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June 4, 1998


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Blood is thicker...

A still from Dushman. Click for bigger pic!
Suparn Verma

Dushman has a fairly simple storyline -- one twin (Kajol) desperately wants to kill the rapist and murderer (Ashutosh Rana) of the other.

The surviving sister, a shrinking violet otherwise, takes on the guise of avenging angel when the law fails to get the killer behind bars. She is aided in her quest by a blind colonel -- honourably retired from the army -- played by Sanjay Dutt. The colonel trains her to take on the killer. And the rest is either left to your imagination if you're new to Bollywood, or else, dreary experience.

Debutante director Tanuja Chandra tries to make a statement about woman power with her film. And her woman too is encouraged to behave like a strong-minded hero -- tough as nails and out for revenge. For a woman's film, it almost pushes a male stereotype. But the woman-centric casting also annoyed some distributors, who stomped off at the last minute. The film is actress Pooja Bhatt's second film as a producer, the first being Tamanna, in which she also starred.

Kajol in Dushman. Click for bigger pic!
The film could have been a fast-paced thriller with a killer on the loose, but it isn't. Tanuja, who had written the script of Tamanna, has a habit of using songs to underline emotional situations where silence could have heightened the effect. In Dushman, when the twin sister is killed, the family's sorrow is stressed with a ghazal that provides relief for a minute and then twangs on your nerves.

Al Pacino, as Sanjay Dutt has admitted in many an interview, is his favourite actor -- he's seen A Scent of a Woman over a dozen times. The chance to play a blind man must have delighted him. But despite all his earnest intentions to do justice to the role, he can't. For the film-makers couldn't get their mind off his physique. So, in a scene straight out of the Van Damme flick Bloodsport, Sanjay indulges in a spot of boxing, with his opponent wearing small bells around his wrist so that Sanjay knows where he is. Pacino would have loved this.

A still from Dushman. Click for bigger pic!
Worse is the penchant to tog him up in army gear, long after he's supposed to have quit the job. But the Ray Bans clamped atop his nose make him look very natty indeed.

Some tight editing would have helped the film. Hanging bits of celluloid often trip up the continuity of what could have been an entertainer. For example, though some locations of Cape Town in South Africa are breathtaking, the aerial sequences look like the cameraman was either epileptic or shaking with fear. Or maybe the camera was.

Just one thing, how does Kajol manage to go to sleep in Bombay, get trained in South Africa, and go back home to Bombay by evenfall? If someone has an explanation to offer, please email us.

Kajol is in superb form, both as the opinionated career-minded twin who is murdered, and as the avenger. Even she must have preferred less glycerine and more restraint.

A still from Dushman. Click for bigger pic!
Jas Arora, who makes a debut with this film, comes and goes very fast, looking and sound good in the interim. But why would a boyfriend of a murdered girl have such a small role to play? In any other film, he would have been saddled with the job of wrecking the villain's mug; in this woman-powered movie, it's sis who opts to do the honours.

Ashutosh Rana makes his debut as the villain, and a very successful one at that. He exudes menace, and has the aura of evil emanating from his tobacco-stained teeth. The stresses provided by the vernacular dialect he uses adds to his repulsiveness -- to an urban audience, at least. But are times one wishes he won't have to ham like this in his upcoming films.

Dushman is music director Uttam Singh's second release after Dil To Pagal Hai. And he comes up with some really hummable numbers.

A still from Dushman. Click for bigger pic!
The film ends with a scene wherein Tanuja pays tribute to her mentor, Mahesh Bhatt. You know, the 'reach-the-airport-at-the-last-minute' sequence?

Dushman certainly doesn't make for a light entertainer, and can't be described as an edge-of-the-seat thriller either. Wish Tanuja had cut out the song and dance and made the film like its inspiration, An Eye for an Eye. It would still have struck a chord with women.

Though, all said and done, at least Tanuja is honest about making pure commercial films. With some honing, her art could produce better. Maybe. Just maybe.

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