Friday, 21 September 2007

Mukti (1977)


The song's nice. But that's about it.


Beware the Yash Raj Collection logo, which, like a folk tale pied piper, will lead you down a dark path into a dark forest towards... a really not very good movie. Beware the gleam of Shashi Kapoor's million-rupee smile, with its prominent canines and very-straight other-teeth, winning you over even as you realize you're watching something that is not well made. Beware! Beware!

You hear sitars and watch waves crashing peacefully on the Mumbai beach, but beware! You see Shashi, gorgeous demi-god of celluloid that he was, with ringlets of hair and a new-and-exciting beard, but beware! You see Sanjeev Kumar, an actor who you recently revised your opinion of, but lo, lo, Bollywood traveller, beware!

On the surface of things, Mukti should have been good. The story had great promise for one of those juicy tearjerkers: Kailash (Shashi Kapoor) is a piano tuner and happy husband to the slightly icy Seema (Vidya Sinha). They have a beautiful (well, actually a bit annoying) little daughter, Pinky (Master Bittu), who absolutely adores her father. Sound a bit like Masoom? Yes, this is one of those Doomed Happy Families which feature so prominently in Hindi (and Nanni Moretti) movies. Except here it's a middle-ground between the sudden exposure of past infidelity of Masoom and the tragic accident of The Son's Room: one evening, Kailash accidentally stumbles upon an attempted rape. He intervenes on the girl's behalf, gets into fisticuffs with the attacker, and (again, accidentally) done shoots the attacker dead.

Meanwhile, Seema and Pinky anxiously wait for him to return home since it's Pinky's birthday party and the little noodle Pinky refuses to cut the cake (or, incidentally, take any decision EVER) if her father is not present. But Kailash is being held in the county jail - shaking like a leaf and begging to be let go. Since Kailash is friends with a local police officer, he manages to get home only in time to ring the doorbell and announce, "Lucy, I killed a man." Seema is aghast. But the police officer assures them: as long as the victim, Shobha, explains everything on the witness stand, Kailash's name will be cleared and all shall be well. Unfortunately, the rapist was the son of a politician who is quick to cover everything up and frame Kailash. With a speed and efficiency that is about as realistic as Han Solo's blasters, the Indian judicial system manages to try Kailash, find him guilty of attempted rape, and sentence him to capital punishment in a manner of (what seems like) an afternoon.

DUM DUM DUUUUUUM.

Kailash, suddenly haggard and bearded, begs Seema to leave town before the execution. Seema, heartless tart, agrees and tells the prison people that she won't be picking up her husband's dead body so you may as well, I don't know, throw it out back somewhere. She leaves her bangles on the desk as sign of her total heartless tartlessness. Kailash shuffles up to the noose, gets the burlap sack over his head, puts his head into the noose, and -

Meanwhile, Seema and Pinky are living blissfully unencumbered in an apartment block in Mumbai. Across from them is a flannel-bedecked salt o' the earth type, Ratan (Sanjeev Kumar, in possibly his most uncharacteristic role ever), who often waves to Pinky from his balcony. After spying on them for a few days, Ratan confesses to his friend that he is in love, but, alas, he has never had a girlfriend in HIS ENTIRE LIFE (!). His friend advises him that the best way to a woman's heart is through her daughter's, and hence Ratan pursues little 5-year-old Pinky with VERY CREEPY ZEAL. "Hello, little girl, aren't you a pretty little girl? Would you like a ride to school today?" While anyone with half a brain would have alarm bells going off in their head, Pinky's mother seems lackadaisical and non-plussed that Pinky has, basically, a 40-year-old suitor. Pinky even invites Ratan on a date in her home, and the latter arrives, complete with suit, tie and flowers, to have tea with his little girlfriend. Again, Seema seems unimpressed.

Yes, this is all very creepy and very wrong and while we at the PPCC understand the motivation behind these scenes, we can't help but wonder how the director ever thought this would be seen as innocent and not, well, child molest-y?

Uhmmm. Anyway. The plan to win Pinky's mother's love is failing, but Pinky's certainly falling for Ratan, who fills the Dad-shaped hole in her heart. Ratan, however, is dejected that he can't get to Seema, and so he goes and gets wasted and then DRUNKENLY STUMBLES INTO THEIR HOME LATE AT NIGHT. How many frickin' red flags can a story have about a character? Anyway, Seema chides him, avoids him, but then, when Pinky is HIT BY A CAR one afternoon when Ratan is picking her up from school (by parking on the other side of a high-traffic boulevard), Ratan and Seema are finally united, basically because Pinky insists she needs a father.

Zoom forward fourteen years. Kailash is, inexplicably, alive and released from jail. He sets out to Mumbai, searching for his family. To get by, he plays piano in a sleazy lounge. He often cries and generally looks handsome but by now the film has become so unacceptable on so many levels that we at the PPCC were unswayed even by these aesthetic pleasures. Ratan and Seema are married and Pinky has grown up into Bindiya Goswami. Even now, the relationship between Ratan and Pinky seems to have more spark than that between Ratan and Seema, which is creepy. Pinky plays piano and, one afternoon, among all the noise of Mumbai, Kailash HEARS her playing and is drawn to their home. She invites him in, he recognizes the piano, she introduces herself as Pinky, replies that, yes, her mother's name is Seema, and... Kailash plays the piano, he is so filled with joy! Yes, he's found his family! He can tell them later that he's their resurrected pater familias, once he gets through this jaunty ragtime tune!

But alas, via understandings and misunderstandings, Kailash comes to know that Ratan has already filled his position as husband-father in their lives. Kailash decides to not announce his presence and instead hides in the bushes, avoids Seema, and plans to leave Mumbai forever, dejected and rejected. He is especially moved by Ratan's seeming "goodness of heart": "They have a new pater familias now, and he seems like a nice guy, what do they need me for?"

Yes, because surely they don't care to know that you're alive or anything.

By happenstance and coinkydink, Seema learns that Kailash is alive and in Mumbai. Inexplicably, she finds his home and they have a tearful reunion. Even more inexplicably, Ratan overhears and is maddened by a jealous rage. He hires an assassin to kill Kailash with a crane (?!), but then, at the eleventh hour, drunkenly learns that actually Kailash is Kailash the Formerly Dead Husband not Kailash the Random Lover. Overcome by guilt, he pushes Kailash out from under the crane and lets himself be crushed. Seema and Pinky magically appear and weep.

Do we even need to write any further? If you've got this far, we think the problems of this film should be glaringly obvious by this lengthy recap. It just didn't work, my friends. Even with music by R.D. Burman. Even with Shashi and Sanjeev. Even with the inexplicable Yash Raj endorsement. And while Sanjeev tries his darndest to make Ratan a real human being, and is generally OK even though that human being is a sleazoid, Shashi seems visibly pained for most of the film, as if his pants are on too tight (and often they are).

3 comments:

Beth said...

Ordinarily I'd try to make a comment about Shashi and tight pants and him just needing to come play the piano at my house, but it doesn't even seem worth it. This sounds godawful, especially the self-sacrificial crane-crushing. No. Just...no. Thanks for the warning.

Madalina said...

Hi from Romania! I have seen the movie and, on the whole, I liked it. There are some inexplicable things in it, inded. One that was not mentioned in it is WHY the story writer needed have Seema tell the lawyer that she was going to help her husband at all costs , then NOTHING OF THE KIND was shown to us. On the other hand yes, apart from the musicm I found some symbols that I liked , such as the presence of the authorities during the hangingmoment, espcially that of the doctor; a doctor who is probbly meant to take care of a ready-to-be-hanged man's heart associated with a song that classifies life as "an illusion" seemed deliciously ironical to me. One million points to the director! Now, coming back to "inecplicable things", I find it absurd and even perverse to have a little boy act as a little girl.What was in Master Bittoo's parents' mind and how comes they did not think for a moment of the impact all those dresses and skirts would have on their son's psichology. these are questions I have been asking myself for a long time. Could you imagine the stout, fearful villain Raj from BIN MAA KE BACHCHE, is one and the same with the sweet, delicate Pinky from MUKTI?! ... Well, back to the movie itself, I found it relaxing and well-done if we were to refer to the direction and the actors' performance. The story in itself could have been good too if it had not been for the "incredible" aspects mentioned that made it limp. All in all, if you have not seen the movie and have nothing else to do, watch it !

Moi said...

All I want to know is why did they put Sanjeev in an Afro wig for the first half of the film? more importantly why
Did he agree to wear it?