STRANGERS ON A STRAIN
An arranged-marriage couple finds the going hard in a drama that echoes their predicament. Plus, an engagingly nutty cricket-season special.
MAR 18, 2007 – A KEY QUESTION ABOUT THE INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE these days may well be this one: Do you love your spouse enough to give him/her the password to your e-mail account? No, not the one set up by the both of you â the one with the cutely underscored his-and-hers login name â but the one that you had before you got hitched, the one with the e-mails from exes and such. When does that level of trust happen, especially in an arranged marriage? When I heard Meghna Gulzar was doing a multiplex spin on Saathiya, exploring the just-after life of newlyweds, I hoped sheâd touch on something like this â or, perhaps, the fact that thereâs this obnoxious best-friend-of-the-spouse that youâd rather die than spend time with, but you have to anyway because thatâs the done thing when you get married. But Meghna is after something more intimate â much more intimate. Abhay (Fardeen Khan) buys his new wife Ritika (Esha Deol) a pair of shoes so they can go walking in Ooty. (Theyâre there on their honeymoon.) They step out of the store with bags containing the footwear they wore earlier, and when Ritika instinctively asks him to hand over the bag with her sandals, you sense at once the tug of war in her. Heâs her husband, yet heâs a practical stranger, and she doesnât want any favours from him â even small ones like carrying her footwear. So you completely empathise with her when, on her wedding night, she stands before the mirror, taking deep breaths. You can almost hear her thinking: âAnd now Iâm supposed to do this with this guy?â?
Just Married is all about Ritika, Ritika, Ritika. Thereâs no room in Meghnaâs world for performance anxiety on Abhayâs part. Heâs â you know â a guy, and that pretty much defines him (which is why Fardeen Khan remains an affable presence in the film and nothing more). As we saw in Filhaal, this daughter of Gulzar is all female sensibility and sensitivity, and the only thing that possibly defines her more than gender is the generation â the overly analytical generation â that she belongs to. In an earlier era, the suhaag raat situation would play out like this: giggly women push shy bride into flower-festooned bedroom; groom lifts ghoonghat and mumbles something incredibly romantic (or incredibly cheesy, depending on your tolerance for mush), equating her face to the moon, her eyes to the stars, and so on; groom reaches for bedside lamp; room is plunged into darkness; bride wakes up next morning with smudged sindoor. Ergo, they did it. They did it without too much thought, without too much fuss, because this is what you do during your suhaag raat, and thatâs reason enough. The most explicit depiction of this scenario is possibly in Kabhi Kabhie, where Shashi Kapoor removes Rakheeâs jewellery, piece by piece, and we know that at some point heâs going to take that big nose ring off â and this (very literally) alludes to what is crudely known as nath utaarna, when a virgin is deflowered. But this happened in the first ten minutes of Kabhi Kabhie, whereas the entire two-odd hours of Just Married pass by without any such consummation â because these couples of today, they talk, they think, they think some more, they talk some more. In the older days, when something needed to be done, people just went ahead and did it. Today â at least according to Meghna Gulzar â nothing is possible without the requisite period of navel gazing. The marital bed can wait; the psychiatristâs couch comes first.
And this, naturally, makes Just Married a very internal movie. Itâs never the easiest of things to fill a dynamic visual medium like the cinema with just the thoughts of two people, so Meghna takes the easy way out â rather, the more commercially viable way out, for thereâs a little chamber-piece of an art film struggling to burst through this bright package â and surrounds them with a bunch of other couples. And as this seems to be the season for varied cross-sections of twosomes zipping across the landscape in buses â doesnât anyone fly or take the train anymore? â we get, along with Abhay and Ritika, couples to counterpoint their situation. Abhay and Ritika are just married, while Satish Shah and Kirron Kher (both quite charming) are celebrating their fortieth anniversary. Ritika looks away embarrassedly as she hands over a towel to a just-showered Abhay, while Bikram Saluja and Perizaad Zorabian (both painfully over the top) canât keep their hands off one another. Abhay and Ritika have just met, while Sadia Siddique and Mukul Dev (both making the most use of their limited screen time, projecting a lived-in togetherness) have known each other since childhood. And the minute you note this overly programmatic structure, you know the life lessons are going to start pouring in â and they do. Thereâs a couple thatâs not married because the woman wonât accept the manâs proposal, and thatâs the cue for Kirron Kherâs little lecture on The Importance Of Marriage. Thereâs a point where the men discuss how staying married to someone is just a habit you get used to, and when Abhay asks why get married if all it is is just a habit, thatâs the cue for Satish Shahâs little lecture on, well, The Importance Of Marriage. Did anyone stop to think that these people are on their honeymoon, and that introspective dissections â of the very institution thatâs led them to this phase of their lives â arenât likely to be the things that fuel breakfast-lunch-dinner table chatter?
But, as I said, this is the malaise of our generation â the incessant need to talk, discuss, analyse â and perhaps unsurprisingly, the moments that work best in Just Married are the ones that are silent. Thereâs a delightful bit with Fardeen looking over Eshaâs shoulder as she fires a pop-gun at a fair, and this may be an homage to one of Eshaâs motherâs most enduring scenes in Sholay. And Esha is wonderful when sheâs just boarded the bus with her new husband, and her father and sister come by unexpectedly bearing a hot case of her motherâs parathas. Sheâs smiling and you also see that her eyes are moist, and in that instant, sheâs less a bride setting off on her honeymoon than a child being sent away to hostel for the first time. Given a chance, thereâs isnât a doubt that sheâd clamber out of the bus and return home to her real family. But the minute the film gets populated with the rest of the vacationers, Ritika begins to mope and becomes a bit annoying. (How long can you stay interested in the same note being hit over and over?) Itâs times like this â and during the dreadfully misconceived climax â that make you feel Meghna writes dialogue far better than she writes screenplays. Sheâs inherited her fatherâs way with words, and nowhere is this more evident than when a character refers to her husband as bhaijaan, because thatâs what sheâs been calling him from childhood. This, of course, evokes much laughter, but thereâs also such a sweetness to this moment, a sweetness of language and tradition thatâs all Gulzar. The great man himself walks away with the best portions of the film, with his lyrics â tuned very nicely by Pritam â that function in the background as both verse and voice-over. The way Jaagte raho is picturised, different couples are up to different things in the wee hours â making love, or watching television, or simply sleeping â and this montage is a perfect fit with Gulzarâs imagining of the night as a bag filled with all sorts of stuff. Jab raat ki thaili khule, he writes, you could find pretty much anything: shehnai bhi, sannaate bhi, sapne kahin, kharraate bhi… Some four decades after Bandini, heâs still creating magic out of metaphors, metaphors out of magic. The only problem with these extraordinary flights of fancy is that they leave you in no doubt about how earthbound the rest of the movie is.
MILAN LUTHRIAâS HATTRICK COULD BE EXHIBIT A in how television promos can give you the completely wrong idea about a movie â this oneâs a serious drama, and hardly the balle–balle romp itâs being made out to be â but I was misled along another line as well. When news filtered out that Hattrick featured Indian wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle, I had sweat-filled flashbacks of Kabhi Ajnabi The, that mid-eighties nightmare starring Sandeep Patil and Syed Kirmani. Thankfully, the only time Dhoni is on screen is in the matches on TV, which is when Kashmira (Rimi Sen) falls for him. And husband Saby (Kunal Kapoor) is, uh, stumped when she moans out the long-haired oneâs name in their bedroom. Elsewhere, Dr Satyajeet Chavan (Nana Patekar) runs his hospital with the efficiency â and the emotion â of a robot, barely pausing to think that his patients are, well, people too. And in London, Hemu Patel (Paresh Rawal) wants to crawl out of his illegal immigrant-ship and become a citizen of the UK. Does Saby get his wife back? Does Dr Satyajeet learn how to crack a smile? Does Hemu get his papers? And will this film turn out to be more than just a cynical exercise to cash in on the World Cup craze, what with periodic nudges to the game with lines that go âZindagi ki match mein…â? and âHamaare team mein aa hi gaye?â? (Somehow, everything links back to cricket, including a ludicrous scene with a male stripper. He is, after all, in the business of brandishing his… um, never mind.)
So there are parts where Hattrick splutters and dodders â to continue with the cricketspeak, it isnât pitch perfect â but overall, it just about works. And I knew it was working for me when a most absurd sequence played itself out and I sat though it completely absorbed. (Thatâs one of the true tests of a filmâs success, its ability to make you happily swallow swill â and Iâm going to talk about this, so if you donât want spoilers, skip ahead to the next paragraph.) This is one of those only-in-the-movies moments that occurs after former cricketer David Abraham (Danny Denzongpa) has been admitted to Dr Satyajeetâs hospital in need of a kidney transplant. The doctor says the operation is to take place on a certain date, but David insists it has to be postponed because he wants to watch the World Cup finals first. So the good doctor rigs up an elaborate scheme to facilitate this oddball request. He calls in for a favour from Harsha Bhogle, who doctors clippings from various matches and sends over a DVD of the âfinalsâ?. The entire hospital gathers around Davidâs bed and cheers as this (fake) match is telecast. (This charade is not unlike the one the son engineered for his motherâs sake in the moving German film Good Bye Lenin; there, she wakes up after a long coma, unaware that the Wall has come down, and the son keeps up this illusion by playing tapes of the old days.) Did I believe for a second that any of this could really happen? No. But was I happy that it did happen? Absolutely.
Hattrick goes over easy mainly because of the performances. With the exception of Kunal Kapoor and Rimi Sen â who, frankly, are trapped in the least interesting narrative strand â the cast is the kind that you never tire of watching, even if the parts theyâre playing are all too familiar. (Nana Patekar essentially does a variation on his Raghav Shastri from Taxi No. 9211, also by Luthria, while Paresh Rawal has been channelling pathetic desperation for so long now â especially in his comedies for Priyadarshan â that itâs hard to remember he once played villains.) And theyâre helped by a googly of a screenplay that moves from high comedy to the depths of despair in a heartbeat, and for all the laughs, Hattrick is more like Yun Hota To Kya Hota, with cricket as the hovering chain-link between episodes instead of 9/11 â so even when one segment doesnât quite work, the next one comes along and distracts you. Besides, how can you be too critical of something that has the exquisite good taste to make a nod in the direction of eightiesâ disco! One of the numbers here is a remix of Jab chhaye mera jadoo from Lootmaar â letâs not get into whereâs the sense of remixing something that already sounds like a remix â and if youâre wondering why they chose this particular instance of glitter-trash, hereâs my take. The actress featured in this number is Simple Kapadia, who is the sister of Dimple Kapadia, who was married to Rajesh Khanna, who was once seeing Anju Mahendru, who was once engaged to â yes â Gary Sobers. Somehow, everything links back to cricket.
Copyright Â©2007 The New Sunday Express