Review: Big Brother

Posted on April 14, 2007


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Sunny paaji sticks to time-tested formulas in a vigilante drama that’s less interesting as cinema than as commentary.

APR 15, 2007 – THE FACT that Sunny Deol (as Devdhar) plays protective elder sibling to Mumbai’s downtrodden masses is surely why this film is named Big Brother, but watching Priyanka Chopra (as Devdhar’s wife) get wet in a white sari during a song sequence, I came up with another reason for the title. It’s 1984 – get it? Forget the Orwellian connotations and stick just to the year, to the time, to the eighties – an era when the heroines still wore clothes that differentiated them from the vamps, and the only way to get them to ooze an amount of sex was to drape them in a sari and train the fire hoses on them. Remember those days? And do you remember the Dada Kondke comedies and the “educational dramasâ€? like Kachchi Kali and Khuli Khidki? Those were the eighties too, right? And what else is Sayaji Shinde (deliciously hammy as a bad guy) doing here if not doffing his Nehru cap in that direction, when he licks his lips at the prospect of a night with the heroine of Raat Ka Gunaah and Garam Bistar! But it’s not just the raunch, even the wholesome bits suggest that much-maligned film decade. The steely mother from Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki who exhorts her son to be strong, the elder brother from Khud-Daar who makes a living as a public transport driver and yet manages to make something of his younger sibling, the doctor-lady from Dacait (here it’s a teacher-lady) who aids the hero despite knowing that he isn’t operating within the law, the social unrest from Arjun that makes a normal guy a vigilante, a roadside poster of Vidhaata

Movies like Big Brother are sitting ducks. It’s way too easy to make fun of them, if only for the sheer variety of people (and things) our hero – the one-line story is about him versus the scum of society – dispatches into orbit with a single-arm motion. (These include – but are not restricted to – a judge in a courtroom, a lawyer on the rooftop of a skyscraper, a few dozen thugs, even a couple of hospital beds.) And if you’re still in doubt about Devdhar’s superhuman strength, watch him punch the face of a goon who’s lying on the ground; just one dishoom, and clouds of dust fill the frame as the latter’s head ends up two feet under the top soil. So ha-ha and all that, yes. But then, there’s a strange purity about films like these, where the director says, “Look, I’m making my movie for the truck drivers in Ludhiana, and you multiplex types can sod off and go to hell.â€? At a time every filmmaker shoehorns in sops to audiences from ages eight to eighty, and in every city from Mumbai to Manchester to Melbourne, these are the films with zero compromise. I didn’t care very much for Big Brother, but there’s something bracingly honest about it that’s hard not to respect. How much better to do what (director) Guddu Dhanoa does here – know his strengths (or weaknesses) and play to them – than do what Suneel Darshan did last week with Shakalaka Boom Boom, overreaching by tackling Amadeus and embarrassing everyone concerned!

I know it sounds like I’ve gone soft in my old age, my left-handed defense of the kind of movie that we’re all glad we don’t see that much anymore – and part of it is perhaps the Grindhouse effect, with so much recent press about that loving homage to shlock from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. (In a way, this is our schlock. And we watched these movies in our equivalents of the grindhouse theatres, in the pre-multiplex days.) But then I don’t feel similarly defensive about the likes of Baghban and Baabul, which were again reworkings of formulas we’re all glad we aren’t subjected to that much anymore, and that is because these films had a phony veneer about wanting to change society, while Big Brother is simply the archetypes of our mythologies fashioned into an archetypal good-versus-evil story. It’s no accident that we hear a conch shell in the background in one of the scenes, because we’re asked to treat Devdhar as some sort of God on earth. (Even this name – Devdhar, which is shortened as Deva – has a bit of God in it, and what was God in His various avatars on earth if not our very first vigilante!) And seeing a fading-away Sunny Deol brings these musings to the fore because he is the last of our he-man heroes, effortlessly capable of sustaining on-screen conceptions that take off from our legends. (Ridiculous as it was, can you imagine anyone else in and as N Chandra’s Narasimha?) With the multiplex culture’s emphasis on hipness and realism and whatever else, another career-recharging Gadar doesn’t seem likely. It’s not just the end of a star; for better or worse, it’s the end of a storytelling era.

Copyright ©2007 The New Sunday Express

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi