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FIRST, IT is important to understand who Ram Gopal Varma's ``Naach" really belongs to. Kiran Reddy, a trained cinematographer from America, approaches Ram Gopal Varma to produce his film. Varma is so fascinated by the idea that he tells the media that he will be ``co-directing" the film with Kiran. Till the last schedule in the last week of October, Varma maintains that he's a co-director.

However, when the film releases two weeks later, critics from all over the country heap lavish praise on Ram Gopal Varma for his "most sensitive film" ever, and for "freshness of thought." Kiran Reddy is duly credited as a cinematographer. Maybe Kiran did not want credit or maybe Ram Gopal Varma really called the shots, ``Naach," ironically, is a film about values. The prime conflict in the film is between conventions and fresh thought.

It is a story where boy, who believes in Bollywood conventions (Abhishek Bachchan as Abhi), meets girl, with a mind of her own (Antara Mali as Rewa), on a bus, on the way back from a production company.

Abhi wants to be an actor but cannot dance. And Rewa wants to be a choreographer but refuses to conform.

What follows is a romance between Ram Gopal Varma's impeccable direction and Kiran's choreography of life. Everyday life, in `Naach,' is a rich and colourful tapestry larger than the regular movies.

Varma's style soon succumbs to soul. In no time, Abhi makes it big. And soon enough, there's a clash of egos, ``Abhimaan" style and the lovers drift apart.

Thereon, the movie begins to sag. Life does not seem colourful and vibrant any more. The bleak, intense tone of the film, and the abstract nature of Rewa's dancing style, soon have you analysing the film even before it is over.

A great effort, commendable for concept (Kiran Reddy for his freshness) and for the guts (Ram Gopal Varma for attempting to make this film which only a seasoned choreographer like Farah Khan could have done justice to), you think momentarily. But the inevitable happens. Kiran's original idea surrenders to Ram Gopal Varma's convention. A ``Rangeela" ending is recreated, almost.

Abhishek Bachchan is spontaneous, being Abhi seems to come naturally to him, whether he's underplaying the guy who is in awe of the wonderful woman he's in love with or when he's showing his frustration at her ideals.

Antara Mali as a rarely-smiling Rewa is brilliant. In fact, she's first-rate in bringing out the nuances that make Rewa the glum-looking idealistic passionate dancer she is, fiercely protective of her space and fiery in the dance sequences. She beats Urmila in body flexibility through her jazz-meets-yoga-meets-aerobics `naach' and in the costumes too.

But don't let the show of skin put you off: Varma and Reddy re-introduce sensuality and aesthetics in Indian cinema with their sensitive portrayal and choice of frames, be it the tender kiss in the rain that unites the lovers or when Rewa walks out on Abhi half-way into their drive together in his new car.

There's plenty of poetry on screen, if you are in the mood to notice. For a movie with `Celebrating Life' for a tagline, ``Naach," on the contrary, is dark, moody, intense and monotonous in parts.


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