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September 7, 2000


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The second coming

Prem Panicker

Exasperated beyond endurance, a famous gent who found himself, once too often, on the receiving end of critical acid, exclaimed: 'Critics are like eunuchs guarding a harem. They know how it is done, they see it done everyday, but they are incapable of doing it themselves!' Fiza

Filmfare editor Khalid Mohamed has spent a lifetime as film critic. This time, he shifts from reviewer to doer, and makes a film.

Looked at another way, he has proved that he can talk up a good game. Here, he decides to walk that talk. And to do that, he puts together....

The Players:

Cast: Karisma Kapoor, Hrithik, Roshan, Jaya Bachchan, Neha, Isha Koppikar, Bikram Saluja, Manoj Bajpai, Sushmita Sen
Cinematography: Santosh Sivan
Music: Anu Malik, A R Rahman (Piya Haji Ali), Ranjit Barot (background score)
Lyrics: Gulzar, Sameer, Shaukat Ali, Tejpal Kaur
Dialogues:Javed Siddiqi
Art: Sharmista Roy
Action:Shyam Kaushal
Choreography: Saroj Khan, Farah Khan, Ganesh Hegde
Editing: Sreekar Prasad
Producer: Pradeep Guha
Story, Screenplay, Direction: Khalid Mohamed

180 minutes in 180 words

A happy family is rent asunder by the Bombay riots of 1993. Inoffensive Amaan, hounded beyond endurance, takes up a knife, and kills. And runs. Six years later, sister Fiza, her studies complete, decides to go in search of her brother. And finds him, somewhere in Rajasthan, in the guise of a terrorist. She invokes filial love, and brings him back.

But Amaan, imbued with the terrorist ideal of chaos as the medium of change, cannot readjust to 'normal' life. Events escalate, until Amaan takes up the gun again, for political assassination. The bullets find the targets. Amaan then realises that his own terrorist group plans to kill him as soon as he completes his mission. Hunted by the police, unwanted by his own group, he finds himself in a mental, moral and emotional cul de sac.

A cul de sac, translated, means dead end.


First, the hype. Aka publicity. Of which there has been plenty, with the Times Of India group throwing its entire media muscle into the exercise. And which has already ensured that the film will open to packed houses for the first three weeks of its run.

Second, Hrithik Roshan. Never mind the stories you read about how he only appears in an extended guest role -- the flavour of the year is present, in large dollops, throughout the movie. Since Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai swept adolescents and adults alike away on a tidal wave of Hrithik-hysteria, there has been no release for Bollywood's hottest property. His legion of fans, famished by the long break, get a full meal here. While his dancing abilities are not really showcased, the bulging biceps get extended airtime. And what is more, this film gives him a lot more scope for histrionics. Hrithik obliges, with a highly competent, confident performance.

Third, Karisma Kapoor. She has centrestage for a good bit of the movie, and uses the windfall (I mean, how many movies do we make where the girl has something to do other than showcase designer outfits, dance a bit and shed a few tears?) to good effect. Jaya Bachchan is experienced enough to deliver in the role of mother; and Manoj Bajpai breezes through his cameo as the leader of the terrorist group.

Fourth, the cinematography. Santosh Sivan's lens is stylish but unobtrusive when the director is moving the story forward, spectacular in the song and dance sequences. And here, he is aided and abetted by Sushmita Sen in particular, who in the Mehboob mere number (Sunidhi Chauhan and Karsan Sargathiya) really turns on the oomph.

Sharmishta Roy's set designs go with the flow without being too obtrusive; Ranjit Barot (he has done a Tamil film score before this, for the Prabhu Deva-starrer VIP, here he debuts in Bollywood with a full-fledged score) is slick without intruding too much into the dialogues; and national award-winning editor Sreekar Prasad lives up to his own high standard (the cognoscenti tell me that when an editor's work doesn't show is when he has done a brilliant job).

All told, the cast and crew deliver what is expected of them.


Sad though it is to say this, the weak point in this film is the script.

Classic scripting theory goes thus: First, put a man up a tree. Then throw things at him. Then get him down off the tree, and let the audience go home.

In other words, the three-act structure of a movie is: Create the problem/conflict, escalate the problem, resolve the problem.

From that point of view, examine this film. The initial conflict is created when Amaan vanishes, his mother mourns and the sister decides she has had enough of living in suspense (that it took her six years to come to this realisation is another matter).

Conflict is generally created by a multiplicity of choices. Here, Karisma's choices are to settle into the arms of her faithful boyfriend (former Graviera Mr India Bikram Saluja, debuting on celluloid here) and reconcile herself to the fact that her brother is missing presumed dead; or to go out and make a bid to find him.

She makes her choice. And heads off to find the missing brother. Which she does with surprising ease, given the lapse of time -- all it takes is a conversation with a caricature cop in a bar, a picture of a terrorist downloaded off the internet by the boyfriend, a Sushmita Sen dance number and presto, the deed is done.

But that is it, right? Man or rather, girl up tree, things thrown at her (there are the usual stereotypes to serve this purpose -- Hindu leader, Muslim leader, neighbourhood letches), girl brought down from tree.

Trouble is, when Karisma finds her brother, it is only the intermission -- there is an entire second half to go through, and the director has already told his story.

So now he creates a whole new story, a completely different conflict -- this one, revolving around Hrithik's inability to cope with everyday life as it is lived. He believes that he is living off his mother and sister, and his proud heart can't take that.

Trouble being, there is not much of a conflict here -- the simple solution, one would have thought, would be to find work. And no, the excuse that it is difficult to find work doesn't jell. Karishma's boyfriend is introduced as a guy with an industrialist papa in the background, and as being only too willing to help the girl, and her family, in any way he can.

This is one major problem with the film -- the issue, the conflict, that drives the second half is not properly delineated. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why Hrithik believes the only choice open to him is to go back to terrorism.

From here on, things take on the nature of a series of episodes. There is the happy family scene. Then the one where the two neighbourhood goons do some strong arm stuff, and Hrithik jumps in and whales the tar out of them. By way of revenge, they 'file a case' with the cops, that Hrithik had killed three people during the riots.

Like, it is that easy? You just go to the nearest cop shop, and file a case relating to events that are over six years old, and they come along with sirens screaming and haul the guy away?

When Hrithik is led away by the cops, they taunt, abuse, then lay hands on the sister -- which gives the hero an excuse to put himself further beyond the pale by whipping out a gun and shooting them dead (strangely, cops arresting a suspected murdered and rioter don't think to search him for weapons -- but who said our cops have sense, in real or reel life?).

Then the mother decides to commit suicide. Which cues you in for another set piece -- the funeral, the hero watching, hidden, from a distance, then emotion overpowering him, he rushing to the grave, the cops jumping on him, the hero escaping.

And so it goes on.

Take one more instance. Grant that Hrithik's inability to adjust to normal life is the crux of the second half. What then is the purpose of a scene where Karishma, dressed up in rubber pants and sequined top (just so you don't think it is ridiculous for a girl whose family is struggling on the borderline of penury to sport such togs, it is clearly explained that she is flying with borrowed feathers) to walk into a disco at her boyfriend's invitation, to flare up when said boyfriend complains that she never lets herself go and has fun, to stomp her foot and go, "I'll show you" and break into a nifty dance? How does this bit, which sticks out like an injured thumb, move the story along?

The only rationale one can think of for this one is that the director, around this point, realised that he hadn't made full use of Karisma's box office potential.

The first half is reasonably coherent. Barring a huge slip in chronology. Karishma is shown graduating in 1999. Even assuming she is an average student, and took her time through pre-college and college, she had to be, what, 14, 15 in 1993 when the film opens. And Hrithik is her younger brother. Trouble being, they are shown as young adults, when the film opens.

Barring that, the first half is okay. The problem is with the second half, which descends to pure chaos -- just a series of set-piece incidents strung together on the flimsiest of narrative threads.

And that leads to a suspicion. When the movie was first planned, Karisma was a superstar. Hrithik was, at best, an unknown, aspiring star son. Then came the switch -- Karisma slipped down the ladder, to become one of many Bollywood belles. And Hrithik became a national heart-throb.

Could it be, then, that the film which originally set out to showcase Karisma, did an about turn somewhere along the way and, probably through some extensive reshooting and nifty editing, cut short the 'search for the brother' premise, and brought Hrithik Roshan into the spotlight? There are many scenes that fuel that suspicion -- most notably the bit where he is being 'prepared' for the assassination, said preparation taking the form of an extended display of muscle and agility (whyfor, when all he was going to do was shoot with a high-powered rifle and sniperscope?).

There is also the fact that in this scene, where Hrithik goes through a dance-style combination of tai chi and kung fu and assorted other martial arts disciplines, he looks a lot more like the post-Kaho Na Hrithik, than at any other point in the film.

It is, in fact, rather a pity to see Khalid Mohamed, after a lifetime of cutting-edge reviews bemoaning Bollywood's obsession with song sequences and needless masala, falling in the selfsame trap in his debut outing as director. Five scenes, then a song in Haji Ali. Four more scenes, then a duet with Hrithik and girlfriend (Neha, in what is little more than a walk-on part). Four more, then it is time to let Sushmita loose. And so on, for all of seven songs. And never mind if it plays hell with the pacing.


Hrithik Roshan Having said all that and, for the sake of argument, assuming I am right and the film was reworked in mid-stride, it just might prove to be the smartest move the makers did.

Because as the film finally shapes up, Hrithik junkies get to enjoy a giant-sized fix of the reigning hunk. Add a couple of neat song and dance numbers, and the filmgoer could well decide to forgive the lapses, and figure that this film is paisa wasool.

Related stories:

For a few notes more!
'Fiza and Mission Kashmir will prove I am not a one-movie star!'
Fiza and the art of publicity
Fiza: Sister Act!
'Fiza will shock a lot of people!':Hrithik Roshan
'Fiza is an extension of my personality': Khalid Mohamed
'It is not a launchpad like Mission Kashmir or Refugee': Bikram Saluja
Santosh Sivan on Fiza
The Fiza trailer
Haywire over Hrithik!
Hrithik, right about turn
'I don't differentiate between films': Karisma Kapoor

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