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|January 31, 2000||
M D Riti
Your idea of love is a dog's lust," says Chandru, his face twisting with rage. "Don't equate it with my pure devotion for Kiran." The rest of his words are lost in the whistles and catcalls of the young, largely male audience; the few girls watching wipe their eyes surreptitiously.
"The audience for this movie is mostly teenage, and the male-female ratio is 75:25," said the manager of the Bangalore-based theatre where we had gone to see the Kannada blockbuster, Preethse.
Preethse is actually a remake of the Hindi film, Darr, (starring Shah Rukh Khan, Juhi Chawla and Sunny Deol). Which, again, was an adaptation of the English movie, Cape Fear. The only difference is that producer Rockline Venkatesh and director D Rajendra Babu have chosen to portray Chandru, the stalker-villain, in a distinctly sympathetic light. Even in Preethse's climax, the hero does not kill him. Instead, Chandru ends his own life melodramatically when he finally realises the heroine is genuinely in love with another man.
The film's main draw are its two stars: Shivaraj Kumar, one of Kannada cinema's most popular heroes today, and Upendra, who is rapidly gaining that status. An added attraction is Bollywood's Sonali Bendre, who is acting in a Kannada movie for the first time.
Like all Rockline remakes (he specialises in remaking hit movies from other languages in Kannada), the background score and songs are quite appealing. "We are basically in this business to entertain audiences," Rockline told rediff.com. "What does it matter whether we follow original scripts or copy other language films, as long as we give our ticket buyers their money's worth? If people do not like the kind of films I make, would they flock to the theatres whenever they know a film has been made by me?"
Shivaraj, cast as Sonali's commando lover, looks more like a young college boy as he is neither tall nor muscular. But his gradual change of image over the past year has added tremendously to his screen presence: he has shed a lot of surplus weight, chopped off his trademark shaggy mane and now looks slim, young and presentable.
Upendra, too, is less flamboyant. Until now, Uppi, as he is generally known, has personally directed the films he has starred in, and usually wears flashy, punky clothes. Here, though, he covers his very ordinary face with shoulder-length hair, straggly facial hair and sun glasses. His interpretation of his character in this film is quite different from the way in which Shah Rukh Khan played the part in Darr. Upendra comes across as an odd, intense young man, whose puppy-dog eyes plead for some tender loving care.
Upendra was, for the very vocal audience, a bigger draw than Shivaraj or Bendre. "I came to life only on the day I began loving you," he tells Sonali in his dying declaration, which also is the note on which the film ends. "I am ending my life now since I now know you will never love me in return. I have nothing left to live for." At another point in the film, he says to Surya, the hero: "I am a full-time lover: that is the only vocation I shall ever have in this life."
Interestingly, it looks as if Bendre, slim, pretty and inane as ever, has picked her own clothes; the costumes she wore were much trendier than is usual for Kannada cinema. Almost a quarter of this big budget film has been shot in Australia: three of the film's six songs have been filmed there.
Then, there is Anant Nag, back on screen after a two-year stint as Karnataka's urban development minister in the semi-comic role of the heroine's guileless, cricket-crazy brother. Former vamp Vanitha Vasu, who's put on a few inches, is cast as his fun-loving wife. Leading man turned character actor Srinath plays Chandru's ignorant father.
Hamsalekha's haunting background score and his powerful title track Preethse, preethse, support the film. Sung by Hemant Kumar, this song has one version picturised against the craggy coastline of Australia; the other recurs in patches through the film. The two duets featuring the hero and heroine are attractive but do not impact the memory like the title song.
The portrayals of both the stalker and his victim are bound to incense feminists; the anti-hero's obsession with a woman who is in love with another man is made out to be a pure, almost innocent passion. Our own real life memories of the girl in Delhi who was raped and killed by her longstanding stalker are far too fresh to condone such false projections.
Besides, the film has several titillating sequences, like the one in which Chandru follows Kiran into an elevator and, without her knowledge, caresses her duppatta and even smells it. In all his fantasies, she cavorts before him drenched in the rain or wearing clingy clothes.
Elsewhere, you see her doing a cabaret number for her husband, a sequence that is quite unnecessary to the plot. The sheer horror of stalking is completely missing from the film. Instead, the audience is practically rooting for the stalker every time he is chased by the hero.
The abundant violence and gore in this film, which is billed rather tritely as 'a violent love story,' had not deterred the weekend audience from bringing their children to the theatre. Interestingly, the children did not seem too disturbed by the bloody images in the film, like the scene in which Chandru carves Kiran's name on his chest with a knife. On the whole, if you can switch your mind off these concerns and are just looking for an afternoon of mindless entertainment, full of loud music, melodrama, passion and fantasy, this movie is worth watching.
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