Review: Awarapan

Posted on July 5, 2007


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Emraan Hashmi embraces his angst in an interesting outing from the Mahesh Bhatt school of filmmaking.

JULY 6, 2007 – EVERY YEAR, at our awards ceremonies, we see trophies being accepted by Bollywood’s most beautiful, most powerful, most successful – but very rarely by Bollywood’s most worthy, who usually have to wait for retirement before being recognised for something, usually lifetime achievement. And every year, I wonder why no one announces Mahesh Bhatt’s name in the latter category. Wikipedia informs me that Filmfare, for instance, has doled out these trophies to the likes of Mumtaz and Jeetendra and Asha Parekh, and while I won’t deny that these actors – at least Mumtaz – deserve some form of acknowledgement, if only for leaving behind a host of happy memories, why won’t anyone pay attention to Bhatt? Is it because, in his eagerness to sound off about everything and everyone under the sun, he has rubbed practically the entire industry the wrong way? It’s a shame, because Bhatt may not be the most original of creators – when he’s not lifting ideas off foreign films, he’s lifting story threads from his own memories – or the most subtle, but even his failures like Kaash are difficult to dismiss entirely, and in this anything-goes multiplex era, his legacy is all around us. What we are seeing today – arty commercial cinema (or would that be commercial art cinema?) – is simply an extension of Bhatt’s efforts to make art cinema more interesting, commercial cinema less insulting. Would there have been a Life in a Metro, say, without the numerous tales of adultery or marital strife that Bhatt has spun right from the 1980s?

But whether or not his peers recognise him, a long line of Bhatt’s protégés regularly pays homage to their mentor, with gritty dramas that show a healthy disrespect for everything that’s wholesome and family-friendly in our commercial cinema – and the latest is Mohit Suri, with Awarapan. (The buzz is that this is a takeoff on the Korean film A Bittersweet Life, but there’s enough here to suggest that Bhatt’s own Awaargi may have been an inspiration.) The story kicks off when Reema (newcomer Mrinalini Sharma) becomes a victim of human trafficking, and ends up with Hong Kong gangster Malik (Ashutosh Rana). Speaking about her to his loyal henchman Shivam (Emraan Hashmi, in his most restrained performance since that promising debut in Footpath), Malik muses, “Mere saath bistar pe thi…,â€? and that instant, we know this is no virginal heroine. And yet, Suri treats her like one, like someone who needs to be rescued, freed. We’re told that her boyfriend from back home – much like Sharman Joshi’s character in Metro – is still in love with her and is willing to be with her, if he can only get her away from Malik’s clutches. Malik senses this, that there may be someone else in Reema’s life – Rana conveys quite nicely the frustration of a powerful man who is powerless before this woman; he has unlimited access to her body, but he just can’t enter her heart – so he asks Shivam to spy on her. But Shivam has his own inner demons to deal with, which results in his deciding to reunite Reema and her boyfriend, and it’s only a matter of time before Malik turns on Shivam.

Sex, love, jealousy, infidelity, guilt, betrayal, redemption, and, most importantly, brooding male angst – Suri touches on every prickly emotion that Bhatt made his own, but where he makes his mentor proud is by grounding all of this in an utterly unexpected religious context. This isn’t just in the surface details – Reema and Aliya (the lovely Shriya Saran, as Shivam’s love in a past life) are shown performing the namaz – but in the very pores of the film. Even the Aliya-Shivam meet-cute revolves around a religious belief, that if you buy a pigeon and set it free, Allah will grant you your wish. The Buddha makes his presence felt too, in the form of a bhikshu – somewhat awkwardly shoehorned into the screenplay – who owes his life to Shivam. Almost every other scene involves either a taaveez or a reference to the Maula (in a wonderful composition by Pritam) or a character’s escape from certain death being attributed to a chamatkar – and yet, the portions that linger are the ones that show how the godless Shivam is affected by Aliya’s beliefs. He mocks her at first, mimicking her in a dargah as she raises her hands and closes her eyes in prayer, but something about the serenity in her expression gets to him, and you can see him ache for the kind of peace that he’s never really known, thanks largely to the demands of his profession.

Shivam’s equations with some of the others aren’t nearly as involving. Malik’s son (Salil Acharya) and nephew (a terrific Purab Kohli), for instance, show signs of becoming worthy adversaries with motivations for personal vendetta – they hate Shivam because Malik treats him like a son – but they devolve very quickly into generic, cackling hoods. But a bigger problem with Awarapan is that, having established his conceits, Suri goes overboard in embellishing them. The story being about whether Shivam sets Reema free, one shot of a cage being opened and a flock of pigeons flying out doesn’t seem unwarranted. But when pigeons show up in a monastery, and in Aliya’s hands, and when even a song in a nightclub is staged with dancers inside a giant, gilded cage, you know it’s only a matter of time before the characters themselves start spouting lines that reflect this metaphor. Sure enough, Shivam’s best friend Kabir (Shaad Randhawa, who we first saw in Suri’s earlier Woh Lamhe) pleads, at one point, “Mujhe is zindagi se rihaa kar de yaar.â€? But flaws and all, the juicy spins on Mahesh Bhatt material – he presents this film – keep you watching, besides the fact that a film that’s over-thought-out is, any day, preferable to one with no brains at all.

Copyright ©2007 The New Indian Express

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi