Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Review: Laaga Chunari Mein Daag

Rating: 2/5
If you want to cut the crap and read the review directly, scroll past the first two paragraphs. If you have nothing better to do than pick your nose and check your scraps, read on.

What do you get when you combine two great actresses, one great actor, one charming actor, one character actor, a famous actress of yore (who is, if I might add, a famous mother, wife, daughter-in-law, and now, mother-in-law), an acclaimed director, an innovative music director, wonderful locales, excellent promos, and a kissing scene? I know this question tempts you to go to the start menu, click Shutdown, sneak out of office, take a loan on your credit card, borrow Mallya’s chartered helicopter, land straight on PVR’s terrace, buy tickets in black at 10 times the price, grab a cone of popcorn, and nestle in your expensive seat, waiting for the movie to start. But hey! What’s this? Why’s is the ticket line empty? Is there another India-Pak final today? Or is there a new Pamela Anderson video on YouTube?

Well, my dear hopelessly hopeful Bollywood fan, are you out of your mind? How could you miss the most important name on the poster? YASHRAJ FILMS. Read it again. YASHRAJ. Yes, the same house that succeeds in turning everything it touches to crap- a genetically mutated Midas. In many ways, Yashraj Films is worse than Suniel Shetty; or even Tusshar Kapoor. The latter two at least don’t try to fool you into watching their films.

Laaga Chunari Mein Daag was disappointing to say the least. After Parineeta, Pradeep Sarkar was expected to spin another tasteful web around his audience. But though his actors did well, though the cinematography was good and so was the camera work, the story was a loser from the start. It wasn’t the kind of movie that promises much in the start and falls flat as it progresses. It was drab right from the first shot, and never made an attempt to rise above the mediocre.

The film was bathed in clich├ęs. Like every hatke Hindi movie now, the protagonist (Rani Mukherji) is a prostitute; and like every modern Hindi movie she finds a man who’s ready to accept her in spite of this; like every hatke / non-hatke Hindi movie it begins with a song; like every prostitute-centric Hindi film she is vindicated by the majboori drama; and like every Hindi film worth its salt it has a happy ending. If you’re curious about the story, please read on- don’t bother buying even a pirated CD.

The story begins in Banaras, with its picturesque ghaats and bustling roads. Anupam Kher is the head of a middle class family, leading his retired life in an ancestral home. Crippled by the termination of his pension, his wife (Jaya Bachchan) is forced to wield the sewing machine day and night for their daily bread. As Anupam’s perfidious brother tries to wrest the house from him, Anupam laments for not having a son to bail him out. This activates some main-aapka-beta-banoongi hormone in Rani Mukherji, who resolves to go to Mumbai to earn a living for herself and her family; and show her father that having a daughter is not such a curse after all. Konkona, her younger sister, is oblivious of the family’s hardships and lives her happy, giggly life to the fullest.

When Rani dearest lands in Mumbai with just a 10th class certificate in hand, nobody is willing to employ her. In her desperation she agrees to sleep with a man in return for employment. The man, however, refuses to give her the job after a night of fun. (Of course! If sex could elevate your status from a 10th-pass to a working professional, colleges would be sweatshops of a different kind!) When the man tosses a bundle of notes at her, she gets her big idea. From a small town happy-go-lucky girl, she becomes a “high-society escort”- which is a euphemism for a prostitute much like “a sub-optimal performer” is a euphemism for Tusshar Kapoor. (I’m sorry I use Tusshar Kapoor so often. I can’t help it; because when you scrape the proverbial rock bottom, all you find underneath is Tusshar)

It’s amazing how the 10th-pass girl who eats Hindi, sleeps Hindi, and giggles Hindi, starts conversing so fluently in English after a brief training period. Spoken English classes shouldn’t miss a trick here- they must highlight this highly ‘satisfying’ job prospect as an incentive for joining their course. Anyway, Rani’s escorting talents earn her a fortune, and she remits huge sums of money home to fight her villainous chacha. Anupam Kher was delighted with his daughter’s prosperity; while Jaya Bachchan, who knew her daughter’s plight, was the perfect embodiment of the sad smiley (she should seriously consider taking a royalty from Yahoo). In one of her escorting trips abroad, she meets Abhishek Bachchan who along with expertise in patents and trademarks has a gold medal in the spot-the-prostitute championship. Still, he falls in love with her; but is aggrieved when she just vanishes into thin air.

Yawn! I’m bored of writing. I’m sure you’re bored of reading too. And I’ve just completed the first half! I’ll speed it up for your sake and mine. Konkana gets a job in an advertising agency in Mumbai, where she falls in love with Kunal Kapoor, the Creative Head. Konkana comes to know about Rani’s profession and showers us with some more senti dialogues. Kunal comes to Banaras to marry Konkana, and lo and behold, Abhishek turns out to be his brother. While junior was busy solemnizing his nuptials, senior was trying to woo the aadarshwaadi prostitute. Rani says no to him because of her sleeping habit, but then Abhishek reveals his prostitute-spotting talents and says he fell in love with her in spite of (or because of?) her promiscuity. He was apparently moved when she recited the Hanuman Chalisa during a turbulent flight. Anyway, all’s well that ends well. Abhishek says please, Kunal says please on his behalf, Rani says yes, Anupam’s chest bloats, the villainous brother’s chest shrivels, and so they lived happily ever after.

Well, that’s about it. At the end of 2-and-a-half hours I felt like I’d seen nothing at all- as enraged as Rani was after that fruitless first night of labour. I felt like sitting for some more time to claim my money’s worth; soak up the AC for some more time. If you still want to watch this movie, you either hate me or you have no better use for money. If you haven’t seen the promos, you’ll probably like it; but for those who have great expectations (like I did), stay away.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Weighed Down

He opened his cupboard, and looked approvingly at his brown pant. His new brown Van Heusen pant- which he had bought in that bumper Buy 1 Get 2 Free sale. He stepped inside the bathroom for a daily ritual that involved a trasparent, neutral liquid, and a fragrant, opaque, alkaline solid. As always, he readied himself for the shower by unbuttoning his shirt or pulling the t-shirt above his head, depending on what he forgot to change the night before. He eagerly looked into the mirror- was he bearded enough for a shave? Or could he get away with his overnight stubble? And what of his hairline? Was there more brown now? Or was the shampoo successful in arresting the recession? And recession reminded him of the US economy, and of subprime, and of Sensex and his own investment in mutual funds. Was this the right time for him to invest, or should he let the Sensex correct? Anyway, his more immediate concerns revolved around the huge mass hanging 80 cm above the ground, enveloped by skin, and holding 3 months worth of rich North Indian food and ice creams. As he turned his body by ninety degrees for a side view, he saw the mass stretching from the end of his sternum, hanging down low enough to eclipse the elastic of his bermudas, and extending far out enough to serve as a tray. In fact, he thought with half a smile and half a grimace, ants could use the edge of the tray as a suicide point. As he let the shower run, he tentatively poked his finger into the falling stream to see if it had warmed up sufficiently. No it hadn't. Then another grimace- not long back, he used to bathe in icy cold water everyday- he was not sure he liked this breaking-in into royalty very much. Anyway, he eventually stepped into the pillar of the hot, transparent, neutral liquid; rubbed his skin with the fragrant, opaque, alkaline solid, and followed it up by massaging his scalp with a fragrant, opaque, green liquid. After drying his body, he looked at the clothes bar with a confused expression. Which of the 2 banians had he worn yesterday? They looked so damn alike- both VIP Bonus vests and both bearing toothpaste stains. Did it really matter which one he had worn yesterday? Wasn't he used to wearing the same clothes for days and weeks on end?

Once he stepped out of the bathroom all dried, combed, boro plussed, deodorated, brylcreemed, undied, and banianed, he opened, once again, the varnished cupboard, and pulled out the brown trouser. His memory flashed back to the day he bought it- the room that was hastily converted into a retail outlet, the irresistible offers, the delighted son and the smiling mother, the trial room that was conspicuous by its absence, the crude wooden partition behind which many a seductive Hindi film heroine changed her clothes, and above all, the perfect-fitting brown pant whose buckle hooked up beautifully around his waist. As he slipped his legs through the brown pant and pulled it up, he reminisced about that happy June afternoon when he bought 3 Van Heusen pants (including that fateful brown one) for Rs.1099. But what's this! Why wasn't the buckle fastening now? Why were the two ends, now an inch apart, groping to hold hands, like lovers after a Hindi movie bomb blast pulling themselves towards each other for that last touch. But here, the two ends weren't pulling themselves- the now-happy now-stunned boy (or man) was playing matchmaker but all attempts to marry the ends failed. Thank god for making human stomachs pliable or else what followed would've shattered it to bits. He pushed his stomach in his with a deep breath first, then used 3 fingers, then 4, then his palm, and then his entire fist to flatten his stomach enough to make the ends meet. When he finally removed his fist and released his breath, the paunch overflowed on all sides. Worse, the pant squeezed him so tight, he feared his guts would travel all the way up and spill out of his mouth. (Later that evening when he undid the buckle, his stomach rushed out like crowds would rush in when the doors to the cinema would open.) He could still remember the time when size 30 pants would fit him with absolute ease. This sarkaari babu-type tummy was certainly not what he expected from corporate life.

As he walked out of his room with a heavy heart and a heavier tummy, he noticed that the lift was, as usual, out of order. Was it poor electrical engineering or was it providence forcing him to use the staircase? As he trudged down the stairs, he felt something he had never experienced before- a mass, enveloped by skin, 80 cm above the ground bouncing in front of him. With each step he took, his tummy was charting its own course. That was the first time he allowed a certain suppressed voice inside him to blurt "You are FAT!". FAT? FAT? The word pulsated in his head like a Bose speaker was placed inside. He, who till recently, was counted among the skinny, the underweight, the weak, was now in the league of the fat? Fat reminded him of Adnan Sami (before he lost 110 kilos); it reminded him of overweight uncles who looked like they'd tucked a ghatam under their shirts; it also reminded him of obese teenagers with fat cheeks, Mc Donald's burger in hand, and cheese streaming out of the sides of their mouth and dripping down on their respective trays (pun intended). But hey! Were things really that bad? He had just put on 10 kilos in 2 months (from 57 to 67), and had rendered 3 trousers and a pair of jeans useless. All he needed was a strict control on his diet, and a strict exercise regime.

For starters, he stopped using the lift, both at home and at work. His flat was on the fifth floor and so was his work desk. Five floors 6 times a day was a decent workout, wasn't it? He supplemented this with a complete ban on ice creams and creamy desserts. And of course, there was the regular night walk. To intensify his Mission Pant Fit campaign, he decided to pay the apartment gym a visit. He detested gyms in general, mainly because of the grotesque cutouts of men with swollen muscles and grinding teeth placed in front of them. He hated gyms also because of his nightmarish tryst with it 4 summers ago, when 4 days of gymming almost made him a living robot. The second attempt at gymming started as badly as the first. 15 minutes of furious cycling and 1 round of jogging led to thighs that throbbed like a frenzied heart, and a stomach that threatened to puke-aabhishek the road. He laboured up the stairs, threw himself on the bed, and tried to soothe his palpitating thighs, and his churning stomach.

It was October 18, 2007- more than a month since he gave up ice creams, shunned lifts, night-walked, and 3 days since he started cycling and jogging. With hope in his heart, pride in his efforts, a stomach that was peeping eagerly out of his navel, and a hand that was well positioned to pat his back, he stepped on the weighing machine. He adjusted his spectacles, then wiped the lens with his sweaty t-shirt, stepped off the machine, checked the zero-error, and stepped on again. The reading did not change- 68.