October 25, 2014: A Commotion and a Verdict

Finally, in our Akshaye Khanna mini-film-fest, we come to Hulchul (Commotion, 2004), where Akshaye’s romantic heroism is blunted by slapstick comedy to the point where he becomes a caricature of the handsome leading man.  Akshaye plays Jai, the youngest son of virulently misogynist patriarch Angarchand (Amrish Puri at his eye-poppingly gruffest) at war with the family of Laxmidevi, a strong-minded matriarch (Laxmi).  The two wealthy families would do just about anything to ruin each other, and when Jai’s family disrupts the brilliant marriage scheduled for Laxmidevi’s granddaughter Anjali (Kareena Kapoor), her family vows to get even.

Jai and Anjali, college-mates and bitter enemies, are each instructed to pretend to love the other in order to cause rifts within the other family. Cue hilarious faux-romantic love ballad, which is pretty cute:

When they eventually realize that they are being used as pawns for everyone else’s revenge, they fall in love for real and want to marry.  Their only hope for happiness, it seems, lies in convincing at least one of Jai’s bachelor brothers to defy Angarchand’s strict “no women” dictum and get married first.  Will it be Shakti (Arbaaz Khan), ever loyal to his father?  Or Kishan (Paresh Rawal), a sworn celibate?  Or will it be Balram (Jackie Shroff), whose one attempt at marriage years ago started the whole feud to begin with?  Supporting performances by Arshad Warsi as Lucky, Jai’s hapless best friend, and Suniel Shetty as Anjali’s hotheaded but ultimately sympathetic uncle Veeru round out the all-star cast.

There are so many things to hate about this movie, starting with the fact that Anjali is introduced as the best law student at the college and then, after her engagement falls apart, she is turned into a bubblehead.  In typical Bollywood fashion, we are asked to believe that the 30-year-old, balding, heavy-faced Akshaye is an innocent college student.  (Kareena gets a pass—she was only 25 at the time)  Most of the slapstick is reserved for poor Lucky, who falls out of trees, gets dumped into a pot of boiling glue and is tossed around by tall, strong men as if he were a beach ball.  And—worst of all—the romance between Jai and Anjali comes flying out of nowhere, and their chemistry is so bad that Jai’s frequent uncomfortable looks seem perfectly justified.

Still, the story is cute enough not to stop watching, there is enough winking at comedy-drama tropes (can you say Weekend at Bernie’s?)

to cause smiles of recognition, and I can never get enough of Jackie Shroff.

Akshaye, sorry to say, is the unfunniest thing ever in this film; fortunately, he’s more often called upon to be the straight man than to provide the yuks.  Here’s an example of what passes for a funny scene:  Jai and Kishan infiltrating Anjali’s family compound in the guise of a cow.

If you insist on seeing it, at least it’s free and subtitled on YouTube:

Verdict on Akshaye:  C to C-.  Play your own age, buddy.

 

So what have I learned?  I admit to an adoration of Akshaye’s father Vinod Khanna, a frequent bromantic pairing with Amitabh Bachchan. But my opinion of Akshaye still stands:  his work is uneven (good = Border, Dil Chahta Hai and Tees Maar Khan; OK = Aa Ab Laut Chalen; not-so-good = everything else, including the otherwise excellent Taal, where he reminded me of a limp dishrag), his hair is mostly terrible, and for some reason he strikes me as an actor who doesn’t quite know what to do with his hands, or with himself when he doesn’t have a line—there’s that unsure awkwardness about him that a better actor can turn to advantage and which he does not seem to be able to accomplish often enough.

I also find it funny that just as we were starting this challenge, one of our mutually favorite bloggers, Filmi Girl, wrote a post about Akshaye wherein she calls him a “terrible hero” and praises his TMK performance.  I love it when people agree with me.

October 22, 2014: More Chin, More Hair

We continue with our Akshaye Khanna mini-film-fest with another early one, thankfully this time with a FilmiGori’s favorite leading lady.

Aa Ab Laut Chalen (“Come, Let’s Go Back”, 1999) has Akshaye as Rohan, a good-looking, educated, upstanding young man who leaves behind his widowed mother in India as he searches for gainful employment and riches in America. Dazzled by a cousin’s success, and then betrayed by the same cousin upon arrival, Rohan reluctantly takes a taxi-driving job, where he meets the shy, beautiful Pooja (Aishwarya Rai). Pooja has her own problems: arriving in the U.S. at the invitation of her brother, she finds out that his ulterior motive is to marry her off to his boss so he can get a promotion. Rohan gallantly swoops in to rescue her, takes her back to his rooming house, and finds her a job so she can earn a plane ticket back to India.

After a while Pooja falls in love with him, but to Rohan Pooja is just a friend. In fact, Rohan has made a number of friends of good character who love him, but he is blinded by his primary goal: to get a green card and get rich.

He figures he can do both by marrying Loveleen, a sexy, wealthy NRI of decidedly non-traditional outlook, and sets to courting her while Pooja does everything she can to quash the romance.

When his friends point out that he is neglecting both Pooja and his Indian values, Rohan angrily leaves to move in with Loveleen. The broken-hearted Pooja takes a job as companion to a sick, older and supremely wealthy man, Balraj (Rajesh Khanna), who comes to see her as a daughter. Will Rohan come to his senses, or is he forever ruined by the glitz and glamour of America? Can Pooja forget Rohan and honor her new “father” by marrying his son, as he wishes? And ultimately, what is the definition of “home” and “family” and is it possible to get everything you want without losing yourself?

Akshaye does very well as the innocent, well-bred young man and even as you roll your eyes at the message that comes crashing down on your head at every opportunity, he is quite mesmerizing whenever he is onscreen—and, again, he dances!

Rai, unfortunately, has very little to do except bat her eyes and serve as a pawn in the game of others; Pooja is so unworldly that she doesn’t claim her own desires until it is too late. However, her endearingly awkward (fake-awkward, of course—we know that she dances like a dream) moves as she tries to break up a beachside date between Rohan and Loveleen makes for such a classic scene that it can be lifted from its context and still work perfectly.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film borders on the predictable and obvious despite the attempted comic relief of the Sardar and Iqbal characters, Rohan’s landlords/roommates, who are nicknamed “Hindustan” and “Pakistan” because they are always at each others’ throats. Another 1999 pairing of Ash and Akshaye, Taal, is much more subtle in its messages and with real human drama in all its complexities—and therefore more successful as a film despite Akshaye’s reduced screen time and, as I noted before, blah performance.

Aa Ab Laut Chalen is available free on YouTube.

Verdict on Akshaye:  B.  Good job with mediocre material, and an almost-negative character somewhere in the middle.

Next time we will leap to the relative present with 2004’s Hulchul.

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