Friday, April 27, 2007

Suneel Darshan: Commercial but not so classy

A successful Bollywood director was once asked: So should stars do a different kind of cinema?

His response: Different is a wrong word. We should stop striving to make different films and concentrate on making classy, commercial films.

I think that quote pretty much sums up what Suneel Darshan, the subject of this post (and the director referred to above), tries to do as a film-maker. It’s a bit odd that he has a problem with ‘different’ films, though. I mean, it’s one thing to prefer to do things a certain way, and quite another to discourage doing things differently. But anyway, in past posts, I have praised the adventurousness and edginess of Ram Gopal Verma’s work, and the charm and simplicity of the films made by the late Hrishikesh Mukherjee. I decided to do a post on Darshan’s films when I realized that of the eight films he has directed so far (the most recent being ‘Shakalaka Boom Boom’ (SLBB)), I’ve seen five. Not bad. But I’ll admit that I haven’t consciously sought them out.

Interestingly, Suneel is not the only filmmaker in his family. His brother Dharmesh has directed successful films like ‘Dhadkan’ and ‘Raja Hindustani’. Also, his son is about to enter the industry as an actor – I wonder if Suneel and his kid will be able to pull off a Roshan-type debut successfully.

When I think of the Suneel Darshan movies I’ve seen, I would definitely say they are ‘commercial’ – they are very formulaic, deliberately aimed at achieving box-office success by pushing the buttons of the target cinema-going audience. I’m no snob, and I know that filmmakers need to eat, so I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. However, I do think there’s a problem when filmmakers, in the quest for commercial success, start to insult the intelligence of their audience. I think cinema-goers are a lot smarter than some directors give them credit for – and Darshan, unfortunately, seems to be one of those directors.

In the interview referred to above, Darshan talks about making ‘classy’ commercial movies. I’m not sure he’s not achieved a ‘classy’ touch to his movies – commercial they are, but classy? When I think of ‘class’; I think of elegance, understatement, sophistication, style, grace and taste. These are not words that truly describe the Darshan movies I’ve seen. The films are not irredeemable, they do have certain things to recommend them, but classy? Hmm… the jury’s still out on that one. Having said that, though, he can make an entertaining (if slightly shallow) type of film when he tries.

There are some common denominators to the Darshan films I’ve seen – catchy, trendy music; stereotypical characters, gloss (think snazzy clothes and loads of make-up), some skin and sexiness, some good drama, lots and lots of heightened emotion, romance, a bit of gore, cheesiness galore, and love scenes that go a little further than most Bollywood films (see the Akshay/Karisma scenes in ‘Mere Jeevan Sathi’ and ‘Ek Rishtaa’).

Speaking of Akshay Kumar and Karisma Kapoor; like every other filmmaker, Darshan has his usual suspects. He seems to love Akshay very much (of the 5 Darshan movies I’ve seen so far, Akki shows up in 4), Lolo, Bobby Deol and (in smaller doses) Juhi Chawla and Mohnish Behl. Darshan seems to have shifted his focus from Akshay to Bobby a bit – he gave Bobby a role previously reserved for Akshay (‘Barsaat’, which would probably have fared much better with Akshay in the lead role – not because Akki is better than Bobby, but because he’s much cheesier), and also gave him a lead role in SLBB. Darshan has said in an interview (can't find it right now) that he thinks Bobby is best actor in the Deol family (needless to say, I disagree).

Anyway, on to the Darshan movies I’ve seen (in the order in which I viewed them):

‘Ek Rishtaa – The Bond of Love’: I’ve blogged about this movie before here… I liked this film, and it’s the Darshan movie I’ve liked the most. Its music was quite sweet, I thought most of the songs were very good. The story was fine, until about three-quarters of the film, when it just seemed to get out-of-control – it felt like the writer was grasping at straws, trying to wrap it all up in a hurry. On balance, though, the story was not bad at all.

The star cast, led by Amitabh Bachchan and Rakhee, worked together quite effectively. I liked the way Akshay and Amitabh interpreted the father/son relationship of their characters. Mohnish Behl and Juhi Chawla did quite well too.

Karisma (playing Nisha) and Akshay (playing Ajay) were a cute couple and had nice chemistry together (I love their ‘Mohabbat Ne’ number), but the biggest problem I had with the film revolved around these characters. The story was quite sexist in the way Nisha’s place in Ajay’s family was treated. Nisha made her share of mistakes and apologized for them – but Ajay treated her pretty badly as well, and never apologized or even admitted to being wrong. Their story was also quite shoddily resolved, which was pretty annoying – after spending a lot of time on how the couple got together and the crisis they faced, the resolution was pretty much thrown away. In fact the entire ending was unsatisfactory – the closing scene is particularly cheesy, unrealistic and irritating, and detracts from the overall standard of the film.
Having said all that, I liked ‘Ek Rishtaa’.

Oh, ‘Jaanwar’. I said a bit about it here. It’s impossible to take this film seriously, really. But its heart is in the right place. The film is one big stereotype, packed to the gills with many smaller stereotypes that don’t always work well together. But, its heart is in the right place. ‘Jaanwar’ opens with a vicious car-chase, making it clear that this is one of the films that won Akshay his ‘action hero’ stars when he was younger. Then we see that Akshay’s character (‘Badshah’) has been trapped in a life of crime since childhood, by an evil ‘Fagin’ (from Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’) type. Of course, this is a respected Bollywood plot device – I recently saw it brilliantly deployed by Raj Kapoor in ‘Awaara’ in the ’50s.

Before long, we come to a scene with Karisma Kapoor (playing ‘Sapna’) dancing for money. She too is oppressed, by a mean uncle who’s greedy enough to sell her body to the neighbourhood lecher. Naturally, Badshah comes to her rescue just in time – but oops, I forgot to mention that before that, she had saved his life and nursed him very prettily, so he’s kinda returning the favour. Of course, they fall in love… but things don’t go smoothly for their relationship...

To cut a long story short, Badshah, so sadly led into crime in his youth, serendipitously gets the opportunity to bring up an adorable little kid on the straight and narrow – and of course, he abandons crime in order to do so. Unfortunately, the kid actually belongs to a young couple (played by Mohnish Behl and Shilpa Shetty), who, when they find him, are desperate to get him back. Meanwhile, the Fagin-type that was abandoned by Badshah re-discovers him and wants his pound of flesh. Sapna manages to return to the story as well. CRISIS! And resolution – everyone ends up happy somehow (except for the bad guys, of course). And did I mention that Johnny Lever is in there for laughs? Ha ha.

Yup, that’s the kind of film ‘Jaanwar’ is – it has a little bit of every major Bollywood stereotype out there in its mix, and it doesn’t always work, but you just can’t bring yourself to dislike it. It’s really cheesy, but it’s also quite entertaining. And the earnestness of the actors makes it work, somehow. There are some cute moments, some amusing ones that are actually meant to be serious (the ‘comic’ moments are actually not funny at all – Lever is wasted in this one), and it’s so funny to see Akshay sporting some luscious long brown tresses (they made him look sooo funny), wielding a hammer, and shouting angrily and passionately at every opportunity (one thing I will say for Akshay: he is game for everything, no matter how mad or daft – a bit like Salman actually – and the ridiculous, silly part of me totally respects that). In short, it’s all harmless good fun.

‘Dosti: Friends Forever’: I blogged about ‘Dosti’ here… the leads were not bad but the details were pretty appalling. I still can’t get over the fact that the kids aged 20 years but the world stayed exactly the same. And the female roles were really bland and uninteresting – I can almost conclude that Darshan doesn’t have much use for women in his films – he seems to use them a bit like fashion accessories – a tear from a neatly-kajal-ed eye here, a flash of leg there, a little conflict over a very undeserving man there.

Barsaat’: I’ve also blogged about this one before – here. Bobby Deol was miscast, but Bipasha Basu was even more so. The film just doesn’t work.

Humans or dolls? You decide.

‘Mere Jeevan Sathi’:
My most recent expedition into Darshan’s world, and one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a while. Released last year, MJS is the story of a woman (played by Karisma), who is obsessed with an up-and-coming singer (played by Akshay Kumar: a very cringeworthy performance, in a role that’s too young for him). Unfortunately for the obsessed lover, our singing hero is already in a serious relationship with his high school sweetheart (played by Amisha Patel). This, naturally, does not stop him from making a mistake that sorta messes up his life for a while.

These poses by Akshay in 'Mere Jeevan Sathi' still leave me absolutely gob-smacked.

What can I say about this film? It’s really trashy and the story is just dumb and annoying – from beginning to end. The performances are nothing to write home about – Akki, in particular, makes you cringe – he is just so OTT and cheesy. Lolo and Amisha are given the most horrendous, hackneyed lines ever. Lolo is not bad in some bits, but she totally overdoes the ‘femme fatale’ thing and becomes a sort of caricature. Amisha is way too sweet – any sweeter and she’d turn into a big ol’ bag of sugar. And the Akshay/Karisma love scene I mentioned earlier in this post probably was striving for tasteful sensuality, but it’s really just trashy and a bit eeuw.

There is so much to dislike in MJS, so many scenes and moments that make you cringe, so much senselessness in the plot… I can’t even begin to tell it. You do get a sense for what they were trying to do – it’s an attempt to have ‘grey’ characters – Karisma’s crazed character is portrayed quite sympathetically… but I’m sorry, I just think it’s all a load of rubbish – not much thought seems to have been put into it. So much is just pointless and/or extremely annoying (I wouldn’t mind the former as much – this is Bollywood, right? – if there weren’t so much of the latter).

They put so much eye make-up on Amisha for this movie, that sometimes you just can't see the whites of her eyes. Frightening.

There’s an older MJS, released in 1972 and starring Rajesh Khanna and Tanuja, that’s quite an interesting movie – some extremely camp and OTT grooviness, a storyline that’s a bit bizarre (different from the new one, although naturally there’s a love triangle – or two – in there as well – sigh), some great RD Burman music, and a really fun and silly lead role that only Khanna could play with such skewed relish. It’s a fun and sometimes even thought-provoking memento of the time in which it was made.

I wish I could say something complimentary about Darshan’s MJS, but I can’t – I could say Amisha and Karisma look great, but that would be praising Darshan’s apparent penchant for showing off the beauty of his female stars and just not giving them much (or much that’s meaningful or sensible) to do. I could say the songs are not that bad, but then I didn’t really like them either. So I’ll just say this is an awful film. A pity to end this piece on a downer, but there you go. I think – no, I know, that Darshan can do better than this mediocre film – what I’ve heard about SLBB isn’t promising, but hopefully he’ll do better next time. There's always next time.

You should know there's something amiss when the guest at your engagement ceremoy has wind blowing in her hair and you don't.

And just because it's fun, here are a couple of funny subtitles from MJS:
1. 'What do you take me for...? A prostitute? A blood whore?' This subtitle is less funny than disturbing, actually.
2. 'I'm free! Free! Free from my dreams!' This one's kind of weird 'cos Akshay actually says this in English, not Hindi, so there is no real need for subtitles. Except he says 'free from your dreams'. The funniest thing about it is the grandiose arm movements he makes, though.

And, finally, a very classy goodbye from Akshay:


Angela G. Skylar said...

Hi there, daddy's girl, looks like you've been busy posting lately, unlike me, LOL!

Thanks for the 411 on Mere Jeevan Saathi, I was thinking about renting it even though the trailer wasn't all the impressive. I figured it had a couple of good actors so it couldn't be all bad, but judging from your post, I think I'll definitely avoid it!

As for an Abhi/Ash post, its in the works, why havn't you posted on them yet?

Uzo said...

LOL....LOL>...What in the world is Akshay doing?

Daddy's Girl said...

@angela: Hey there, I'm looking forward to your Abhi/Ash post... I couldn't think of anything to say about them, that's why I haven't done one yet... maybe later. Mere Jeevan Sathi is just terrible, believe me (and I have a pretty low threshhold for movies). I regret every second I wasted on it.

@uzo: My sister, ask me o! So cringeworthy. He needs to make sure his kids never see those poses.

Alan said...

"You should know there's something amiss when the guest at your engagement ceremoy has wind blowing in her hair and you don't."

That was a great line!

I saw Ek Rishtaa and Jaanwar quite some time ago and had forgetten most of the details. Guess they weren't oo memerable. I have a copy of Mere Jeevan Sathi, but haven't got around to watching it yet. I only bought it because it may have been my girl's last film.

Alan said...

Sorry about all the typos in the previous comment. I should check more closely.

Daddy's Girl said...

@alan: It would really be a shame if Mere Jeevan Sathi were to turn out to be Karisma's last film... if she has to stop acting she should at least do it with a good film! Please let me know what you think of MJS when you get round to seeing it. I really hope she doesn't stop making movies, though, because I think she's quite good. Has she said anything about her career plans yet?

PS Please don't apologise for typos, I feel guilty now (cos I never apologise for mine!)

Uzo said...

i remember now..I saw Janwar agesx agooooooo

Miss Opeke said...

I am sure you've taken 'so long a holiday'...since May 1st. Well, it is all good you need time to rest and recoup from Lagos wahala...
I was just reading your blog because I hadn't really sat down to read it...don't mind me I have been standing up to read it...and always on the run!
Meh! dis yankee no dey easy but it is all good...
It is so funny reading some of your reviews...but it made my day.
Take care and have a blessed weekend...hopefully by Monday we'll read all about what went on or wrong in Lagos...

Daddy's Girl said...

@Uzo: (From what you can remember) did you laugh at Akshay's luscious long locks? LOL Do you want to go see a movie soon? (Hopefully not one that will make us cry like The Namesake did). Spiderman 3 is out - and there's a hindi movie at City Mall... one funny one I've never heard of... will find out more and get back to you...

@miss opeke: Hey dear, been so very busy since last week, work has really gotten on top of me instead of vice versa, and the weekend was hectic... don't know if I will find time to blog till much later in the week (or even later than that). How are you doing girl? Whats the latest on AI - will check out your blog to find out. Eeyah @ always being on the run and having to check blogs standing - hang in there girl! Take care.

Anonymous said...

Mere Jeevan Saathi was either the best worst movie or the worst best movie I've ever seen. It wasn't any good at all, but I certainly was entertained the whole way through!

Daddy's Girl said...

@totally basmatic: Wow, I really wish I could've found the 'goodness' in the badness of 'Mere Jeevan Saathi'. But at least I find Akshay's poses highly entertaining - so I guess I did not totally miss out.