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September 5, 1998


Clinic All Clear-Rahul Dravid

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A royal pain

Syed Firdaus Ashraf

Govinda and Manisha Koirala in Maharaja. Click for bigger pic!
The heyday of the royal melodrama is past, you'd think. But long after privy purses became history, and the crowns were put away in mothballs, film-makers have been coming up with tales of adventure and mystery surrounding decadent thrones.

Of course, you couldn't have expected that of a Govinda movie, despite the name,Maharaja. You'd expect, at best, a comedy with some good dance and songs sequences. And then you find this:

Kohinoor (Govinda) is a prince whose parents are killed by Ranvir (Salim Ghouse), his uncle, who had his eye on the throne for some time.

But his governess Ameenabi (Aruna Irani) sacrifices her own son to save Kohinoor. She passes on the young Kohinoor to an ascetic (Kulbushan Kharbanda), who takes him to the Himalayas. Ameenabi's second son Ali (Raj Babbar) escapes Ranvir's clutches while Ameenabi is put into gyves for 20 years.

But you can't kill real spirit, can you? And though she's the victim, she keeps giving Ranvir the heebie-jeebies, telling him Kohinoor will come back with vendetta in his heart and a sharp sword in his hand. A view echoed by the local witch, played by Shashikala.

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The growing Kohinoor, meanwhile, gets to be quite adept at learning what the local birds and animals say. And better, he can melt down metal with just a look like that superhero of yore, Superman. But does Kohinoor take a job with Mukand Steel?

Not on your life. For some odd reason, his weird powers can't be used to line his own pockets but once.

Meanwhile, one Shelly Mathur (Manisha Koirala), a television hostess, is on the hunt for people as strange as him. She works for a strange channel owned by the father of one BPL Oye (Shakti Kapoor). BPL Oye is nuts about Manisha, follows her around and tells people -- untruthfully -- that they're engaged.

Shelly hears of this miraculous chap in the Himalayas and decides to go and hunt him out.

Around the same time, the ascetic is trying his damnedest to get Kohinoor married off. But the boy is waiting for the right gal to plight his troth to. Also, a prophet at a local fair has promised him that the love of his life is just about to make an entry.

Salim Ghouse and Manisha Koirala in Maharaja. Click for bigger pic!
And just as Kohinoor sets his eyes on Shelly, Cupids lets him have it with both barrels. Kohinoor tells the lady he's smitten mindless; and the canny woman simpers and suggests he come over to Bombay to meet her family.

For some reason, all of Bombay's media is all agog about the coming of this new messiah; there's nary a cynic in sight. But before Kohinoor descends the Himalayas, Ameenabi's second son Ali turns up to tell Govinda and the ascetic of Shelly's devious plans. He reminds them of the throne occupied by a capital sleazeball and, as a bonus, asks if Kohinoor couldn't eyeball the chains around Ameenabi away.

Kohinoor wakes up as it were, and heads for his kingdom, laid to waste by Ranvir's men. Children are being forced into becoming junkies and farmers are bonded labour. Moreover, tourists are told, hey, no problem. You want to shoot an animal, just go right ahead, don't mind us.

Irks Kohinoor, this, since he has this peculiar thing for animals -- four legs good, never bad being the credo he lives by. He frees old maid Ameenabi, who doesn't look at all bad for the incarceration; maybe the jail cosmetician harks back to the old regime. He has just challenged bad boy Ranvir to a showdown when Shelly turns up again, now convinced her future lies with this miraculous freak. She decides to hang around in the jungle and to let the serial and its producer go hang.

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Kohinoor goes on the high horse, since he was conned earlier, but then decides it isn't worth the trouble finally.

Meanwhile, he finds the children taken off drugs have gone into withdrawal, There are no medicines in the village. If the hero uses his power to help the children, who are, technically-speaking, his subjects, he will lose his powers.

"After all, maharajas lives for their subjects," he reasons, and uses his power to speed up the process. And when Ranvir hears of this, he comes over, and captures, Shelly, Ali and just to make his point clear, all of Kohinoor's army.

Kohinoor is free, but doesn't know how he can win back his kingdom. Saying more would spoil things for you. If they aren't spoilt already.

Govinda has done his job, but the weak script, drawing from a hundred different sources, is humdrum. Manisha seems to be having a party in the jungles but that's about all. And there's one pretty warm scene between the two that the censors must have fast forwarded.

Click for bigger pic!
The film is badly edited, sequences of scenes often being pretty disjointed. But the cinematography by Madhu Ambat is excellent. Particularly impressive was a chase on horseback, and some grand vistas of jungle and river. But the animation involving the animals was visibly fake and terrible to watch.

Raj Babbar and Prem Chopra, who played the secondary villain, are wasted in the film. Shakti Kapoor has overacted -- so what's new? -- and, barring a few scenes, is unbearable. Shashikala and Kulbhushan Kharbanda too are wasted.

Nadeem-Shravan's music, coming a year after the Gulshan Kumar murder and Nadeem's departure, is not particularly impressive other than for the title song.

If you want to see it, you can. But don't tell us we told you to.

Film: Maharaja Producer: Narinder Muckija
Director: Anil Sharma
Cinematography: Madhu Ambat
Music: Nadeem-Shravan
Stars: Govinda, Manisha Koirala, Shashikala, Prem Chopra, Aruna Irani, Shakti Kapoor, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Raj Babbar, Salim Ghouse.

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