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|February 4, 2000||
Pukar is a potential espionage thriller...
As long as India and Pakistan keep snarling at each other, we will have films like Pukar. Recent releases like J P Dutta's Border resurrected an episode from the 1971 war. Sarfarosh brought the ISI inside our air-conditioned cinema halls. Pukar continues in the same vein.
Boney Kapoor's latest home production deals with a 'dangerous love' and a 'dangerous mission' according to the glossy brochure distributed during the preview. Excessive, obsessive love can kill or lead to betrayal of the nation. When Anjali (Madhuri Dixit) steals a secret code from Major Jai's (Anil Kapoor) office and hands it over to a stranger to get even with him for ignoring her love, she had no idea the number indicates the location of dreaded terrorist Abrush (Danny), held captive by the Indian army authorities.
Out of prison, Abrush and his henchmen go on a killing spree and decide to bomb the massive town hall on Independence Day. We can't let all that happen in our films, can we? The handsome Major, who has been court-martialled and deprived of his rank, single-handedly saves the nation, with a bit of help from Anjali who, at the crucial hour, clings from the pendulum of the town clock which holds the mechanism for the bomb explosion.
Director Rajkumar Santoshi is credited with the 'story,' which could have been the work of any five-year-old. Not satisfied with murder and mayhem, he introduces a love triangle (shades of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai), where Anjali loves Raj, Raj loves Pooja (Namrata Shirodkar) and Pooja loves herself and a modelling career. But with Pooja conveniently packed off to Australia (I'm sure it was not with the intention of inspiring our cricketers) for more fashion shows, Jai and Anjali are free to battle the baddies who want nothing more than Kashmir.
Which, of course, leads to a lot of jingoism. Santoshi, ever since he handled the multistarrer China-Gate, has become partial to big movies, huge casts and rousing action. Here, though, bigness is substituted for loudness. Guns, bombs, missiles, rockets... they explode all the time. The army authorities seem to believe noise can crack the mystery of the missing code which is finally solved when the culprit confesses to Jai's superior officer.
Pukar had the potential to become an espionage thriller, but then our film-makers can seldom be bothered with a new approach. So it goes on and on for 18 reels on levels that are quite predictable. The most dreaded terrorist in the region, and his henchmen, and the local traitors, are brought down by a single officer of the Indian Army and a girl who had been portrayed as being capable of doing nothing more than cracking inane jokes or dancing provocatively in night clubs.
The first half of the film, despite the cliched romantic situations, moves fairly quickly. The cinematography by Baba Azmi, Ashok Mehta and Santosh Sivan is excellent, particularly in the song sequences. A R Rahman's tunes are hummable and the songs are picturised well, particularly Que sera sera, Kabhi kisi se pyar na karna and Phir chalne wale rukthe hain kahan. The editing, however, is a bit jerky, particularly in the action scenes.
The film falls to pieces in the second half. The action scenes are highly contrived. Abrush tries to project a larger-than-life presence by constantly rolling his huge eyes and grunting with vigour. And Santoshi's handling of the military scenes is rather amateurish. Does the army strip a court-martialled officer even of his clothes? And then the officer, who has been accused of high treason, is guarded so loosely that he can get out of jail anytime he wants to!
With such a screenplay, the cast has a tough time. Anil Kapoor is more comfortable in the light romantic scenes while Madhuri Dixit, who is wooden most of the time, remains oblivious of the seriousness of her actions. It is a pity that the supporting cast -- Farida Jalal, Girish Karnad and Rohini Hattangadi -- have so little to do. But one must raise a special cheer for Om Puri. He is absolutely top class in a small, but well-etched, role.
Watching Pukar makes one hope and pray that India and Pakistan mend their differences as quickly as possible. Only then can we escape such films.
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