A young man scours the Zodiac in search of a life partner – but all he manages is a bloated bore of a movie.
SEPT 27, 2009 – DURING INTERMISSION, AS THE REST OF THE AUDIENCE streams out for refreshments or catches up on calls or exchanges argumentative notes on the merits of the first half, your eyes may settle upon a lonely bloke at a corner, chewing on a pencil, eyes glazed in faraway thought. He, dear reader, is the critic, and he’s replaying what he’s seen so far, filing away choice nuggets – a line of dialogue, a snatch of performance – for inclusion in his review. Approach him at your own peril at this halfway juncture – you might wind up at the receiving end of a fistful of wrath for disrupting a synaptic leap, one of those free-associative trains of thought that could be steering him through movie moments down the years. For instance, had you sidled up to me during the interval point of Ashutosh Gowariker’s What’s Your Raashee?, you’d have muddied a mental image of Rakesh Roshan galloping through the countryside on a chestnut-brown steed.
That’s the snapshot from Paraya Dhan that was dredged up from the deep recesses – mainly, I think, because those five minutes of song (Aaj unse pehli mulaqaat hogi) capture, with blithe effortlessness, something that eludes Gowariker in three-plus hours of film: the anticipation of meeting one’s bride-to-be for the very first time. What does Harman Baweja (playing an NRI from Chicago) feel as he contrives to run into each of the twelve women corresponding to the twelve signs of the Zodiac? (Each one is portrayed by Priyanka Chopra, and explained away by the conceit that every woman you meet in the arranged-marriage scenario ends up resembling the woman of your dreams.) Baweja’s performance leaves you with very little clue, and Gowariker doesn’t appear too interested, either, in his hero’s emotional investment in a decision so life-altering. The latter could be in a Hallmark store browsing through greeting cards for all you care.
The point isn’t the (by-now fairly established) truism that Baweja is an actor of fairly limited means. Rakesh Roshan – who, I suppose, would fall under the same generic category of butterball leading men – could never be accused of great thesping either. But those films of a certain age, and of a certain vintage, at least tried to compensate for these inadequacies. Every line of lyric in the Paraya Dhan number was an invitation to the audience to peer into the hero’s state of mind during this historic chapter of his young life. (The lilting swing in RD Burman’s music and the anticipatory boisterousness in Kishore Kumar’s rendition took care of the rest.) There are a lot of things about Old Bollywood that have deservedly been laid to rest, but watching something like What’s Your Raashee? (which tries very hard to be clean, old-fashioned entertainment) makes you wonder if a few babies haven’t been thrown out with the bathwater. Sohail Sen contributes a dozen songs to the soundtrack – not one of them is of any use to the proceedings.
The other reliable props of Old Bollywood – say, the comedy track (in this case, an excruciating sideshow about a private detective trailing an adulterous husband) – are also major misfires in this typically bloated Gowariker feature (with typically ham-handed excursions into messagey territory), and all we’re left with is the leading lady. Priyanka Chopra needed to fire on all cylinders if there was to be any hope of salvage – and thankfully she does. (What’s Your Raashee? is essentially one long heroine-showreel.) In her first avatar, she’s handed some alarmingly broad comic material to pull off, and she flounders, but she quickly settles into a comfortable groove and acts rings around her costars. She’s perfect, of course, as the steel-infused women of today, but I was also pleased to see her channel, with equal ease, the silent sighs of the long-ago heroine (along with the dhak-dhak heaves of the not-so-long-ago heroine). It isn’t a stretch to picture her as the one Rakesh Roshan, all those years ago, was imagining happy tomorrows with.
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