Three from Bollywood

Channel 4 has been running a short season of Indian ('Bollywood') films. Now, I'm not normally a great fan of Indian cinema: their audiences know what they like, and it's very long films with lots of melodrama and comedy - subtlety is not usually a requirement - and plenty of songs and dancing in that odd combination of Indian classical and Western disco. Print quality and soundtrack used to be appalling, but they have caught up there and good photography, high-quality prints and Dolby stereo soundtracks seem to be the norm now.

So I thought I'd give three of these films a go: with reservations, they proved worth seeing. Om Shanti Om (2007) is pitched as a musical, with a good deal of comedy even though the underlying plot is melodramatic. A bit-part performer in 1970s Bollywood, Om (Shahrikh Khan) falls in love with an established film star Shanti (Deepika Padukone): however she is secretly married to the film's slimy producer (Arjun Rampal). He wants to keep the marriage secret for career reasons: when she demands to have it recognized he kills her, and also Om who witnesses the murder.

Thirty years later he been resurrected as a successful film star: only eventuallly remembering his former life he finds an actress with a strong resemblence to Shanti with the hope of scaring the producer into a confession: but during their attempt Shanti's ghost appears and kills him in revenge.

The film is fun, though you don't have to take the melodramatic plot too seriously (and it makes little sense), and the songs and music fit into it well. There are some amusinc digs at 1970s Bollywood, including placing Shanti into scenes from some old films.

The second film, Rang de Basanti (The Colour of Sacrifice) (2006) is a more serious affair. British documentary film-maker Sue (Alice Patten) is intrigued by the diary of British officer in 1940s India who oversaw the jailing and hanging of several young Indian men for being freedom fighters against British rule. Refused permission by her company to make a film about it she goes to India anyway and with the help of a friend recruits several young men to act in her film.

They are young, irresponsible and mostly interested in chasing girls, but gradually get caught up in the drama of the story. Tensions mount when a Muslim joins the otherwise Hindi cast: then a friend who flies MiG fighter planes for the government is killed in a crash which is attributed to poor maintenance - itself caused by government corruption. Incensed by this, and inspired by the characters they have been acting, they assassinate the Minister responsible and hijack a radio station to broadcast their reasons: they are killed by the security forces. A caption tells us that though this is fiction, many pilots have been killed in MiG crashes.

The drama is well played out, involving us as the comedy slowly turns to drama and tragedy: but the obligatory songs and dances are spatchcocked into the plot and merely distract from it: the film would be much stronger and more effective without them. However it's certainly produced an effect in India, spurring protests about corruption and being itself none too popular with the authorities.

From comedy and serious drama to overblown historical epic. Jodhaa Akbar (2008) is based very loosely on a real Mughal emperor of the sixteenth century, though most of the plot is fiction. Emperor Akbar (Hrithik Roshan) has conquered most of the kingdoms over a wide area. To cement this rule over the Rajputs he marries the King's daughter, Jodhaa (Aishwarya Rai) over her opposition. Though they are hostile to each other at first, their love slowly develops, and this is the main plot of the film through a welter of subplots involving battles, treason, revenge and duels.

The film has caused controversy: present-day Rajputs objected to the portrayal of their ancestors (who I would have thought come out of the story quite well, even though one of them is the main villain), and there have been objections about historical accuracy (Jodhaa may actually have been married to Akbar's son) which seem a bit off the point - it's on a par with Robin Hood: a colourful legend, not a history lesson.

Though Roshan is a little bland, Rai is genuinely beautiful and acts the character convincingly; and the other actors manage the grand manner without turning it into ham. The inevitable songs and dances - with a huge number of dancers - jar less than they might in what is hardly an accurate representation of history: and the photography is stunning. It's a tribute to the film-maker's skill that it sustains what is really a very slight plot through three hours and twenty minutes (though I was watching it in a comfortable armchair with breaks when required: I would have been less happy about it in a cinema with no interval). It deserves to be on Blu-Ray - it isn't yet, but there is an apparently none-too-good DVD transfer - though I'm not entirely sure it would stand up to repeated viewing. Well worth seeing once, though, in the best quality you can find. Just get a comfortable chair.

Posted: Mon - February 15, 2010 at 10:41 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM