April 6, 2013: A Devgan Duet ~ Ajay and Sonali

Finally digging to the bottom of our cinematic leftovers, Julie looks at two titles pairing Ajay Devgan and Sonali Bendre, both serious films in which Sonali looks stunning and Ajay is sensitive.  We’ll see which one is better…

Julie M:  Finished Zakhm (Wound, 1998). A political weeper, if there is such a thing!

Jenny K:  Well, what would you call the last Republican run at the White House?

Julie M:  Plot summary: Ajay (Ajay Devgan) is a successful songwriter with a beautiful wife, Sonia (Sonali Bendre). There are numerous religious riots going on. Sonia is pregnant and is preparing to leave India and return to London to raise their child in what she perceives to be a safer environment, while Ajay is committed to India and wants her to stay. As she packs to leave Ajay checks in with his brother Anand (Akshay Anand). He is worried that their mother, who lives with them, has not returned from the temple. Anand is a ranking member of a fundamentalist Hindu political party led by Subodh (Ashutosh Rana). Just then there is a news report that an elderly Hindu woman has been attacked by a Moslem youth mob and set on fire outside of a temple: on a hunch Ajay finds the hospital and yes, it is indeed his mother.

Jenny K:  Oh, yeah, I remember that scene now…made me cringe, very painful.

Julie M:  While he waits on news of her condition he flashes back to his youth–he seems to be around 12 or so–and we learn that his mother (Pooja Bhatt) was the beloved mistress of a well-known film producer Raman Desai (Nagarjuna Akkaneni), who cannot marry her because of his mother’s strenuous objections–she threatens to set herself on fire whenever he mentions it. Nevertheless, they still find time to be together, as is shown in this lovely number.

When Raman’s mother forces him to marry another woman, it sets off a chain of events leading to the exposure of a secret that rocks young Ajay’s world and directs the course of not only his life, but that of his mother and brother as well.

Back in the present, Subodh, with the help of a corrupt and compliant police officer, is plotting to use the imminent death as a political tool while Anand keeps trying to kill the one member of the mob that has been taken into custody. When the mother does pass away, the hospital is the scene of both family and political drama as Anand learns of this secret and has a decision to make about his mother’s final journey.

A heavily dramatized and unabashedly heart-tugging story of the impact of hatred and bigotry on individuals, Zakhm nevertheless is mesmerizing to watch. Ajay Devgan is great at being stoic and emotional at the same time.

Jenny K:  Absolutely…I miss the days when he used to do strong and relatively silent, you’re mesmerized by his eyes and his intensity, even when he’s crazy, like in Deewangee(2002).  He can even have that effect on the viewer, when he does moody and silent in films like Qayamat: City Under Threat (2003), which I can’t recommend for anything (it was pretty darned bad in oh, so many ways), but his almost totally silent portrayal had me frequently in stitches as an ex-con who is broken out of prison against his will, and is doing a job for some other criminals, just so that they will leave him alone!  Wish I could find a clip…ah well, looking back through it (youtube has it unsubtitled, in parts) I’m not sure what, exactly I found funny, except in overdramatic scenes like Neha Dupia, Ajay’s old flame, calling him back from the brink of death. . Basically, I just miss Ajay Serio-Tragedy Man, over his more recent avatar as Zany-Comedy-King.  Bleh.  His comedy talents have almost always seemed more effective as straight man, to me.  Oh, well, what do I know?

Julie M: Anyways, back to Zakhm, Sonali Bendre is stunningly beautiful but really only has two scenes, neither of which she particularly shines in–the whole sub-plot involving her could easily have been left out, as the impact of the film would still have worked if Ajay had been single. I understand that this film was a personal tribute from director Mahesh Bhatt to his own mother, whose story parallels that of the plot of the movie.

Zakhm is available free on YouTube, although without subtitles.

Jenny K:  Aside from that mother in the hospital scene, but it’s not really coming back to me.  I watched it quite a few years back. Maybe I have a four hundred movie ceiling, and now they are starting to push the older ones out as the new ones come in! I like Pooja Bhatt…particularly in Border with Akshaye Khanna. In your clip she reminded me a bit of Shabana Azmi.

Julie M:  Pooja was AMAZING in this. Just perfect.

[a week later]

Julie M:  Finished our second Ajay Devgan/Sonali Bendre pairing, Tera Mera Saath Rahen (You and I Will Stay Together, 2001). I must say, I ended up surprised at the ending because I would have predicted something else entirely. Here’s the trailer.  

Plot summary: Raj (Ajay Devgan) is your basic nice guy in his late 30s, hardworking and single, whose life centers around taking care of his severely disabled younger brother, Rahul (don’t know who played him, sorry). Rahul has cerebral palsy, and although he is 15 he is the size of an 8-year-old with the mental age of a 3-4 year old: needless to say he is completely dependent on Raj, and they make a great pair

We are not told the circumstances of how Raj inherited this duty, but basically parents are out of the picture. They live in a close-knit apartment community, all of whom love Rahul, and they are particularly friendly with the next-door neighbors, the crazy and dramatic Guptas. Suman Gupta, the grown daughter, has a significant crush on Raj but he just considers her a friend.

Jenny K: Starting to come back to me now…for some reason I thought that this was a remake of something, but I can’t find any reference to that.  Maybe I’m thinking of that Main Aisa Hi Hoon (2005) from I Am Sam (2001) remake, with Ajay, Sushmita Sen and Esha Deol.

Julie M:  One day Raj’s ex-boss introduces Raj to his niece, Madhuri (Sonali Bendre), with a view to the two of them marrying. They hit it off and Madhuri gets along well with Rahul, so they do a lot of stuff together. Love grows, but when Madhuri suggests that Rahul is getting too big and strong for Raj to handle and might be better off in an institution Raj breaks off their friendship. Meanwhile, Suman takes off with another boy, of whom her family does not approve; she ends up pregnant and back at home after he leaves her.

Raj and Madhuri are miserable without each other. When she plans on returning to Delhi, he realizes he wants to marry her and places Rahul in a rehab institution for both his own good and according to Madhuri’s preference. Whether this is the best thing for everyone is the subject of the rest of the story.

Spoilers (highlight to read): I knew that putting Rahul in an institution would not work–not just from Rahul’s perspective but from Raj’s. In the film it comes out that Raj is dependent on Rahul for his own sense of identity; also, it makes sense that once Rahul is out of the picture Madhuri would realize that everything she loves about Raj stems from his relationship with Rahul. What surprised me, though, was that after Raj told Madhuri that he was taking Rahul out of the institution and therefore could not marry her under her draconian conditions, Madhuri came back to Raj and agreed to take them as a package deal. I could have sworn that the beautiful and worldly Madhuri would fade into the sunset and Raj would end up with the goodhearted, but pregnant and tragically abandoned, Suman, who had already proven that she was up to the task of dealing with Rahul. Their families would take down the wall between their apartments and be one big happy clan. But no: Suman stays fallen, because apparently in India it is not allowed for someone who got pregnant out of wedlock to have a happy ending with the man she loves. And I guess in 2001 it highlighted the “new” condition of families taking care of and loving disabled children, where in an earlier era they would have gone right into an institution from birth. [end spoilers]

Ajay Devgan was great as the torn Raj. Sonali Bendre was gorgeous as usual and thankfully had a better role in this than in Zakhm, but still was called upon to do little more than look beautiful and appear in two romantic song picturizations. It was so weird to see AD as a romantic hero in the songs when he is far from it in the rest of the film…  

Anyway, yet another movie where Ajay puts someone he loves in an institution but regrets the decision and decides to put his own life aside to take care of the loved one. The other one was You Me aur Hum with his wife Kajol as the victim of early-onset Alzheimers. Only he could pull it off without it looking ridiculous or maudlin. I give it a Meh+: overly melodramatic for me, but for someone else it is probably OK and they would even enjoy it.

Jenny K:  Thanks for doing all the heavy lifting on this post Julie…not that you minded much when it was Ajay, I think.  I promise I’ll do more active watching for the next one!

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