CAUSE AND AFFECT
Five youngsters take up the good fight in an imperfect drama that strikes a chord nonetheless. Plus, Akshaye Khanna, yet again in a comedy that barely scrapes through.
JUNE 15, 2008 – WHETHER IN FICTION OR ON FILM, summer is the most popular of settings for coming-of-age tales, and while the over-privileged quintet of friends in Summer 2007 has already come of age – they’re in medical school – there’s a different sort of growing-up in store for them that titular season. That’s when they learn about people not as privileged as they are, and that’s when their collective apathy – to issues other than those of the heart (and body parts more southwards) – transforms to collective awakening and angst. Summer 2007 is, in other words, the latest in a line of be-the-change-you-didn’t-know-you-want-to-see films, and it channels both its predecessors, Rang De Basanti (the youngsters are roused into action in ways they wouldn’t have believed capable of them, in areas that the cocoon of college-life has hardly prepared them for) and Swades (it’s the driven-to-suicide plight of farmers in a remote village that results in this transformation).
First-time director Suhail Tatari, clearly a believer of not fixing things that ain’t broke, adheres faithfully to the Rang De Basanti template. He bisects his film neatly into the pre-interval, before-transformation stage and the subsequent, post-change section, so we get to know the characters as they are, and then move on to what they become and what they do. At first, we glimpse Rahul (Sikander Kher), Qateel (a nicely laid-back Arjan Bajwa) and Bagani (Alekh Sangal) sharing a joint, when Qateel sees a newspaper headline and wonders who Priyadarshini Mattoo is. Rahul says she’s the one who was raped, and Bagani – the virgin of the group, like Sharman Joshi in Rang De Basanti – pipes in that he may be desperate, but he’d never think of rape as a resort to scratch his itch. As you can see, Tatari is laying it on rather thickly – the only thing he doesn’t do is have this self-involved trio wear “We Don’t Care” T-shirts – but then, this isn’t intended as a subtle film.
Summer 2007 wants to bludgeon you on the head with its message, and in order to buy that message – that if these kids can try to make a difference, so can we – you need to buy the characters first, and that’s what Tatari works at early on. And slowly, from the generic blur of moneyed twentysomethings, distinct personalities begin to emerge. There’s Priyanka (Uvika Chaudhary), the fashion-plate bimbette who cannot accept that her relationship with Rahul is over. Bagani is, of course, looking to get laid, while Qateel is such a smooth operator with the ladies, he flirts even with his mother. (They’re having a phone conversation while she’s getting a pedicure, and he can’t help breaking into the famous line from Pakeezah, advising her to keep her feet away from the ground, lest they become soiled.)
But it’s Rahul and Vishakha (Gul Panag) who are in charge of the heavy lifting in the group, as the friends – looking to do “rural service” – land up in the kind of village where a loudspeaker blares out an announcement whenever someone gets a call. (There’s only one telephone in the area.) And what’s refreshing is that, instead of the lovable eccentrics that Ashutosh Gowariker, in Swades, populated his rural landscape with – an aspect that added a touch of romanticism to the protagonist’s journey, making it easier for him (and for us) to follow his newfound convictions – what we have here are locals as indifferent and unwelcoming as the overworked, underpaid doctor (Ashutosh Rana, sinking his teeth into a meaty part after ages), who doesn’t miss a beat when the new arrivals offer bribes in order to get their certificates of completion. He needs the money to continue his work; about their education, about impressing on them the value of working towards this result, he couldn’t care less.
No wonder Priyanka squeals, “This is hell” – especially after they get a sense of the numerous demons lurking in the shadows, in the form of a ruthless usurer (Vikram Gokhale), his no-good, womanising son (Prashant Narayanan, in a jolt-of-raw-energy performance that reminds us that we see far too less of him on screen these days), and the heavyset, lathi-wielding goons in their employ. It’s about here that Tatari begins to lose his way, torn between charting out the friends’ transformation with the requisite doses of idealism, and not wanting to come off as too idealistic while laying out various social realities for our consideration – and by the end, I wished he’d made a choice between uplifting fantasy and downbeat reality.
I also wished he’d cast someone stronger in the lead. Sikander Kher is a mountain of a man with a face that’s equally immobile – looking back, his confident debut in Woodstock Villa seems more a function of the dark lighting and the quick cuts that didn’t need him to actually perform – and he comes off like an upscale version of Mahesh Anand, projecting very little of the inner conflict (or the unknown reserves of vulnerability) we need to sense in Rahul. But Gul Panag (playing the conscience of the group, a bleeding heart nicknamed Mother T) locates an impressive middle ground between being inspirational and insufferable, and thanks to her and Rana, if Summer 2007 isn’t all that it could have been – it’s far longer than necessary; the climax portion just goes on and on – it’s still a worthwhile addition to a genre I like to call simply “films that make us feel.”
Sachin Khedekar shows up as some sort of activist-messiah (with that big, benevolent moon of a face, the actor is just about tailor-made for these parts), educating the villagers about micro-credit schemes, and it isn’t what he says that’s important so much as how his listeners react to his story about a woman from a neighbouring village who took advantage of this facility and not only managed to clear her debts but also send her child to school. The men smile, the women have tears running down their cheeks, and I sat there with a little lump in my throat, knowing that, in a couple of days, I’d be back to the self-centred grind of my life, but at least, in those five minutes, I got a glimpse of what it must feel like to be them.
THERE’S A NICE, OLD-FASHIONED TEARJERKER to be made of a son (Akshaye Khanna, as Gaurav) trying to get his father, Janardhan (Paresh Rawal), married off to a childhood sweetheart (Shobhana, wasted as music teacher Anuradha) – hence the title, Mere Baap Pehle Aap – but then, Priyadarshan doesn’t do nice, old-fashioned tearjerkers. He makes “comedies.” So you have Om Puri trying to find a mate for himself, which makes you think the story is a Shaukeen-like take on the fantasies of men of a certain age. But after a while, Shikha (Genelia D’Souza) begins to insinuate herself into Gaurav’s life, by prank-calling him and pretending to be his stashed-away lover – so you feel that theirs may be the love story that’s going to unfold, what with Janardhan beginning to view her as a prospective daughter-in-law.
Somewhere in between, Manoj Joshi pops up as a henpecked husband – he plays Chirag, Gaurav’s elder brother – whose wife is just crying out for the one-tight-slap treatment. (You know, of course, about this time-tested method of taming sharp-tongued, home-wrecking shrews in the Bindu mould; the man whirs about dutifully like a toy wound up by his spouse, until, towards the end, he can take it no more and his right hand connects forcefully with her left cheek; this symbolic assertion of manhood rids her of pesky personality traits like, oh, a mind of her own, and reduces her to something that whirs about dutifully like a toy wound up by her spouse.) And Archana Puransingh contributes a cameo as a cop who orders Om Puri to “take it off,” as the great-actor-turned-great-sport – not realising she was merely referring to his sunglasses – strips down to his underwear.
With all these elements of a supposed mirth-manufacturing machine chugging along at different gears, no one seems to realise that the real story is the one about the inversion of roles between Janardhan and Gaurav. Here, the father is the one who constantly gets reprimanded by the son. The father is the one with the “bad friend” influencing him. The father is the one who dresses up in cool clothes to impress his girl, the one who calls her at her house and hangs up when someone else picks up the phone. By the time the film has finished dragging its feet around and begun to address these aspects – well into the second half – you’ve lost all interest (though these portions are at least bearable, thanks to Rawal), especially with everyone testing your patience by communicating through what appears to be free verse. “To pichhli baaton ki gubbaare hawa mein uda dete hain,” Shikha says to Gaurav, not just suggesting that they forget all that’s happened thus far, but that they release the balloons of the past into the air. By the time I got out of Mere Baap Pehle Aap, I was happy to release every single balloon of the past two-and-a-half hours into the air.
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