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!

February 13, 2013: Good cop, good cop

Our catching up continues…in the last months of 2012 we watched several films with good cops (two of them Aamir Khan!) and couldn’t help comparing them.

Julie M:  Finally finished Zanjeer (The Chain, 1973)…awesome film! Had everything: love, revenge, gangsters, fight scenes, and Amitabh Bachchan, looking hot in a police uniform. It doesn’t get much better…here’s the trailer, unfortunately not subtitled: 

Plot summary: Young Vijay (isn’t his name always Vijay in these things?) Khanna witnesses the murder of his parents one Diwali and as he grows to adulthood, his nightmares are haunted by an image of a man on a galloping white horse for some unfathomable (to him) reason. We know why, though…because the murderer was wearing a chain bracelet with a horse charm. Raised by a sympathetic cop, Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) becomes a police officer, known among his peers for his unorthodox ways and steadfast dedication to wiping out crime in all its forms, which often gets him into trouble with his higher-ups. At a new posting he befriends, and reforms, the local gambling boss Sher Khan (Pran) and saves Mala, a damsel in distress (Jaya Bhaduri), although the actual amount of distress she was in is doubtful, since she’s pretty good at knife-handling. Here’s the meet-cute scene between Vijay and Sher Khan. 

Jenny K:  Did you ever see Amitabh in the film Dev? He and Om Puri have a great good cop/corrupt cop duel in that one, and it has the added benefit of being one of the few movies I couldn’t fault Kareena in!  BigB isn’t quite as young as in Zanjeer, but I think I prefer his older avatar in any case.

Julie M: I’ll take him any way I can get him…but so very handsome when young and that drunk scene in Satte pe Satta always cracks me up and makes me fall in love with him all over again…anyway, Vijay also receives anonymous phone calls alerting him to when shipments of tainted liquor are brought to town, and he becomes a local hero to all except for the criminals running the hooch, headed by a crime boss named Teja (Ajit).

After Teja menaces Mala and she barely escapes with her life, Vijay rescues her (again) and places her in protective custody with his brother, where she gradually loses her “street” ways and falls in love with Vijay. As the case against Teja grows, Vijay gets more and more determined to wipe him out…until the day he himself is framed for bribery, thrown in prison and gets kicked off the force. He knows Teja is behind it, and grudgingly accepts Sher Khan’s help to trap Teja into a final confrontation.

I love this scene where Sher Khan expresses undying bro-hood with Vijay:  Pran not being particularly graceful, it has that awkward yet mesmerizing improvisational quality of Tevye’s big number “If I Was a Rich Man” from Fiddler.

Despite some totally ridiculous hand-to-hand combat, Zanjeer is a mesmerizing picture of a man who must reconcile his past and present and somehow exorcise the bitterness from his soul in order to be truly happy. I highly recommend that people do a BigB marathon by watching (in this order) Zanjeer, Deewar and Sholay (although I was not a fan of Sholay personally, it’s important to see); it’s a wonderful snapshot of what makes Amitji a star and how he defines a cinematic generation.

Since this was so perfect I’m not sure I want to see the upcoming remake, although seeing Sanjay Dutt as Sher Khan would be terrific. Prakash Raj as Teja, Priyanka Chopra as Mala, and hunky Telegu actor Ram Charan Teja as Vijay (confusing) round out the remake cast. It looks like a very faithful update, down to the songs even, which makes me wonder why it even has to be done.

Zanjeer is available free on YouTube with subtitles here.

And speaking of squeaky-clean ACPs…

Julie MSarfarosh (Martyr, 1999) was definitely a treat! Great performances all around, with standout roles played by Aamir Khan and Naseeruddin Shah. I can see why you bought this one…combines your two boys into an irresistible experience.

Aamir Khan is Ajay Singh Rathod, a squeaky-clean ACP newly arrived in Mumbai with a tragic backstory that made him drop his dream of being a doctor to devote his life to wiping out crime, particularly terrorist-related activity. Rathod is good–too good–his reputation precedes him and the bad guys in town scramble to cover their tracks. Nevertheless, with luck and skill he manages to penetrate an international gun-smuggling ring that reaches deep into the ISI–Pakistan’s version of the CIA. Meanwhile Rathod is dealing with his higher-ups’ prejudice against his man Salim (Mukesh Rishi), a Muslim whom they suspect to be sympathetic to the terrorists, the sudden reappearance of his college crush Seema (Sonali Bendre), and an unexpected friendship with his ghazal-singing idol Gulfam Hassan (Naseeruddin Shah) facilitated by Seema, who is his agent in Mumbai.  The action of the film centers on Rathod’s outsmarting of the criminals and bringing them to justice, but rather than being about one guy’s quest it’s almost an ensemble piece with some really outstanding performances.  And the guy gets the girl in the end.

Things I loved:

1) you meet and get to know Ajay in a sweet homey setting, kissing his Maa, playing with his nephew and getting all excited about scoring tickets to see Gulfam perform, then flash back to his college relationship with Seema as “Ajay Singh”, all the while seeing scenes of brutal terrorism in the present day. You think, OK, this ordinary guy is somehow going to be involved, maybe he’ll get kidnapped by the terrorists and end up saving the day, when BOOM, in almost a throwaway scene you learn that he is in fact the feared “Rathod” that all the goondas have been discussing, and just like that, Aamir’s face suddenly gets more mature, more serious, and you just know that he is going to be the hero in more ways than one. This is his Raakh character, only with a badge.

2) They get Aamir wet–not just wet, but DRENCHED–in the obligatory erotic love song. I mean, wow. Aamir just doesn’t do that in his later films. You’ve already fallen in love with him because of his character, and now this? It’s almost too much to take. 

3) Naseeruddin Shah. He gets two great speeches, one in each half of the film, and delivers them perfectly. But why (spoiler alert) did his character have to bite the ear off a baby goat?! ew. (end spoiler)

4) Gritty realism without gratuitous violence. I read that they did a lot of research on the actual cross-border arms trade and many of the details are scarily accurate.

5) Mukesh Rishi. He overacts in one scene, but otherwise I liked the presence of this giant–or maybe relative giant, because Aamir is such an elf. Apparently he was in Koi…Mil Gaya and I didn’t notice him.  Here’s his big scene with a bit too much intensity: 

So I guess my overall opinion is YES YES YES! I understand a Sarfarosh 2 may be in the works…with or without Aamir…???

Sarfarosh is available free on YouTube, in 16 sections, with 1 commercial per section. (sorry)  Here’s part I:

 

Oh–and about the title–still trying to figure out who the martyr is. Is it Ajay, who destroys his youthful dreams in order to defend his country? (spoiler alert) Is it Gulfam, who kills himself in the end so as not to destroy his own reputation (which Ajay seems to have protected after his death anyway)? Is it Salim, who alienates himself from other Muslims to do what he thinks is right, which is protect Ajay and India? (end spoilers)  Lots of martyrs in this film.

Jenny K:  Perhaps the title is a more generic “Martyrdom”? With all those examples, I’d bet it is. Glad you liked it. It’s always been one of my favorites, and I’d have bought it, even if I hadn’t been trying to own all of Aamir’s films at that point in my mania.

I really think that Sonali Bendre is lovely in this one…a real vision. I’m surprised he hasn’t done more with her. I also love the cinematography, especially the shots of the camels in the desert.  (aside to readers:  we review two more films with Sonali Bendre in a future post)

Julie M:  “Martyrdom” would be “Sarfaroshi” or is that more like “Sacrifice”? patriotic song Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna from The Legend of Bhagat Singh and similar. Maybe the title is more like “Sacrifice,” then.  Ajay sacrificed his personal desire, Gulfam sacrificed his nationality (remember he was upset that in Pakistan he was always a refugee).

Jenny K:  Speaking of cops, I can’t believe that I haven’t reviewed Talaash yet!  What a delinquent I am!  I saw it the first weekend out, and it was a really effective piece of suspense film making.  Here’s the trailer.  

Julie M:  I know, I was supposed to see the same weekend as you, but sorry, I got sick!

Jenny K:  Aamir Khan plays another noble police inspector, Surjan Singh Shekhawat, who  is standing against all corruption.  Could we expect anything less?  But he’s suffused with an air of melancholy, that we discover is caused by the death of his young son in a boating accident.  Both he and his wife Roshni (Rani Mukherji) blame themselves for relaxing their vigilance and letting him die.

Work is the only thing that distracts Surjan at all, and it begins to put more and more distance between himself and Roshni, especially when he begins investigating the death of a famous movie star in a crazy, apparently drunken, car crash.  To Surjan, the details just don’t add up, and he begins digging into the sordid underbelly of the red light district, looking for clues.  He’s helped by the proverbial hooker with a heart of gold, Rosie, (played by Kareena Kapoor) who nurses Surjan along the path to the right answers, and heals him, as well.  But things just aren’t as they seem…not at all.

Julie M:  She’s a hooker AGAIN?  Wasn’t Chameli enough for her? I guess she didn’t have a heart of gold there, but still.  

Jenny K:  The performances in the film are uniformly good, particularly Aamir’s and Kareena’s, who establish a palpable chemistry that I haven’t seen between them before…and I don’t see often with KK, at all.  Props to her, she knows just how to strut it and burn with a teasing warmth that captures Surjan and doesn’t let him drop the case, even when he knows he should, to keep his sanity and his marriage.  There’s a tangential plotline with a poor denizen of the brothels, Tehmur, played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who is in love with one of the whores, and he is determined to free her, at any cost.  Nawazuddin, as you know, is one of my favorites…though why he plays so many crippled characters, I’m not sure.  Got to get The Gangs of Wasseypur and see whether that one is a stronger personality.  I loved him in Kahaani as that semi-corrupt police inspector and he just burned up the screen.  He doesn’t, in my opinion, ever give a bad performance.

Julie M:  I don’t have enough experience with him to say whether he is one of my faves, but I loved him in Kahaani, so I will take your word for the rest!  Although Gangs of Wasseypur is not on my list.  Anything with “Gangs” in the title I avoid on principle.

Jenny K:  You definitely should see Talaash though. Even if I don’t like AK’s moustache in it, hides too much of his face for me, but it actually made Pat like him more. She says she can now see him more as a husband than as a boyfriend-type. I like him any way he comes, and it’s nice that he doesn’t seem quite as angry as his more recent films have portrayed him. I particularly enjoyed seeing Rani on screen again. It’s been too long!

Julie M:  Found it on YouTube but without subtitles.

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