MAIN PREM KI DIWANI HOON
JULY 5, 2003 – TELEVISION PROMOS – WITH THE BEACHSIDE EROTICISM set to the strains of O Ajnabee and with hip-and-happening stars who look like they’d rather do a bungee jump than a Wah Wah Ram Ji romp – have positioned Sooraj Barjatya’s Main Prem ki Diwani Hoon as being far removed from his syrupy joint-family sagas. Indeed, a few minutes into the film, seeing Sanjana (Kareena Kapoor) whooping it up in college with gal pals, it feels like this is Barjatya in a new avatar. Not for long though. A collegiate dance has as its theme shaadi and unfolds as a sentimental ode to Sanjana’s papa (a restrained, effective Pankaj Kapoor). Domestic servants (dolled up like rejects from a nautanki audition in the cow belt) and household pets (a dog and a parrot) crawl out of the woodwork. Add to this a full-fledged family picnic (that includes the servants), and you know the director’s back in business as usual.
Barjatya has neither the adventurous craft of a Ram Gopal Varma nor the visual aesthetics of a Karan Johar, and his blissfully utopian, reality-free storytelling – the parrot, named Raja Hindustani, drops the name of a film whenever it speaks – is suffused to an alarming degree with an innocent faith in the redeeming power of goodness. But there’s no denying his genius in recognising the appeal of the extended family in an increasingly fragmented India. Every three or four years, he brings out a movie that bathes us in a bharatiya warm-fuzziness even we didn’t know we yearned for – with people who touch the feet of elders and smile benevolently and eat together and sing in unison – and gets away even with something as saccharine as Hum Saath Saath Hain.
This time, however, he falls flat on his face with a Chitchor update. You can see the logic; he reached into the Rajshri Pictures vault and repackaged Nadiya ke Paar as the mega-blockbuster Hum Aapke Hain Koun, so why not retool another Rajshri oldie! Fair enough, but the theme of Chitchor – the mistaken-identity love triangle – has been done to death so frequently over the years (say, Rehna Hai Terre Dil Mein) that after a brisk, fun-filled half-hour, this story of Sanjana having to choose between a Prem (Hrithik Roshan) who is chalk and a Prem (Abhishek Bachchan) who is cheese becomes a long slog towards an inevitable end.
In the absence of any thematic novelty, there aren’t many other compensations. What made Chitchor work wasn’t the story, but the music, and recognisably human touches (Master Raju as the heroine’s pint-sized best friend, Amol Palekar’s fascination with classical music that bored Zarina Wahab to death). Barjatya’s update is tech-savvy – a letter in the earlier film becomes an email here – and there’s Anu Malik’s partly-tuneful score (lost amidst been-there-done-that picturisations), but there’s no heart, and no investment in either Prem because Hrithik goes overboard, flexing muscles and preening with Greek God poses, and Abhishek underwhelms in a role that’s the very definition of thankless. And it doesn’t help that some sequences, like a Valentine’s Day competition that even has a game with sandals (a nod to Joote Do Paise Lo?), go on and on and on.
It’s refreshing to see Kareena temper her over-the-top antics with a gentleness not seen since Refugee. And every once in a (long) while, there’s a nice touch that touches, like Abhishek’s confession that he cannot ride a bicycle and his subsequent attempts at mastering the vehicle. But these can’t save the film from becoming yet another barely-passable designer romance, that satisfies with neither its design nor its romance.
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