Monday 20 August 2007

Baazigar (1993)

In Episode 17 of Arun Krishnan's podcast Learn Hindi from Bollywood movies, Mr. Krishnan asks whether Indian men are "mama's boys". If someone had only the movie Baazigar to answer this question, the response wouldn't be a mere "Yes." but rather an, "OH... MY... GOD."

Because Baazigar is the tale of a mama's boy. And not just any mama's boy. This movie is about The Mama's Boy.

Lithe like a cat! Graceful like a deer!

Consider this: When something horrible happens to your mom, you may feel enraged. Say, for instance, your dad's colleague, Madan (Dalip Tahil), swindled your family out of the family business, thus sending all of you into destitution and wretched poverty (surprisingly rapidly! but no matter). And let's say, further, that that colleague then had the audacity to flirt with your mom in front of your 10-year-old impressionable and enraged self. You might feel justifiably angry, appalled even. You might even seek legal action once you turn of age. Not so for Ajay (Shah Rukh Khan), who decides that the best way to redeem his family's honor and, most importantly, take revenge for past insults against his mother, is to not only steal the company back but also kill a few of the colleague's family. These are no impassioned homicides, the sorry result of a lifetime of hate. No, this demented ninja has calculated coldly and rationally how best to lay down his evil plan of exacting revenge. It's almost like Hamlet. Except without the paralyzing indecision; unlike his Danish cousin, Ajay loses no time in moving swiftly towards his goal.

The unfortunates who get in Ajay's way are Seema (Shilpa Shetty, recently involved in a cheek-kissing scandal), his girlfriend and the eldest daughter of his enemy, and Priya (Kajol), his... second girlfriend and Seema's younger sister. When Ajay realizes that he's getting no closer to Darth Madan via his relationship with Seema, he ruthlessly disposes of her (via the old pushing-you-off-the-roof trick), trades in his bookish identity for a racecar-driving hunk named 'Vicky', and begins schmoozing the second daughter (even as she grieves! almost Richard III-ian).

Our favorite song; wherein Ajay and Seema dance with gay abandon, even though Ajay's actually planning to kill Seema in the next scene.

This is all very fun and exciting in a horror B-movie kind of way. You watch with delicious excitement as Priya gets tantalizingly close to discovering her sister's murderer and hence demasking the evil Ajay. But then, just as the film is winding down to its inevitable finish, everything pulls a 180 and, as in that same year's Darr, you end up sympathizing with the schizo villain.

A cute early song.

People say this was Shah Rukh's Magic Touch, that certain something that propelled him to superstardom. Here was an actor with "unconventional" good looks (those eyebrows so lovingly arched by God! those dimples! that mop of hair!) who took daring, unpopular roles and infused them with vulnerability and charm. No one since Saif Ali Khan has done something similar and it seems that, in Bollywood, it takes courage to play the villain, and talent to make him lovable. (Bollywood's not really big on anti-heroes.)

While Shilpa Shetty doesn't leave much of an impression, this movie also shows how likable and talented a young Kajol was. She could switch from energetic and feisty to grieving yet impassioned at the drop of a hat (or, well, sister), and it's this range of ability that she also displayed in another hit, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. It's a shame she's not doing anything except cameos anymore, since she was truly a match for Shah Rukh - often outdoing him in terms of sheer personality and oomph.

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