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May 12, 1999


E-Mail this column to a friend Dilip D'Souza

Arzoo or Arzoo Not Going To Watch The World Cup?

So I'm sitting here, reading peacefully through the paper and skipping past its daily dose of World Cup related ads, which means I finish the paper in 2 minutes flat. Just another morning in a time of World Cup hoopla, no more. Everyone who makes anything at all is working hard to find their own link to the World Cup, and why not? I wonder only this: what happens on June 20, when the Cup runneth over and done with?

No matter. Mine's not the place to worry about those imponderables. But mine otherwise skipping eyes did happen to pause at an ad from Bajaj. "920 million Indians will be screaming every time India plays," it said, or I think it said and I don't care enough to go find the ad so you'll just have to take my word for it. "Don't be surprised if 13 million of them are screaming a little bit louder than the rest." Words to that effect, of course. And why should those 13 million be screaming a little bit louder? Because those are the Indians who own Bajaj products.

It's not that they are screaming their frustration with those products, you understand. No: "If you are really passionate about 2 wheelers, you undoubtedly own a Bajaj. You bring the same passion to other things. Like your favourite sport, cricket." Ah, I see. It's that common advertising technique at work: just make the ludicrous connection to the World Cup, no matter how ludicrous, just make it. You own a Bajaj. You are a passionate dudette. You scream passionately about the World Cup.


We must love ludicrous. How else can I explain this ad? How else can I explain a film I saw recently, an execrable thing called Arzoo? How else can I explain why I sat through all three hours of it?

Early on, there's an 'aaj se bees saal pehle' -- literally, "today from twenty years before" -- flashback. Now I know you probably have very little idea what I'm talking about. After all, Arzoo is only the 19,348th (I counted) Hindi film in history to include a flashback to 20 years ago. So how can I expect you to know what one is? You see, the film's story has its roots in certain dramatic events from all those years ago, and those dramatic events have to be spelled out. What a radical concept, yes sir. Who said our film directors were not innovative?

Anyway, the flashback opens with a shot of a man reading The Times of India in his garden. He folds it in time for the camera to zoom in on his face, but not quite quickly enough for you to miss a headline on the sports page. "Donald takes six wickets in Test against West Indies", it says, or words to that effect. This, of course, is the magnificent South African bowler Allan Donald, a name familiar to you even if you are not a screaming owner of a Bajaj product. Only, 20 years ago Mr Donald was all of 11 years old and while I am a great admirer of the man, I must admit I don't think he took six wickets against the West Indies when he was 11 years old. And even if he was a strapping child prodigy, 20 years ago the West Indies and South Africa had never played cricket against each other. Far from being 20 years old, that issue of the Times was less than four months old, dating to the recent WI-SA series in SA. Is it too much to expect a director to produce an authentic 20-year-old paper for his actor to read in a scene like this? Yes, because ludicrosity is at stake.

Still in that 20-years-ago flashback, an evil man pulls up outside the garden and one of his henchmen pulls out a gun and shoots the dude with paper. Dead. Which is, I need to tell you because I'm positive you didn't know, the dramatic event that is key to the whole film. Anyway, evil man and henchman pull up outside the garden in, and shoot from, a shiny Maruti van. Aaj se bees saal pehle, as we old-timers can tell you, there were no such vehicles in existence. Is it too much to expect a director to produce an authentic 20-year-old vehicle for his actors to shoot guns from? An Ambassador, say, the car that would fit the bill even for a 200-years-ago flashback scene? Yes again, because ludicrosity is still at stake.

Then the film is set in England without being set in England, if you know what I mean. That is, the families live in these fabulous English mansions with vast estates, the occasional view outside is full of London Transport buses and white English faces and such like. But as soon as there is some actual action outside, as in the hero chasing the heroine or kidnapping her son (his son too, but I wouldn't want to give that away), we're smack in the middle of Bombay's Lokhandwala estate, or Jogger's Park (where Joggers Park their cars) around the corner from where I live. Evidently, the high fliers of Arzoo step out of their English mansions straight into the rough and tumble of Bombay's roads. Remarkable life they must have.

Speaking of high fliers, the hero purports to be a pilot. He wanders over to meet the sub-hero (he dies in the end, but I wouldn't want to give that away) high in the control tower of a little airport that is, again, obviously in England. Sub-hero is fretting, because a strike by pilots -- one that has curiously exempted our hero -- is going to cause him millions of rupees in damages because these papers here in his hand simply must reach Cochin today and who's going to get them there if the pilots are on strike? Sub-hero being too stupid to consider non-striking lounging-about hero as a possibility, hero has to suggest it to him: "I'll take the papers for you," he says. "After all, Cochin is only a half-hour flight away." Now not even in a jet from Bombay is Cochin as little as half an hour away, and here our man takes off in a piddly little putt-putter from an airport in England, aiming to land in Cochin in half an hour. The world is getting smaller every day, apparently. Tell me another one.

Here's another one. Hero's little putt-putter is booby-trapped and meanders all over the sky in distress while hero fiddles futilely with switches and something above his left ear and an anonymous voice keeps saying: "Bail out, Vijay! Bail out!" Through the glass, you see the lush green English countryside stretching for miles in every direction as hero fiddles away futilely. Then the putt-putter explodes into the Interval and you get yourself some popcorn to take your mind off the Rs 70 you have wasted on this idiocy. Much later in the film, a brief scene shows hero's unconscious body (he doesn't die, but I wouldn't want to give that away) washed by the waves on the seashore near Cochin. How he landed there while falling out of a very English sky is not explained. Though -- silly me! -- there is the geographical oddity that Cochin is only half an hour away.

Back from a different half hour -- when you thought he was dead and good riddance too -- hero finds sub-hero's little temple of love to heroine: a gazebo crammed with drawings and photographs and diaries filled with love-notes -- all telling the world sub-hero urgently needs psychiatric help. Consumed by Bajaj-like passion and jealousy, hero vows revenge. He starts by setting fire to the gazebo. Now heroine has lived all her life on the estate where gazebo stands, but evidently has no idea it exists. But now that it is blazing to the ground, she runs unerringly to it and finds one of those diaries, scorched and full of holes. No matter, she is still able to read every single word in it. That's because sub-hero's love-notes were written with infinite care: around the holes and burn marks that he knew would appear one day. Not one word is absent, or so much as damaged. Heroine has lived all her life with sub-hero, but evidently this is the first time she realises just how much he loves her. She looks mightily impressed by his rare knowledge of exactly how to place words so they will escape being burned.

Later, heroine meets hero. She recognises him despite the vast bushy moustache he has grown during his sojourn in Cochin. Explains to him how wrong he is in seeking revenge. No time to waste, she says, because sub-hero is on his way to confront the evil men and his life is in danger (he dies in the end, but I wouldn't want to give that away). It is our hero who has teamed up with the evil men for revenge. Hero hangs his head in sorrow at his dreadful mistake, then picks up his bag and trots off to the rescue. No time to waste, he knows. Still, he does find time to shave off his moustache, change into a clown suit that makes him look like a prize dolt, and find a hang-glider to transport him. That's how you next see him, sailing ponderously to the rescue of sub-hero, fighting gang of evil men in an English cemetery, of all places.

Movie ends. You thank someone for small mercies. Even so, he refuses to refund your Rs 70.

By the way, I hope you noticed how I managed my own ludicrous connection to the World Cup. This was a column about the ludicrosity of Arzoo, but in this World Cup week, I knew I just had to insert a reference to the World Cup. I'm learning, don't you think? Enjoy the cricket. Scream loudly about your Bajaj scooter, but don't forget: it will get you to Cochin in half an hour.

Dilip D'Souza

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