NEW DELHI

From Taj Mahal to Harry Potter

ZIYA US SALAM

TAJ MAHAL - AN ETERNAL LOVE STORY

(At Delite and other Delhi theatres)

The grand old Taj Mahal has not disappointed a soul for well over 350 years. And Akbar Khan manages to keep the slate clean. Not a mean feat, come to think of it, considering he is talking of love, fearless and timeless, eternal and imperial. He has a story most people have heard about more often than they have about their own family tree. And he has a period that befits history textbooks, not the silver screen. Full credit to him, he manages to prove all the doubting Thomases wrong and comes up with a film that grows on you, a film that you should watch with zero expectations, and then sit back as pleasant surprises overtake you. This film has beauty in its frames, soul in its words, and more than a fleeting lilt in its music - not quite vintage Naushad but Naushad still! It may not please those who like their cinema fast or fast forward. It may not win too many brownie points from those married to art that is contemporary, not classical. But it is a feast for all those who like the drama of history in their cinema, who still swear by the triumphs and travails of emperors; people who still tell you that a man might score a few points with a pen but he is not quite a man till he has wielded the sword.

And it will doubtlessly appeal to all those not quite fearless but still Cupid-struck, those not abounding with grace but still married to a treasure called love. And yes, it will appeal to all those who know sorrow, for those are the souls who have tasted love too.

It has its drawbacks, yes: it lacks in novelty, it is a shade slow, and there are a couple of cinematic liberties taken in the name of international audiences. There is avoidable skin show for a moment or two.

And the drama is appealing without holding you in thrall. But then these are minor glitches, almost like dew that weeps and disappears even as the garden glows and grows. The compensations here are wondrous and wonderful.

So, is that all Akbar Khan's "Taj Mahal" is about? Well, there are delights to smile with, memories to keep that little ache going, and a cast that does justice to the characters. Again no mean feat, considering the Taj Mahal has been turned into a feature film twice in the past, and many still remember Pradip Kumar with one, just as others sing Roshan's "Jo wada kiya woh... " Here Zulfi Syed, he of youthful dash and ardour, and Kabir Bedi, he with many a spring and autumn in his attic, lend such flesh and blood to Shahjahan's persona that you live, smile and weep with them. If one brings to life the joy of first love, the other evokes sighs at the plight of an old man, once proud and august, now pitiful and helpless. Then there is Sonya Jehan as Arjumand Banu, the lady who gave Shahjahan 14 children in 19 years, then went into eternal sleep only to have her husband raise a unique monument to love.

Not to forget Pooja Batra, who has never been suspected of possessing too much acting talent. But she makes a good fist of the character of Noor Jehan, wilful and vile, winsome and vicious. Then of course, there are cameos by the likes of Manisha Koirala and Arbaaz Khan who fit in with grace, and leave without diluting the content. What's more, almost everybody speaks correct Urdu, the pronunciation is good, and the sets never appear gaudy. They appeal to the aesthete; they don't overpower the common man. It is the drama, not the setting that keeps you riveted.

Do watch Akbar Khan's "Taj Mahal". It is not just a relic from the past. It has a freshness of treatment that imparts it the joy of a breeze, the soul of a lovebird. Don't go looking for "Mughal-e-Azam" and you will not come back disappointed.

EK KHILADI EK HASEENA

(At Shiela and other Delhi theatres)

The swagger is there. The style is intact too. The only thing missing is charisma. And Feroz Khan in this kind of form, with barely a soul to appreciate his style of acting, presents a pathetic figure.

He is like an artiste playing to an empty hall. More appropriately, his language is not understood by a generation reared on some of the best special effects. And the novelty has worn off. Sorry to say it, but even Feroz Khan will all his trademark mannerisms is not able to make "Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena" worth a watch.

Director Suparn Verma's film is supposed to be a conman thriller, the kind we have got accustomed to in recent months, courtesy "Kaante", etc. But it lacks in punch, is not racy enough and does not have the drama to keep the adrenalin running.

It lacks in star appeal too - Fardeen Khan with four years of acting behind him can still look forward to useful days in an acting school. And whoever told Koena Mitra, or even Verma, that she is heroine material? Cover her skin, take away her pouts, and she is as lively as a fossil.The duo, playing con games throughout with the stakes going up all the time, reduce this film, which has some scope in storytelling, to an absolutely avoidable fare. The songs come and go, the sequences appeal fleetingly. But nothing adds up to raise the film to an enjoyable level.

In this week of innocent joys, unblemished beauty, you would be guilty of dereliction of duty as a cinemagoer if you were to opt for this stylish but shallow film.

HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE

(At PVR Plaza and other Delhi theatres)

In one of the early sequences, Harry announces, "I love magic". A more obvious statement has probably never been made. And still managed to tickle the audiences! Yes, Harry Potter loves magic. So do kids. Little surprise they love Harry Potter too.

And whenever Harry comes visiting, whether under the baton of Christopher Columbus or Mike Newell is immaterial. The magic never fades.

Not even in this one that comes with more than a dash of seriousness. It is awe-inspiring, and has enough pace and drama to keep you hooked to the proceedings. And Newell never lets the narrative slip or the pace slacken.

All these years Daniel Radcliff as Harry Potter has worn that little lost boy look. Now Harry is older, and is supposed to find his feet.

Here he even gets to ask a girl to be his date. Alongside, his challenges have grown too.Beyond flying broomsticks and witchcraft, he is supposed to handle other risks, and fob off the challenge of other boys -- bigger, older, stronger.

And there are not too many likely to extend a helping hand. But then Harry has seldom needed any.

Yes, Harry is older but not old enough to enter the Triwizard Tournament, under which three finalists, all above 17, have to be chosen for the final showdown. Harry does not enter his name. But the Goblet of Fire spits it out! So who played the trick? We know Harry will negotiate his way through, but his journey is intriguing still, his boyish charm is intact, and he manages to look shy without being silly too!

Watch this latest version of "Harry Potter", grimier, grittier. The action is better focused, even brilliant.

The cutesy days are over for the wonder boy, but then everyone grows up.

Enjoy this one for the innocence that is threatening to be part of history.

It seems magic never fades for the wizard, now into the fourth cinematic edition. The good times roll on.