We wuv u.
Actually, scratch that - Pran, you can come too. And Madhuri, of course. But all you other folk - you Radioheads, you Shashi Kapoors, you pizzas, you family members - can get out. Sorry, there's just no more space for you anymore. Maybe if you grow a mustache and go, "Ah-hyuk, HAH HEYYYY!!!" we'll let you in purely on novelty value (a pizza in a mustache?), but if you're not willing to compromise your individuality in the name of His Stacheliness then it's the road for you! See ya, wouldn't wanna BE YA.
Some of you loyal readers might marvel that, between the known flop Trimurti and the known super-hit 1942: A Love Story, we chose to watch and review Trimurti first. But that's just how we roll. We'd much rather watch something that flopped and find it's a hidden gem for the PPCC than (1) just confirm that, yes, the super-hit classic really is good (booooring), or, even worse, (2) we don't think the super-hit classic is any great shakes (perish the thought!). (Too bad Trimurti really was bad...) And then there's the usual problem: what can we say about 1942: A Love Story that hasn't already been said? And said? And said?
Well, if some of you are coming here from a certain science fiction magazine today, then allow the PPCC to make some wild assumptions about your demographic: white? American? unfamiliar with Bollywood? maybe you just watched a certain little film win Best Picture at the Golden Globes last night? Then stick around, because this may be the only way the PPCC can contribute anything of value in our review of 1942. We can say, behold!, Bollywood virgin, that sleazy game show host from Slumdog Millionaire is a lot more famous in India for this (aaand this) than some flashy yet likable quasi-Orientalist super-hyped glittering bauble that wins like ten gazillion unexpected awards. Ta da!
One of the film's many iconic moments.
"I saw a girl and it was like... like... " JUST SAY IT, FOR GOD'S SAKE. IT WAS LIKE FLOWERS BLOSSOMING. LIKE A POET'S VERSE. Oooooh, ek ladki ko dekha to aisa lagaaaaaa...
A rare historical romance, 1942's lovers are the bouncy, bourgeois Naren (Anil Kapoor) and the kind-hearted Rajeshwari (Manisha Koirala). He is a pampered, upbeat muppet whose father (Manohar Singh) is an evil collaborator with the British Raj, while she is a quiet working class girl whose father (Anupam Kher) is an underground revolutionary. The lovers meet via a couple coincidences and Naren's local amateur theater director, played by - wait for it, wait for it - we can't say it, it's too wonderful - okay, yes, yes, we can say it - PRAAAAAAN (!!!!!). The year is, yes, 1942 and hence we are thick in the heat of the Indian Independence Movement. For once, some effort has gone not only into authentically recreating the historical context - pageboy hats, old cars, and saddle shoes abound - but also in presenting a believable portrait of oppression under the British Raj. The film's villain, the British General Douglas (Brian Glover, looking distinctly like he could be Colin Mochrie's dad), speaks in a caricatured raspy growl, but everything else is presented realistically and sans outrageous embellishment. Throw in one hunky freedom fighter, Shubhankar (Jackie Shroff), and one hunky tormented collaborator, Major Hisht (Danny Denzongpa), and the fun abounds. Throw in a secret plot to assassinate General Douglas, and the tension skyrockets!
This film is really an enjoyable little number. Director Vidhu Vinod Chopra has an excellent eye for iconic framing, and the narrative has a sort of epic drive that makes even the most throwaway scene feel cataclysmic and gargantuan. Some moments - such as when Naren pursues Rajeshwari through the town's alleys, or Pran's arrest - aspired to sublimity. The film also made innovative use of Romeo and Juliet - indeed, this is the first time we've seen Shakespeare's lovers used in a Hindi film rather than the more typical Laila and Majnu myth. In 1942, the local theater company is performing a Hindi translation of Romeo and Juliet, and Naren and Rajeshwari naturally fall into these roles. We at the PPCC have been culturally indoctrinated into Romeo and Juliet, and so when this film passed all the same defining moments - the balcony scene, the secret marriage, the misinformation about their lover's death - it got an immediate emotional response from us. Even better, like West Side Story to racism, this film managed to successfully graft the classical Romeo/Juliet mythos over the much larger narrative about the freedom struggle.
The balcony scene squeezed squishy feelings from our heart, and we relived the thousand other balcony scenes we've all seen and loved.
PraaaAAAAAAAAaaaaAAAAAAAAAaan! Admit it, this is not the craziest thing we've caught Pran doing.
Another interesting thing to note were the visual and aural allusions to the freedom struggle. Director Chopra often uses classical Western pieces in his background score, and here he makes heavy use of a certain recognizable Western piece to herald the British Raj's oppressive military presence. Which one is it? Why, it's Holst's Mars, God of War. Clever! Meanwhile, the scenes of Indian resistance are accompanied by the rousing anthem, Saare Jahan Se Accha, or a really phat, speedy sitar riff.
A cunning visual reference to the anti-imperial struggle: Princess Leia buns!
The performances were all fine. We should admit that another reason we were not so excited to see this was that we're not very interested in soft focus romances - and we certainly don't watch Anil Kapoor for his straightforward, vanilla hero roles. Nonetheless, he's effectively Mickey Mouse in this. Manisha Koirala does her usual ethereal moping thing. But the real stand-out of this film was Anupam Kher. See! Anupam Kher is a good actor - a very good actor! Just give the man something to work with! In 1942, he is worlds apart from the usual grating comedy antics he was forced to do: here, his performance is extremely understated, quietly passionate, fragile and compelling. We found his scenes more moving than the lovers!
Oh, Anupam Kher!
Pran and Anil Kapoor sharing celluloid is almost too much for the PPCC to handle.
Much is made of this being legendary music director R.D. Burman's final film. The oft-parodied Ek Ladki Ko Dekha (I saw a girl) is lovely (if overly familiar), but - and please don't burn the PPCC down for this - we actually didn't really dig the rest of the soundtrack. Plus, it was one of those relentless soundtracks with song after song after song - for once, we wanted to skip the songs and get back to the most excellent story!
Guh, just look at that composition! "Jai Hind!" indeed!