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NOW THIS is a film that would have made excellent viewing with tighter editing, fewer songs and elimination of some of the long drawn out scenes. It has panache, it has a decent story line and it has some really good performances especially from those you do not expect! Plus there are areas that refreshingly do not deviate too much from reality and go into clichés most Hindi films (or rather should one say the mainstream films) are wont to do.

Akshay Kumar in "Aankhen"... a sterling performance.

V. R. Pictures, Gaurang Doshi Productions, and presented by Vinod Doshi, ``Aankhen" is not a run of the mill film. The story is based on a Gujarathi play, ``Andhalo Paato" but has strong shades of Hollywood especially in concepts such as electronically operated vaults and gates, banking attitudes, training for a target, and the performances themselves are a deviation from the routine. What is more, the suspense and the tension that get diluted in many films that start well, are well maintained right up to the end - the climax, especially, is very interesting.

Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) has devoted his entire life to the bank he has worked for. A stickler for perfection he is also known for a schizophrenic streak that makes him unpredictable and violent at times. For instance one day he sees the cashier quietly putting one note into his pocket while dispensing an amount to a long time client and beats him up. And gets dismissed for violent behaviour.

Angered and bruised, Vijay plans to avenge his humiliation by robbing the bank he loves so much. He blackmails Neha (Sushmita Sen), who trains blind people to achieve marvellous things, into taking on the task. It also involves the use of three blind men - Vishwas Prajapati (Akshay Kumar), Arjun Verma (Arjun Ramphal) and Ilias (Paresh Rawal) who will carry out the actual robbery. Now, even if they get caught who will believe that blind men are capable of robbing a bank?

And so the training begins - in a carefully reconstructed recreation of the entire bank with the three men - each different in his own way and possessing a charm and skill of their own. Neha is their teacher who painstakingly goes about her job constantly monitored by Vijay who remains unknown to the others. Once the training is over it is time to go into action and you'd think they will do a perfect job and that is the end of the film! But, no. It is at this point that the real drama begins.

This is director Vipul Shah's first film and it promises a lot. He has a feel for narration and an eye for technical finesse. He has made that extra effort to extract good performances from his cast, which is actually quite a major thing considering he is dealing with stars and images. What is more, he has given the right doses of romance and comedy without letting them hinder the flow. We have seen Amitabh in various shades - the negative is what he is attempting these days. In this film, he is quite something.

Beginning in a rather routine fashion - grim looks and the menace not quite evident - he builds up into a character bordering on the maniacal. And he has outdone himself with a performance that is not only gripping but also convincing.

Akshay Kumar has come a long way from his earlier mindless presentations. Here he has given his character a sheen that leaves you feeling quite amazed at his grasp. The way he consistently cocks his head to listen to sounds lends that touch of realism to his visual handicap. Arjun Ramphal looks terrific and as the person drawn unwittingly into this game could have done better - but then the scope is limited. Paresh Rawal is the surprise package. He is decently funny, delivers his lines perfectly and gives the audiences a memorable Iliyas.

For a change Sushmita is refreshingly normal in her responses and has given a good account of herself especially in the scenes where she trains the three men.

Camera work by Ashok Mehta is excellent in parts - the interiors look very international in tones of brown and beige. The filming of the song in the bar - with Kashmira Shah in a saucy number "Chalka Chalka", is indeed striking if not anything else. Music by Adesh Shrivatsava and Jatin Lalit is passé but it does not matter.

The background score, however, could have been more subtle keeping in mind the general tone of the film - this is one habit background scorers need to get out of - it is not necessary to fill every frame with sounds and music - sometimes silence can be very powerful and can enhance the tension of a scene. Also starring in the film are Bipasha Basu in a brief appearance more for the sizzle than for the story, Aditya Panscholi as the inspector investigating the robbery - not much of a role other than shouting orders except in the final scene where dialogue delivery makes for that twist- the twosome of Delnaz and her admirer were most irritating and one of the regressive patches in the film. On the whole an eminently viewable film!


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