Same old familiar wine in a new designer bottle



(At Delite and other theatres in Delhi and elsewhere)

It is time for nostalgia all over again: nostalgia the Yash Raj way. So “Laaga Chunari Mein Daag”, essentially a 1970s-style film, comes replete with designer beauty: sunlight slips over wilting leaves, a ray sneaks in through little cracks in creaky doors, and so on. And for the first hour or so there is a languid air all round that is comforting. Even sorrow comes with an exquisite shade. As the cinematographer indulges himself, we have a visual treat.

But hey, “Laaga Chunari….” is not supposed to be just a beautiful showcase. Thank God! Narrating the timeless tale of a poor little small town girl who comes to the big city to make her ends meet, only to realise that men can be sharks, director Pradeep Sarkar’s film is yesterday speaking today’s language, dressed in today’s attire. And therein lies the film’s strength – and, ironically, also its weakness.

Rani Mukerji, false eyelashes and all, and Konkona Sen play lovey-dovey sisters in a simple Banaras household. Their father, Anupam Kher, does not earn a penny, and mother, Jaya Bachchan, is at the sewing machine under a dim light at night – hey, that’s a ‘70s touch too! They are poor – well, as poor as mainstream cinema allows Sarkar, which is essentially not much. So the two girls sing a song at the Ganga ghats, play pranks on their mom, and lo! the elder one sets out to earn bread and butter in the big, bad world of Mumbai. No prizes for guessing not many Good Samaritans are waiting for her out there.

But come on, Mr. Sarkar, why should every unskilled girl who comes to the city use her one and only asset? They did it in the 1950s cinema. We shed a tear. They did it again in the ‘60s and ‘70s. We understood. But here now again? And pray, why should their diction change so dramatically when the girls travel from Banaras to Mumbai and back? One moment they struggle with their English, next moment with their native language!

But leave these little jarring notes aside. Also forget that the film could have been better edited, which would have made a better impact on the discerning audience. And the fact that the men here – Abhishek Bachchan and Kunal Kapoor – are nothing more than mere props. But actually the film is better than good. The way the story progresses, it keeps you interested. One moment we want to know how Rani would cope with her new job of an escort, next moment we wonder how her mom would react to the work. Then there is the sibling angle with the little sister also landing up in the city with an MBA degree. All nice little interesting twists and turns. Where Sarkar is let down is by his leading actress.

Rani is quite close to being a fake here: she has ample scope to prove her talent as the film revolves round her, and there is barely a frame where she is not present, yet she does not go beyond two rehearsed expressions and cleavage revelation. Result? Konkona comes out trumps in the acting stakes. As the innocent girl, she is lively and plausible. As a caring sister, she is outstanding. She imparts little glances which make you want to see more of her.

So if you are inclined towards cinema that belongs to Dad’s generation but is stylised enough to be contemporary, “Laaga Chunari.…” is not a bad bargain. After his much talked about “Parineeta”, it’s not quite a stainless effort from Pradeep Sarkar. But surely a show worthy of a one-time visit.


(At Shiela and other Delhi theatres)

Priyadarshan’s good old factory stays in business. A couple of weeks after his “Dhol” fell silent, the prolific filmmaker is here with “Bhool Bhulaiyaa”, a film that many would have expected to laugh and giggle their way through. But no such luck.

Priyadarshan decides to take a step beyond the safe confines of the laughter zone and tries his hand at spooky fare. Too bad it does not work. Why? Simply because the director falls between the two stools.

Old habits die hard, so one moment the film has a dash of outrageous humour that is Priyadarshan’s trademark, and which seems to impart quite a thrill to the frontbenchers. Next moment, he concentrates on an atma that is haunting a huge haveli – another of Priyadarshan’s favourites.

More is the pity because over the years we have got accustomed to a certain brand of filmmaking from the man. True his stories are not original, and most of his films are adaptations of South Indian hits, but who cares as long as the laughs roll on, as long the faithful queue up at the box office?

Here, however, the laughs run dry pretty soon. And those which are there with those old hands at comedy, notably Akshay Kumar, Rajpal Yadav, Paresh Rawal and Asrani, seem pretty forced. Nothing is natural about the jokes. They are all predictable, many of them about the nether regions.

Even less natural is the fear element in the film. We are told there is an old room that stays locked in a haveli because a ghost resides there. And if somebody opens the door there is a calamity. But a foreign-returned Shiney Ahuja – consistently plastic – and his foreign wife – Vidya Balan, a loveable, adorable darling who fills frames with happiness and good cheer – do not believe in ghosts. So out they go and live in the haunted mansion. Soon it rains tragedies in the family in the form of a half-burnt sari, a fallen shelf, and the like! Who exactly is responsible for it? The adopted daughter – Amisha Patel, whimpering, as usual – or the psychiatrist, played with aplomb by Akshay Kumar? Or is it the rational couple?

Never mind, the film’s narration is tardy enough to keep you from being interested. And the way the film hurtles from one mis-hit to another, Priyadarshan soon can be a contender for the obscurity race. Remember “Dhol” did not resound to a great beat either. Hey, Ram Gopal Varmaji, you might just have competition.

Dear viewers, forget about “Bhool Bhulaiyaa”. Easy to say, easy to understand: the straight old path has its own joys.

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