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January 22, 1999


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American nightmare

Suparn Verma

A still from Aa Ab Laut Chalen. Click for bigger pic!
Rishi Kapoor wields the director's baton for the first time in Aa Ab Laut Chalen.

He has been one of the most pleasant actors to grace the Hindi screen, survived over two decades by dancing around trees with almost every heroine imaginable -- and some not. He has delivered dialogues that range from the most inane to the most soul-stirring.

In Aa Ab Laut Chalen, he takes up a pretty modern subject, using a story penned by Rumi Jaffery. Akshaye Khanna is a graduate who has a computer diploma but who can't find a job in Delhi. That is a feat in these days of Y2K and manpower shortage, but the irony appears to have missed.

A childhood pal, now settled in the US, shows up and tells him that to make money and succeed, one has to be in the US of A.

Convinced, he gets grandpa (Alok Nath) and mom (Moushmi Chatterjee) that destiny is waiting in the Americas. The elderly folk had earlier seen Akshaye's father, Rajesh Khanna, override their objections and run away to make it big. But he died in a bus accident en route to the pot of gold. So grandpa decides to help the young 'un along.

Akshaye gets a visa darned easily and, in no time, is in New York, being driven by a friendly cabbie (Kader Khan).

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Akshaye reaches the house of his pal, the evangelist for the American dream. But the friend makes it clear that he isn't wanted, and that he'll have to fend for himself. Akshaye goes on to find that the bloke's parents now serve as a waiter and sweeper respectively in their son's motel.

But the big-hearted cabbie invites him over to his house, which he shares with another cabbie, Jaspal Bhatti, pan-wallah Satish Kaushik, and retail store operator Vivek Vaswani. Akshaye is given a taxi to ply and he manages without any trouble, making mincemeat of arguments that it's hard driving on the 'wrong side'.

Aishwarya Rai is one of his fares but when she gets to her brother's house, she finds the brother wants her to marry his twice-divorced boss, so that he can become his company's managing director. Ash refuses and so she finds herself out on the roads, where roams her knight-in-shining-armour, Akshaye. Akshaye brings her over to the same house as the four guys, making things a mite too crowded for comfort.

Ash falls for Akshaye while the harassed man worries about a permanent job, tiring as he is of washing dishes at Dunkin' Donuts and working at gas stations. Then, someone suggests that if he marries a rich NRI girl, he'll get a green card and be made for life.

So off he goes to a Navratri jaunt where he woos Suman Ranganathan, while Ash desperately tries every trick to lure him away, telling him that she loves him. But the American wannabe spurns her. When his benefactors (Kader Khan, Jaspal Bhatti & Co) give their opinion on his behaviour, he insults them and moves in with Suman.

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Naveen Nischol, a good doctor, meanwhile gives Ash a job, at one of his patient's homes. The patient is a lonely man, and for some reason needs a proxy child.

The patient? Surprise, it's the dead dad of the NRI-in-waiting. So he hadn't died after all.

Akshaye sees Suman for what she is, though she never hid the fact that she is a party animal, that she drinks, smokes, whatever. But there's the job of wooing his lady back. Not too easy, you'd think...

The rich in the film are all heartless baddies, women who smoke and drink are reprehensible and those in salwar-kameez are sugar and spice and whatever else is right. You wonder if the idea hasn't been beaten to death already. In Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, it is the saree-clad Kajol who gets the guy, not the tomboy. But at least that film didn't pass judgement.

The music of a film is very important, particularly in a love story. This may not be an out-and-out love story but then it doesn't have music to fall back on either. It bears the Nadeem-Shravan brand name, though only Shravan has contributed to the music. Only three songs hold some interest though.

Sameer Arya's cinematography is great in close-ups or during songs but it never manages to capture foreign locales the way Shankar did with Jeans or, to some extent, Ghai with Pardes.

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Akshaye Khanna tries to do full justice to his part but it's a pity that an actor of his calibre is forced to mouth inane dialogues in contrived situations. The argument that every film has some cliched scenes is true, but then every successful film depends on its ability to mix and blend these cliches in a workable way.

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Dil To Pagal Hai, Hum Aap Ke Hain Koun! and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge are all examples of that kind of technique.

Aishwarya Rai sports a plastic smile and never gets a scene where she can portray any depth. All she does is cry and smile and look pretty. Suman Ranganathan plays her vampish part with elan and pulls it off well though her time on screen is too short for her to cause an impact.

Rajesh Khanna is no different than he was, say, in Avtaar or Swarg, he plays a character he played countless times before he bowed out.

Jaspal Bhatti and Kader Khan have their moments as the duo who symbolise Indians and Pakistanis living in harmony despite their occasional brawls during cricket matches between their two countries.

Paresh Rawal is the cop who upholds the US law five days a week and becomes a pandit at the local temple on weekends. But you can always expect a professional performance from Rawal. Rajesh Khanna's second son, played by Jatin Sial, is miscast in the role of the spoilt brat. His character too flits on and off the screen.

Maybe Rishi Kapoor was bowing to RK tradition, maybe he was trying to follow his heart, but he just has to get back to the drawing board and seriously plan that next venture.

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