May 3, 2002 
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An out of body experience
Deham is a disappointment.
Priya Ganapati

It is not always that good plays lend themselves to good cinema. Govind Nihalani's Deham [body] is a perfect example.

Based on Manjula Padmanabhan's play Harvest which was the Onassis Foundation first prize for theatre in 1997, Deham is a futuristic tale about a Faustian pact between the first and the third world, which India still presumably is 20 years hence.

Set in Mumbai 2022, this is the story of a desperate man who decides to sell his organs to a wealthy client in return for a luxurious life, even as the pact changes the way everyone uses their bodies.

Kitu Gidwani & Joy Sengupta Om Prakash (Joy Sengupta) and his wife Jaya (Kitu Gidwani) live in a claustrophobic single room with Om's bitter and difficult mother (Surekha Sikri-Rege). Out of a job for over two years and hemmed into a tiny house, the couple are increasingly frustrated over the quality of their lives when Om finally gets an interview call for a job.

The catch being that it is from a company, Interplanta Services, that promises a luxurious life in exchange for signing up as an organ-donor for its wealthy clients.

Desperate to claw out of their squalor and his wife's objections, Om signs up at Interplanta as an organ donor. Here on, their lives change but whether it is for the better is difficult to judge.

Their needs are taken off. But Jaya is forced to pretend that she is Om's sister while the family's existence starts being monitored and controlled by Virginia (Julie Ames), a beautiful blonde to whom Om is assigned as organ donor.

In contrast to Om, his wife and his mother's controlled existence, is his brother Jeetu's (Aly Khan) bohemian life. As a gigolo he sleeps with women even as he cavorts with transvestites at a nightclub. Jeetu refuses to submit to Interplanta's demands to register with it and walks out of the house only to turn up a while later bruised and beaten up.

Kitu Gidwani & Joy Sengupta Despite it being against Interplanta's rules, Jaya lets a badly hurt Jeetu into the house and nurses him. Suddenly, it is time for the transplants to begin. But then its Jeetu who is taken away instead of Om. How each characters uses his/ her body and how the rule of the game change suddenly forms the rest of the movie.

Despite its pedigree as a film by Govind Nihalani, one of India's finest filmmakers and its genesis from one of the highest international award-winning plays, Deham is an uneven and, at places, amateurish.

The low budget of the film and the even lower application of creativity shine through in the tacky dialogues and special effects. As a science fiction movie, Deham shows little imagination or creativity in its execution. Interplanta's office towering over the city's buildings is supposed to symbolise the way the firm dominates over the protagonists' lives. But the effect is rather cliched and in a way more symbolic of the lack of creativity that dogs the movie.

Nihalani's screenplay is probably the culprit. While books lend themselves well to movies, translating them to a different medium requires much skill, something that Nihalani does not display in Deham.

Kitu Gidwani & Joy Sengupta Though the film kicks off with an interestingly developing plot, it fails to grab the audience at the most crucial twist in the plot --- when Jeetu instead of Om is taken away.

Surekha Sikri-Rege as the near senile old woman and Julie Ames as the American organ-buyer are the only ones who turn in competent performances. Kitu Gidwani is rather stilted. She is subtle to the extent that she flips over to being rigid in her portrayal of Jaya.

As the pivotal character of the film she fails to infuse strength or credibility to her character. Her monologue at the end of the film is badly delivered and acting rather wooden. As the only one who refuses to give her body away on Interplanta's terms, she lets down the film in its climax and fails to bring that edge or the vitality to her performance.

At the other end of spectrum is Aly Khan whose performance is rather theatrical. His exaggerated expressions and flamboyant dialogue delivery would carry well on stage but on film they look preposterous.

Kitu Gidwani & Aly Khan The sets show little imagination and for a plot 20 years in the future, the locations look remarkably like the present. The costumes don't change and the television set in the movie looks exactly like that of today. Naturally, when a few gadgets come into the movie they invoke laughs of incredulity from the audience.

As Deham lapses into what seems like ludicrous situations, you cannot help but feel sorry for a plot that has been mutilated carelessly.

What makes it an utter disaster is its combination of a terrible screenplay, stilted acting, poor dialogues and more important, an inability to infuse soul or imagination to a plot that in its very premise demands an abundance of it.


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