; DVD: Baba, English Subtitles (not for the songs) which only seldomly stay as long as the actors talk which is a bit irritating, and often they appear rather coincidentally; bad image quality.
© Diwali

P.S. Vinod Mehra (Raju) was only 45 years old when he unexpectedly died with a heart attack in 1990. So this too might have contributed to Sarphira's delay and continuity problems.

Sahebzaade (1992) - Review in English

About the story: Widowed Sharda (Anjana Mumtaz) lives with her sons Raja (Sanjay Dutt) and Rahul (Aditya Pancholi) in Himachal Pradesh. Both sons fall in love with their childhood friend Chinar (Neelam) who, from the year one, has given her heart to Rahul – to the displeasure of Tahal Singh (Gulshan Grover) who also cast an eye at Chinar. At the request of Raja, Sharda proposes for her son at Chinar’s parents Sukhdev (Ram Mohan) and Laxmi (Beena Verma) – but at their return visit it becomes clear that they related the proposal to Rahul, just in the sense of their daughter. As he loves his brother very much, Raja finds the strength to abandon his dreams. Moreover, he soon has other problems to face: After the unexpected appearance of Ghulam Rasool (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), an old friend of his family, Raja learns that thakur Bhanu Pratap (Shakti Kapoor), with whom he and Rahul have tangled shortly ago, once has raped Sharda, killed Raja’s and Rahul’s father Kishna (Alok Nath) and put the blame on Ghulam. From now on, Raja has only one ambition left in this life: revenge...

About one and a half hours the story deals with nothing else than the love of the brothers Raja and Rahul for the same woman, and well, you can understand them: Neelam is sweet, cuddly and cute, and beamingly dances and brims with life throughout the film. Why she prefers the (in comparison with his as "Raju Guide" merely bubbling brother) more boring Rahul remains the script writers’ secret, even though Aditya Pancholi does his best to shape him as likeable as possible. But that’s simply not enough against a puma like Sanjay Dutt who once again radiates his charm and charisma in liters. There’s only one thing you don’t believe him: that he is to be the elder brother (except in the scenes where he playfully mocks Aditya with a dry-as-dust big-brother authority). He dances and bowls through deep snow and over green grass, moves his hips in circles that you start feeling dizzy, looks ravishing – you simply have to fall in love with him, especially in the dance clip in which he downright flips out in his joys of love.

As I said, about one and a half hours you can enjoy this love and family idyll. Only with the entry of Kulbhushan Kharbanda (solidly playing his little role), light heartedness turns to seriousness. After you learn the brothers’ parents’ destiny in a flashback, the film moves onto the tracks of action and revenge (only Chinar’s and Rahul’s wedding returns the former cheerfulness for a short while). And now at the latest, Sanjay grabs the film: Within seconds, Raja grows up and takes on responsibility for his mother (intensely played by Anjana Mumtaz) while Rahul fades into the background and only in the end is allowed to interfere again. It’s as if Sanjay and Aditya had made some preliminary studies for Aatish – concerning their chemistry, their role hierarchy and their "enmity" against Gulshan Grover (whose character in Sahebzaade probably is one of the most stupid ones in Hindi Cinema’s history) and Shakti Kapoor who was criminally neglected by the direction. He not only doesn't change appearance a bit within a time span of twenty years, his thakur even from the very beginning permanently gets rushed off his feet by Raja so that their later controversy in the last film term lacks a lot of suspense. Only the showdown (a sort of predecessor to Baaghi) knocks your socks off again.

A bonus point in Sahebzaade is the film’s optics. The movie really caters for your eyes which may indulge themselves on the mountains of Himachal Pradesh, partially wonderfully snowy against a clear blue sky, and colourful traditional costumes and dances round off the whole. Not to mention an (as I said) shamelessly good looking Sanjay in top form who obviously effortless and quite naturally holds the film in his hand every single minute.

Produced by K.K. Talwar; Directed by Ajay Kashyap
142 Min.; DVD: GVI, English Subtitles (including songs)
© Diwali