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February 21, 2000


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A violent vision

M D Riti

Dr Rajakumar and Jaya Prada Donít even think of going near the theatres for at least 10 days," said Puneet Rajakumar in shocked tones, his voice sounding faint as he spoke on his cellphone from Mysore. "My own family will not try that. And of course, we are not going to have a preview. The fans would find out in a trice and mob the place. In fact, I cannot even reveal the release date to you more than 24 hours in advance."

And so, I entered a theatre for a morning show on a quiet weekday, a week after Shabdavedi, Rajakumarís comeback film -- after a gap of five years, was released. On the first day, a hapless theatre, whose audio system the fans were displeased with, was forced to down shutters in a hurry and open again after revamping its entire system at high cost in two days. Tickets were being sold in black for 10 times the actual price, which is not too common in Bangalore. Fans pledged that they would catch at least one show of the film in a theatre every day for a week, as a gesture of their hero worship for their cult figure.

From the first scene on, I felt almost as if I was back in the 1980s, sitting in a dark theatre watching a Rajakumar film. The lines on his face might have been more pronounced, and his gait significantly less springy. But other than that, the evergreen hero appeared to be in good form.

The storyline and its handling added to the feeling of deja vu, as it lacked both the slickness and pace that Kannada movies today have. One recalled that the film's script was prepared five years ago, based on police officer Vijay Sasnurís novel about an honest cop. Perhaps director S Narayan and producer Parvathamma (Rajakumarís wife) deliberately decided to keep to Rajakumarís old style of films, without realising that audience tastes have changed now.

Rajakumar with director S Narayan When the hero makes his first appearance on screen, for example, the camera zooms in for a close-up of his shoes first and then slowly pans up to his face. The plot too, is far more simplistic than is usual now, and the whodunnit part of the film is easy to guess. The villain being an identical twin, and hence a mirror image of another senior police officer, is a definite throwback to the suspense movies of the '60s and '70s. The use of school pencils as drug containers also looks unimaginative.

The story is quite straightforward. It is about Sandeep (Rajakumar), an almost unbelievably upright police officer crusading against narcotics. The man is so straight that when his wife (Jaya Prada) refuses to reveal the identity of a key link in the drug ring that he is investigating, he lashes her to a chair in his lock-up and beats her unconscious with his lathi! Eventually, he overcomes all the usual attempts to throw him off the chase, like tarnishing his reputation and implicating him in lock-up death cases, and tracks the ring down to its last man.

Shabdavedi lacks the pace and focus of a Sarfarosh or a Kuradhi Punal (Kamal Haasanís film about a policemanís crusade against terrorism), as it spends much footage on the heroís family life, flashbacks of his courtship with his now middle-aged wife, Vatsala, holidaying with his family in Kashmir and what not. Even his dilemma about choosing between duty and family is presented through his confrontation with his wife.

What is new, and rather surprising, in this film, is the amount of violence and torture that it contains. When Rajakumar beats a goonda in the filmís very first fight (there are several), he vomits yellow bile. Then, he personally inflicts all kinds of realistic, but undoubtedly sadistic torture on suspects, ranging from beating them on the soles of their feet, to punching them all over, and finally releasing hungry bloodsuckers into their pants. There is one particularly gory scene in which the corpse of a lock-up detainee with a blood-stained crotch is shown, although the killer is not the hero, but someone else.

There are four songs featuring the hero and heroine, at least two of which are fantasy-like duets. In both these, you have the lead couple undulating gently to the music, quite a change for audiences who are used to seeing the gymnastics of young heroes like Rajakumarís own son, Shivaraj, during dance sequences. One misses Jayapradaís graceful dances of yore, and wonders whether heroines should not after all retire at their peak and not return to the screen when they are twice their old girth.

When the police refuse to stand by their man, the hero goes directly to the people, and builds up an army of teenagers who sport red T-shirts with the legend, Sandeep Sene (Sandeepís army). It is these young people who ultimately help to trap the villain.

This situation gives the makers of the movie an opportunity to present a song, rather in the tradition of MGR and Rajinikant, with hidden meanings, displaying the support of the masses that the actor enjoys in real life. Janarinda naanu mele bandhe/ Janaranne nanna devarende (I came up because of the people, and the people are my God. If the people stand behind me, I am willing to fight any battle) -- he sings, striding along in front of a peopleís army. However, his family and friends insist that Rajakumar has no political ambitions, and that he is not referring to any impending electoral battles.

Whenever Rajakumar strides into the villainís den, the footage is almost slow motion, portraying the hero in a majestic light. The audience seems to support and appreciate all this, if the whistles and coins that fly through the air whenever this happens are any indication. The background title track of Baaro baaro Srikrishna baaro (come, Lord Krishna) adds to this image.

Feminists certainly would not like this film, as not only does the police officer hero beat up his wife, the lady in question subsequently forgives him his bestiality and even begs his forgiveness for having caused him so much pain by her silence! The women in the film are all depicted as rather frivolous, materialistic and unable to cope in emergencies.

Rajakumar with son Shivaraj Kumar It seems unlikely that Rajakumar will be able to present his next movie, Bhakta Ambareesha, to his fans before the end of this year, as he had planned. This was the movie that the legendary star had intended to be his first comeback film, and not Shabdavedi, which can best be described as an action thriller.

After that, Shivaraj Kumar hopes that his father will star in his own debut film as director. If Shivarajís direction displays any of the youth and panache that his acting does, one can expect more from this film than from the others.

The return of Dr Rajakumar
The music review

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