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RESPONSIBLE CINEMA: John Matthan's "Shikhar", starring Ajay Devgan and Shahid Kapoor, is laudable for purpose.
RESPONSIBLE CINEMA: John Matthan's "Shikhar", starring Ajay Devgan and Shahid Kapoor, is laudable for purpose.

ZIYA US SALAM

SHIKHAR(At Shiela and other Delhi theatres)Bollywood has often been accused of nursing reality phobia, that in a land where millions do not get a drop of water to drink, film stars make millions pedalling Pepsi and Coca-Cola. And once in a while when Bollywood does make bold to embrace life, realism often ends up as a synonym for boring. About a year ago Ashutosh Gowariker tried the mix-and-match route with "Swades". Now it is John M. Matthan's turn.

Six years after "Sarfarosh", the man has lost little of his sobriety, absolutely none of his class. He still is a master craftsman. However, six years is a long time for rust to be allowed to gather. And his editor's scissors suffer. Consequence? The film starts off as a moving foray into real India - a land where you can drive 20 kilometres in a metropolis without coming across a local soft drink, a land where amusement parks greet you off the national highways but potable water is another matter - but soon degenerates into a documentary style narration.

The intention is noble, only the implementation is at times tardy. And the show is full of slack that needs urgent editing.

Fair enough, but what is "Shikhar" all about? Truth to tell, it is about the India that is degenerating, an India we seem to have turned a willing blind eye to.

It is about the country where the poor are becoming poorer even as the rich get richer, indulging in pillage and plunder. It is the story of one such builder, a man who hobnobs with politicians by day, and has a pretty dame on his arm by night. He is also a man who wears the cloak of social responsibility and progress. His dream city, carved out of the green belt after driving out the local inhabitants for a pittance, will have a swimming pool, a casino, a gym and a golf course! There is just a slight problem: there is an ashram in the middle of the proposed city, a place where the orphans get shelter, and Mother Nature gets devoted beings, caring, sharing.

Ajay Devgan, all streaked hair and incandescent shirts, plays a builder you would love to hate. But the film is actually the coming of age for young Shahid Kapoor. As the son of the ashram's guruji, he is initially innocent to the ways of the world. He is credible in being gullible. Then he is even more plausible as he realises the real intentions of the builder mafia. He is a winner here.

Which is not easy in what is essentially a film showcasing Devgan's evil streak.

Of course, we get nice supporting acts from Bipasha Basu and Amrita Rao too, but it is Pakistani actor Jawed Sheikh as the guruji who gets maximum points for the silent dignity he manages to impart to a role that could as well have been easily forgotten.

Watch "Shikhar" to know the pitfalls on the path to the pinnacle. Watch it to see that without being able to reproduce the magic of "Sarfarosh", Matthan can still put together an engaging film. However, make sure you have patience. It is a slow, real slow, film at times. But it is a hitch that can be forgiven keeping the larger purpose in mind.

"Shikhar" is responsible cinema, one that tells us that while Bollywood might be married to larger-than-life entertainment, once in a while it has a fleeting affair with reality.

MR. PRIME MINISTER(At PVR Saket and other Delhi theatres)The veterans hold sway in this film that takes you back in time in more ways than one. Giving Dev Anand's ageless hero some company is A.K. Hangal, waving his red flag, mouthing Communist slogans. But hold on, the film is so amateurish and technically poor that it seems one is watching some flop show of the 1960s or early 1970s.

It is theatrical at its best, absolutely, insufferably ridiculous at its worst.

It is the story of a newspaper vendor who dresses up like a tramp, but puts uneasy questions to all aspiring MPs. He beats them all in elections, only to find things getting murkier - just the kind of story a teenager would write on a bad day. And Dev Anand, complete with his tramp look, is completely faded and frazzled. He is a travesty of a once majestic star.

Of course, others like Tara Sharma as the Al Qaeda girl, Prem Chopra and Milind Gunaji, etc., do their bit to take this film to the level of relentless tedium.

Stay away from "Mr. Prime Minister". It is politically naïve, technically shallow, emotionally blank. Simply a waste of time, money and energy.

GOAL!(At PVR Saket and other Delhi theatres)First let's get the clichés out of the way - and this Danny Cannon film has them in plenty. Santiago Munez is an illegal immigrant into America. A guy from the back alleys, he has some talent for soccer. Amazingly, he finds a talent scout too. And lands up with Newcastle on a one-month trial. We all know the underdog will come up trumps; after all it is a rags-to-riches tale. And that soon the world will be his oyster.

The clichés out of the way, it is an interesting, even an exhilarating film. The sport here may not be spellbinding, but the story moves at an even pace. And Kuno Becker brings to the screen all the little dreams, the anguish of disappointment, the elation of success in his portrayal of Santiago, the famished lad who would be feted by the world.

Don't go looking for novelty in this film. Instead take comfort in the predictable, the plausible. Enjoy watching the young boy find his mark in a men's sport.

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