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August 13, 1999


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Soft 'n' sensational

Sharmila Taliculam

A still from Taal. Click for bigger pic!
Here it is. After all that hype and hoopla, Subhash Ghai's magnum opus, Taal, finally reaches the theatres.

Taal is the eternal triangle love story involving Mansi (Aishwarya Rai), Manav (Akshaye Khanna) and Vikrant (Anil Kapoor). Mansi, from Chamba in Himachal Pradesh, is the daughter of a village folk singer and dancer.

Manav is the son of a businessman who comes to Chamba to buy some land. He falls in love with the place -- and Mansi. He promises her marriage and goes back to the city telling himself that love is faith and other things in the same vein.

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But Manav's foreign-bred aunt creates trouble and the lovers are separated. Mansi meets Vikrant Kapur who is a loud, flashy music director who also happens to own a music company.

Vikrant eyes light up on Mansi and he assures her she is star material. He makes her a star and falls for her himself.

This triangle isn't all that different but where Ghai has scored magnificently is in the treatment. That makes is what makes the film worth the viewing and, so, a little difficult to judge.

Taal is shot beautifully and all the actors are made to look excellent. The locales in Himachal Pradesh are breathtaking. Only the story is absolutely unoriginal. But then, who cares.

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After being praised for her looks and acting talent in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Aishwarya has excelled in Taal. She looks etheral and unlike the former film, has a very sober and soft role. Though she looks pained and tragic in most of the film, she does a good job of a woman who is very protective of her father and one who doesn't think twice before rejecting a lover who has insulted her father.

She goes without make-up in the first half of the film and still looks mighty pretty. This role suits her and she has other good actors to work with. That ensures she really doesn't take over though the film revolves around her character most of the time. And besides acting well she also dances beautifully.

Despite her previous record of flops, Ash always picked films that gave her scope to perform. With Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam she consolidated her position as an actress after being just a beautiful face for so long. Taal will again enhance her reputation as an actress while in no way detracting from her image as a traffic-stopper.

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Akshaye is his usual self. He is a good actor who has often chosen his roles badly. His screen presence too could do with a boost. Here he is endearing as a young and besotted lover who won't take no for an answer. Hopefully, this film should be able to do something for his career.

The film gets particularly interesting with Anil Kapoor's arrival. If you wonder what Kapoor is doing in a youthful love story, think again. He is the best thing to happen to this film that, otherwise, may have been subsumed in prettiness. He plays the street-smart, cynical music composer commendably.

So you have him stealing folk songs and re-mixing them to rake in the moolah... Well, things like that.

This film is touted as the musical love story and you won't be shortchanged on that count. Songs come every 15 minutes, and every one of them is good. Despite A R Rahman lamenting that he is getting repetitive, this isn't where he runs through the formula again.

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His style shows through despite his effort to maintain a very north Indian flavour. And it is in the picturisation that his songs actually gain in value. They tend to grow on you thereafter.

Unlike in Dil Se, Rahman's earlier effort in Hindi where the songs were extraneous to the storyline but excellent by themselves, here the songs provide the bedrock for the movie and are weakened without it.

There are 12 songs in the film, all shot well. The background score, over which Rahman mulled so hard that he delayed the release, is pretty good too. Here, Rahman relies on jazz and some Western classical to bolster his tunes. And these meld well with the Indian music.

Hariharan has done a beautiful job in singing Mere samne tu, a poignant number about a beaten but still hopeful lover. It is undoubtedly the best song in the film. The choreography, as we mentioned, is excellent too.

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Ghai dropped old favourite Ashok Mehta and picked Kabirlal to provide the cinematography. And Kabirlal has done a fantastic job. The whole film is soft, with very few scenes bordering on the dramatic.

All the characters are understated: Ash's character is quiet and reserved, Akshaye's is dashing and romantic... And despite Anil providing an element of excess, his character, infused with some seriousness, is complex enough not to allow you to dismiss him as another Bollywood loudmouth. Some vulnerability is clearly visible when he repeatedly confirms with Mansi that she loves him and then keeps repeating to himself that he loves her too.

Ghai's Pardes hangover is visible. Taal has some similarities with Pardes: There is the family, brothers, sisters-in-laws, aunts and uncles... And the family is a queer mixture of western and Indian.

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And the village-bred girl? She has the qualities expected of the quintessential Indian girl -- respectfulness and obedience. Here, like Pardes, the girl rebels when the boy's family insults her's.

If Mahima Chaudhary seemed excessively upset that she was dropped from the film, the reason is obvious: Aishwarya's role is something any actress would give a great deal for.

This is Ghai's dream film and he has been consistently been involved in its making -- from the first script to the last cut. Though the editing leaves a lot to be desired -- some scenes being a little disjointed -- the film is very well showcased. While the subject could have been stronger, it is obvious that Ghai was more interested in making the film look good.

Well, either way, it is worth the effort seeing it -- at least once.

The Taal webcast
The Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam review
The Ishq Bina video

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