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June 10, 1999

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Pretty beastly

Sanjay Dutt and Juhi Chawla in Safari. Click for bigger pic!
Sharmila Taliculam

There's something about jungle movies that seems to lure lovers of both the exotic and the outlandish. And it would be a rare film that has the protagonist miss a possible scrap with the local fauna.

But Safari misses on the fun, adventure and thick, impenetrable jungles and, instead, unrolls before you some splendid landscapes over which runs a dull story that looks like a cross between Crocodile Dundee and Phantom.

The story would have been much better if there had been a little more focus. A safari itself would have given the film its raison d'etre hadn't it begun to evangelise on the noble savage and the destructive effects of what passes civilisation.

The story could have been good if it was focussed on any one thing. The word 'safari' should have sufficed to give us a glimpse of what fun the film could have provided. But here the director Jyotin Goel tried to cram in too much. And he made a right mess of it.

Click for bigger pic!
The film kicks off showing Anjali Aggarwal (Juhi Chawla) and her mother (Tanuja) shooting instructions to minions over the phone. It transpires they are businesswomen who want to set up a factory on an island called Manjira.

Captain Kishen (Sanjay Dutt) is the spoke in the wheel. With true mod Greenpeace-induced fervour, he brings up the possible fallout of such a unit on the environment -- ecosystems could be irreparably damaged with the stability of species being rocked up and down the food chain. So he and a priest (Raza Murad) lead the rest of the islanders in revolt.

Anjali decides to convince the captain of the beneficial effects of an Indian MNC, particularly in civilising the populace. But the islanders have their own kind of education provided by the priest; hell, they even have that ultimate creation of civilised society -- television. All that gives you the distinct feeling that Anjali's idea of civilisation are bungalows, cars, and pollution, not uncomfortable huts and impassable forests.

She arrives with a bang, crashing onto the island. But despite all the protected urban living, she comes out safely and, in short term, goes trekking in the jungle with the captain. The result is predictable -- love in a land of mosquito bites.

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As happens in so many safari-type flicks, the woman -- who usually behaves like a na´ve idiot and screams prettily when in trouble -- has to be rescued time and again by the hero -- usually a squint-eyed, lantern-jawed thing that mumbles from the corner of his mouth like a victim of mandibular dysfunction. Just here the woman's a hard-nosed merchant while the man's the na´ve rural hunk.

But he still has to haul the heroine out of the jaws of a crocodile, and then, of course, kill the darned thing too. Indefatigable, Anjali goes on to get caught in quicksand and, when rescued again, gets in the way of what looks like a misogynistic gorilla. There are elephants around everywhere too, the Asian variety. Don't ask those excessively practical questions about where on earth could an Asian elephant share the turf with a gorilla. If you do, you ought to be boning up on the Britannica, not watching Safari.

Juhi, who constantly hauls along a video camera, accidentally manages to record villain Gwana (Sharat Saxena) committing murder. So he follows her and tries to kill her. We see his point. Here he goes into a jungle with few inhabitants to finish a job in peace and down comes something that looks like a BBC sub-junior correspondent saying the non-verbal equivalent of cheese.

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The other attractions of the island include some snakes, a special herbal tea, and islanders clad in beads and colourful sarongs that would make the Hawaiians retire to the bushes in shame.

Being the type who lets heart rule over head, Anjali squashes love and returns to Bombay. But the captain too follows in her wake.

And as any Bollywood ruralite should, he looks bewildered and his simplicity makes the sophistry of the city seem oh-so artificial. And just so that you get it, the point is rubbed in time and again. Ah, for the simple pleasures of a bludgeon on the head.

Anyway, Anjali's mother eyes the captain with a jaundiced eye and decides that since the end justifies the means, she should create a misunderstanding to prise the lovebirds apart. And thus the story meanders on, without even a gorilla to relieve the monotony.

This is one of the films Sanjay Dutt had signed before his imprisonment in 1993. Jyotin Goel was perhaps one of those loyal directors who decided to wait for his hero's return before shooting again. Goel suffered a blow when Shafi Inamdar, who was playing Juhi's father, died unexpectedly. The role was eventually done by Suresh Oberoi.

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He had signed on Juhi when she was in the midst of Yash Chopra's Darr. All the delays must have frayed Goel's nerves, making him decide to complete the film in an indecent hurry. And it shows.

The Periyar sanctuary in Kerala is used in the shots of the jungle. And it does much to bring visual relief to the first half of the film.

Particularly painful are the graphics. We don't know why film-makers insist on having them even when they aren't necessary. The results include some scene where the actors seem to be suffering from a collective attack of jaundice.

Goel has reshot Dutt's scenes in the film to avoid them looking dated. Dutt and Chawla have performed competently enough. They probably were having fun anyway. Only Juhi's pink getup has you gnashing your teeth after a point.

One character the film could have done without was that Mohnish Behl. He plays the city slicker who woos Juhi and sneers at the island-bred captain. And there is the villain too, who too appears to be an add-on.

There's so much Hindi masala that the film ends up looking far worse than it need have. The songs aren't worth hearing, leave alone remembering. There's nothing in the film apart, maybe, from the elephants, to keep you interested. But as a work of fiction... Ah well.

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