Family troubles result in a couple’s postponement of marriage in an unrelentingly nice drama. Plus, chaos as Madhur Bhandarkar meets Munnabhai.
NOV 9, 2008 – IS IT JUST ME, OR ARE THERE OTHERS equally flummoxed by the essential paradox in Sooraj Barjatya’s films of late (even the ones he merely conceives, like Ek Vivaah Aisa Bhi, which was directed by Kaushik Ghatak), which is that these films practically explode with people – parents, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, friends of every religious stripe – who seem peculiarly indisposed to the very human instincts that result in population explosion in the first place? When Barjatya made his first film, Maine Pyar Kiya, he appeared to understand that young love, however pure-minded, wasn’t entirely immune to prurience. He had Bhagyashree nearly disrobe in the presence of boyfriend Salman Khan on the latter’s moneyed terrace, as a birthday present. Of course, Salman did the right thing – for a Rajshri production, at any rate – by covering her up a justifiable instant after feasting on her form, but it was there, that inkling of interest. He was young, she was young, and the song that surrounded this incident celebrated their stirring youth. You could imagine them having themselves a heck of a honeymoon, once the necessary social sanctions were obtained.
That mischief, that daring to venture into the forbidden has vanished from Barjatya’s cinema ever since. The closest the young lovers in Ek Vivaah – Prem (Sonu Sood, looking more than ever like the young Amitabh Bachchan) and Chandni (Isha Koppikar) – come to any significant form of physical contact is when he stands beside her and locks his palm in hers. Ek Vivaah is a remake of the seventies’ weepie Tapasya, and Prem and Chandni appear to take their cues from Rakhee and Parikshit Sahni in that film, who played somewhat middle-aged lovers who had to (and selflessly opted to) wait to get married till a slew of family obligations were fulfilled. This is not a plea for the inclusion of a scene where Prem and Chandni end up in a sweaty embrace atop rumpled sheets – but considering that he’s made to wait 12 years after they are engaged, wouldn’t Prem experience the slightest of misgivings about putting his life (and his youth) on hold till Chandni dispensed with her duties towards her younger brother and sister? But no. Prem and Chandni gaze at each other with such preternatural restraint that it seems they aren’t after marriage so much as martyrdom.
This incessant niceness is the thing you wish were different in Ek Vivaah. You wish for some texture and colour in the characters, something other that defines them than just the overwhelming need to put the needs of others before one’s own. Then again, that’s the Barjatya way, for better or worse, and if I had to sit through sanctified Indianness, I’d rather plod through this version than the cosmetic variants in the form of Baghban or Baabul. What works in Ek Vivaah is the simplicity of (and the sincerity in) the treatment – the lavishness, if any, is reserved for the emotions, not the costumes or the décor. And the Rajshri films appear to be among the very few these days that actually use songs to underline what’s onscreen (even if the numbers themselves, by Ravindra Jain, aren’t a patch on his great work from the seventies). Ek Vivaah may be old-fashioned in many ways, but that’s not the same as being irrelevant. I especially respected the fact that at no point does Prem’s mother bring up concerns about Chandni’s increasing age (particularly in the context of bearing children), and even worthier is the underlying message (if you will) that, despite what Ekta Kapoor thinks, a marriage isn’t just about a gleaming mangalsutra nestling in a bosom. Without a single external manifestation of commitment, Prem and Chandni are more married than most couples you encounter today, whether onscreen or off.
ALL I COULD THINK OF WHILE WATCHING EMI was, “There goes Madhur Bhandarkar’s shot at an exposé on the money lending business.” As the clever titles sequence foreshadows – the names are spelt out in little boxes, the kind familiar to us from credit card application forms – the film is about living beyond your means in a world where interest-happy creditors are only too happy to enable you to live beyond your means. That’s a great idea in theory, to set a story against a topic that’s hotter than ever today, and while first-time director Saurabh Kabra knows how to dress up a scene with colourful detail and riotous dialogue (mostly for Sanjay Dutt, having fun in yet another incarnation as a goodhearted goon), there’s nothing beyond these frills. EMI progresses in installments of nuggety minutiae – these early portions are all Bhandarkar – and then, suddenly, morphs into a Munnabhai wannabe, with Dutt doling out good-living advice to a number of defaulting debtors (Arjun Rampal, Aashish Chowdhary, Neha Uberoi, Kulbhushan Kharbanda). EMI is one of those films that feels compelled to end with a message flashed on screen: Take loans responsibly. Well, of course we will, at least those of us who, for fiscal advice, depend solely on Bollywood movies with Malaika Arora item numbers.
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