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August 12, 1999

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A tale of two performers

A still from Kohram. Click for bigger pic!
Sharmila Taliculam

Now how different did you expect Kohram to be from the other patriotic films in the market?

Here you have all the ingredients -- Pakistani terrorists, brave soldiers and traitorous Indians. Kohram, coming so soon after Sarfarosh and Hindustan Ki Kasam, and ploughs no new furrow, just keeps going at it till the new ground broken begins to look like a rut.

Which is why evil thakurs, smugglers and rich daddies who are against Love in caps have given way to Pakistanis who have a one-point programme -- to do as much damage to India as possible. By the next film in this genre, we should have had enough...

Click for bigger pic!
What makes Kohram different from the other films? Well, perhaps the presence of Nana Patekar and Amitabh. This is where two actors, with the potential of being electrifying in the right circumstances, get together. They are good, very good.

The film begins with an assassination attempt. The failed killer is a colonel in the army, Balbir Singh Sodhi (Amitabh Bachchan) and the minister is Virbhadra Singh (Danny Denzongpa). Sodhi fails and is ostensibly killed while trying to get away. Or so the army and the minister believe.

A few years, Brigadier Bedi (Kabir Bedi) sees a man called Devraj Hathoda aka Dadabhai who bears an uncanny resemblance to Colonel Sodhi. He sends Major Ajit Arya (Nana Patekar) over to find out if it was just a doppelganger and not the real thing.

Arya pretends to be a Bengali journalist and what he learns and how is what the film is all about.

Click for bigger pic!
Not much of a story really, since you know the answer's available right at the beginning. The only interesting part is what Ajit Arya does when he learns the truth.

Despite the weakness in storyline, it's a pleasure seeing Nana Patekar and Amitabh Bachchan together for the first time. They really complement each other with no question of oneupmanship anywhere.

Nana, when he is not doing a take-off on Rambo, does well as the Bengali journalist. Fortunately, director Mehul Kumar has not let Nana do his stereotypical bit as the disillusioned, frustrated patriot. Instead, Nana actually has a comic turn here.

Click for bigger pic!
The experiment works well. Nana gets the accent right and even comes across well as the dancing hero, complete in mod jeans and flowing hair. Though Mukul Dev has been inserted to provide a bit of youth, you quite forget him altogether when Nana swings to Ahmed Khan's funky beat.

Tabu and Nana have a strange chemistry onscreen, a fact first noticed in Hu Tu Tu. Though they were not romantically paired there, in Kohram they appear well matched here despite their height difference.

They aren't as natural together as, perhaps, Kajol and Shah Rukh are elsewhere, but their ability to act well save their pairing from falling flat. Tabu as the corrupt inspector is good as usual, but her voice does her much damage.

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Amitabh is understated here and this is probably the only time when one feels he has done this deliberately. For, throughout the film, it's Nana who stands out. While Amitabh, with his legendary Bihari accent, times his lines well.

His scenes with Nana, as we said, are worth seeing. They even do a neat little number together, Hum hai Banaras ke bhaiyya, where both are a little uncertain about each other's fašades but maintain an appearance of normality.

After the debacle of Mrityudaata, Mehul Kumar was a little more mindful of Amitabh's age and wove this script accordingly. So even if Amitabh is one of the main characters, Nana is handed the better lines, leaving Amitabh's character a little weaker in the bargain.

As the story progresses, you note only these two characters; the story takes a back seat. And the easy exchange between them is a pleasure to watch.

Here you realise that all along Nana has been wasted in roles that demand drama and wordy excess. If you thought he was superb in Khamoshi as the dumb and deaf man, here he excels as the hero, gutsy, romantic, comic and dramatic by turn. You see the range the man has if he makes an effort.

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The background score is a little on the dramatic side, adding to the sombre mood at times. But when there isn't anything hot happening, it kind of jars on you. The songs are pretty average. One number that's quite amusing is Pagal hua, deewana hua with Nana and Tabu.

Jaya Prada comes onscreen after a long time. Though she is a little on the plump side now, she looks quite herself in a role that you would have miss if you had blinked. There's also Jackie Shroff doing a similar thing, in a guest appearance.

Mehul Kumar has exploited the talents of both Nana and Amitabh. But he has experimented only with Nana's character. Amitabh is generally left alone to provide his own brand of comedy.

Kohram would pass for quite an average film, hadn't it been for these two characters. If it's performance you are seeking, go right ahead and see it. If it's a great film, you want, forget it.

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