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July 23, 1999


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A clutch of cliches

A still from Hindustan Ki Kasam. Click for bigger pic!
Sharmila Taliculam

Listen, times have changed, okay? Our twins no longer get lost in fairs. No way. That only used to happen at a time people used to wonder where they were outside the village gates. Now the twins have to part at the international border -- in the case of Hindustan Ki Kasam, it's one with Pakistan.

And no surprise, the one in Pakistan becomes an assassin and the other returns home one of those strong, sedate and balanced writers. We suspect Veeru Devgan might be hinting at something being wrong with the food across the Line of Control.

But the director apparently has more honourable intentions than that. For his Hindustan Ki Kasam is touted as Veeru Devgan's dream, where he sees both countries united and everyone living happily ever after. So you have Nawaz Sharief the soul of humility and Vajpayee shaking his hand like he were a long-lost schoolmate.

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Ajay (Ajay Devgan) is a writer who writes political thrillers. He dreams up plots that, intriguingly, are pretty close in detail to true events. The trouble is, he has some details that had never been divulged to the public. One novel lands in the hand of an army officer (Prem Chopra) hands who suspects Ajay has a hand in killing the people he writes about.

When picked up and questioned, Ajay tells him the he dreams up these plots and that he has nothing to do with these killings. He wanders around baffled till his mother tells him he had a twin. Ah, ESP now.

The twin in question, name of Tauheed, is apparently alive and well in Pakistan, and trying to make sure that his enemies -- most of whom happen to be Indian -- aren't.

He doesn't let anything stand in his way of his crusade against India, not even his girlfriend Roshanaara (Manisha Koirala). And once the basics of the improbable story are laid before you, for the next course you are slapped into the standard clutch of cliches -- the mother-son reunion, the animosity between the brothers and, worst of all, Amitabh waxing nationalistic. You wonder when he picked the baton from Nana Patekar.

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Hindustan Ki Kasam is Veeru Devgan's first directorial venture. He should have stuck to composing fights. This film has some stunts mixed with special effects, but the result is so terrible that you wonder why Devgan Sr didn't stick to the simpler, backroom variety he provided in films like Phool Aur Kaante.

Here you have Ajay Devagan giving a lift to Ms Universe Sen on his bike and, yawn, he jumps over buses and trains. And because it relied on bad special effects than stuntmen, it looks sillier than it used to in those seventies flicks that relied on the same kind of thing.

You can also see a Forrest Gump here, where Amitabh is a freedom fighter and he actually goes up and talks to Subhas Chandra Bose. Netaji looks strangely stiff, and his hand when it come up to pat Bachchan on his back, looks as if it would look better on a marionette.

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Wish we didn't try these effects when we don't know how to make it look real. And hadn't Kamal Haasan too tried the same thing earlier in Hindustani. Then too it was Netaji who had the honour to congratulate the hero.

Ajay Devgan is definitely a director's actor. Trouble is that there wasn't much of a director here for him. So he is unconvincing as the sober, romantic writer. The only time he looks right is when he's looking tough and serious, but that's his trademark role.

You wonder what Manisha and Sushmita are doing in the film. For these props come in when they are needed for a few songs and are shooed away when they aren't.

And Bachchan, did you ask? Sorry, we were delaying bringing up the matter of his shame as long as we could.

Amitabh's characterisation is so weak that if he weren't what he was, you would probably miss him altogether. Why would anybody want to give him such an inconsequential role, you wonder? Was he taken for a ride? Why else would he show up occasionally only to spout patriotic tripe?

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That reminds us of this particularly ridiculous scene when the film has Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharief shaking hands. Guess who tells them what it means to be a patriot. Well, You guessed right. And the look of rapt attention on the faces of both prime ministers face actually makes you laugh.

The storyline is abrupt and disjointed, being in a tearing hurry to get the tale done with, without leaving a single cliched trick -- romance, drama, action, separation, reunion, patriotism and, of course, sacrifice.

The film is badly edited and you can't make any sense between scenes, particularly in the first half. The songs aren't worth mentioning, except maybe the Tera Jalwa number.

This particular story could have been really interesting if Veeru Devgan had kept out the fluff and concentrated on maintaining the continuity of the film. But he ends up concentrating so hard -- too hard -- on his son the hero, that everyone else, barring Amitabh, fades in the frame.

But when you step out for air in the end, for once you won't be thinking what a superb -- and wasted -- actor Amitabh is. You'll just remember how bad a bad film Hindustan Ki Kasam is.

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