“Marjaavaan”… A horrendous attempt at replicating the must-haves of a masala movie

Posted on November 22, 2019


Forget the weak stabs at a masala universe, the film — which features some truly horrendous filmmaking — doesn’t even set up its own universe.

Spoilers ahead…

Walking out of Milap Zaveri’s beyond-awful Marjaavaan, I wanted to create an organisation I’d call SPOMM: Society for Protection of Masala Movies. No, really. I’ve had it. Today’s younger viewers not valuing the genre and laughing at it is bad enough. But it’s worse when the filmmakers themselves are clueless. They simply think in terms of lazy throwbacks to earlier masala movies. Let’s give the leading man (Raghu, played by Sidharth Malhotra) a headband like the one Jackie Shroff wore in Hero. Or, let’s make a Muslim character lame and call him Mazhar… because he’s like the Mazhar Khan character in Shaan. Or, let’s have Raghu walking around like a rowdy, with a matchstick sticking out of his mouth… because Dilip Kumar did that in Mughal-e-Azam. No, wait!

Not that they’d know the difference. The film looks like someone sat down and made a bunch of post-its of “must-haves”, and then someone else slapped those post-its onto random pages of the screenplay. A masala movie needs punch dialogue? Okay, how about something like… “Main maaroonga to mar jayega – dobara janam lene se dar jayega.” A masala movie needs a mother figure? A masala movie also needs a “good” Muslim? Okay, let’s put Suhasini Mulay in a burqa. (But whose mother is she, exactly? I still don’t know. And would her character have changed had she been Roman Catholic? I still don’t know). A masala movie needs a love angle? Okay, let’s toss Zoya (Tara Sutaria) into the mix. And also, make her mute… because Nirupa Roy was mute in some movie. Or something.

Raghu takes one look at Zoya and falls for her. The director keeps hoping that one half of the audience will keep staring at Sidharth Malhotra (who’s just the actor you’d hire to play a gangster’s underling) and the other half at Tara Sutaria — and so no one will actually notice what’s passing for “dialogue” between them. (Zoya has a translator.) This is all so oatmeal-bland that I was more interested in the sex worker Aarzoo, played by Rakul Preet Singh. She flicks an idea from Pakeezah about caged birds. Raghu is one, she says. And the cage belongs to Anna (Nassar), who is a Tamil-speaking mafia don. What a lovely bit of casting (and irony) to have the cop from Nayakan now on the other side of the equation. That’s just me, by the way. I’m sure the people who made this film don’t care. They probably just wanted a “South” actor… because Rajinikanth is from the South. Or something.

Riteish Deshmukh shows up as the villain, a dwarf named Vishnu… because masala movies should have mythical references and here’s a modern-day Vamana avatar. But then, masala movies are also about opposites — so how come the hero is named Raghu, who was an ancestor of Rama, another avatar of Vishnu? (Mind voice: You really think anyone thought that far?) In the climax, set during Dussehra, the Hanuman Chaleesa is played at full volume and we see Raghu standing above the cardboard Ravana’s ten heads. (I need ten heads to decrypt what they were thinking. Or maybe Sidharth Malhotra came to the set and simply said: “Hey, that’s a really tall statue. I wonder what the view is like from the top.”)

Forget these weak stabs at a masala universe, the film — which features some truly horrendous filmmaking — doesn’t even set up its own universe. Why does Vishnu, who is Anna’s son, hate Raghu, an orphan Anna raised? Because he thinks his father likes Raghu more. That’s it. Now, recall a similar rivalry in Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki. Deb Mukherjee was Nutan’s biological son, and he resented Vinod Khanna because Nutan was partial to him. And why was she partial? Because she felt guilty about his mother’s death, and the mother was her husband’s mistress. There’s so much story, so much baggage, so much dramatic possibility. If today’s filmmakers can’t write on their own, why not just buy the rights of older films that worked and rewrite them to suit today’s sensibilities? Translation: Add an item number by Nora Fatehi.

She appears in the remix of a Janbaaz song. Aarzoo dances to a remix of a Dayavan number. A canny meta-comment on the film itself being a lazy remix? Nah. It’s just laziness. But they do end up doing something “creative” with another older song. Zoya gives Raghu a harmonica, so that Vishnu can keep saying, “Harmonica… O my darling.” (I. Am. Not. Kidding.) Aarzoo is apparently the Chandramukhi character, just so that Vishnu can conjure up a line with the rhyming word “jwalamukhi“. Plus, she actually uses the mukhda of Salaam-e-ishq meri jaan as a line of dialogue. Someone else uses a mukhda of Koi humdum na raha as a line of dialogue. My inner self wanted to use Ai ai ya karoon main kya suku suku as a line of dialogue.

Copyright ©2019 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi