Monday 17 September 2007

Aa Gale Lag Jaa (1973)

It's surprisingly easy to appeal to the PPCC. If you have more than a few of these ingredients, your success with us is practically assured:
1. Father-son bonding (squish!)
2. A little child who is rambunctious and adorable and also disabled, a la Tiny Tim (squish squish!)
3. Babies (BABIES)
4. Shashi Kapoor (hubba hubba)
5. reasonable amount of decent songs
6. lots of roller skating, and we mean LOTS
7. dinosaurs
8. ...with frickin' laser beams on their heads!!
9. Jedi!!!

OK, we're getting carried away. And while Aa Gale Lag Jaa (Come and Embrace Me, or AGLJ) doesn't have the dinosaurs or Jedi, it has all of that shamelessly heart-warming, shamelessly heart-string-pulling chutzpah of other films in the Domestic Destruction series (Masoom, Kasme Vaade, Naajayaz...).

AGLJ begins typically enough in snow-covered Kashmiri/Swiss mountains, wherein a helmet-haired damsel, Preeti (Sharmila Tagore), is pursued with zeal by her mutton-chopped admirer, Prem (Shashi Kapoor). Preeti is a pretty (ha) med student who catches the eye of Prem, who is a... roller skating instructor. Not that there's anything wrong with that. At the annual fancy dress on wheels ball, Prem attempts to wow Preeti with his skating and singing skillz. Preeti remains unimpressed, and invites him to sit on some slabs of ice for one of her medical classes. He does so (NAKED SHASHI OH MY GOD), and we are all taught that when a companion is suffering from hypothermia you must get naked and rub yourself vigorously against them in order to restore their body heat. OK, they didn't actually advise rubbing. But tell Prem that!

He skates! He sings! What can't he do?

Anyway. Prem and Preeti soon find an opportunity to test this theory when Prem, dumbass that he can sometimes be, slips on his skates while carrying Preeti down an icy slope, hence letting her fall into a frozen lake. Silly Prem. Preeti is now properly hypothermic and, after dragging her back to a nearby cabin and trying unsucessfully to find a doctor and/or revive her with the heat of his hotness, Prem must use the ol' fashioned naked person treatment. He does so, visibly anxious.

Inevitably, as often happens, you know how it is, these things, they just... well, unsurprisingly or perhaps shockingly, Preeti wakes up to the next day, pregnant. We can imagine your brain is filled with exclamation points, as was ours. As was Beth's, who made several good points about the 'What the hell was that?' nature of this scene. Let us gloss over this and continue...

Preeti's father, Seth (Om Prakash), is obviously shocked that all it took was one frozen night with Shashi Kapoor to get her daughter pregnant. Apart from questions of honor and virginity and Promise Rings, they knew each other for how long?! While Prem is very willing to take charge of his paternal obligations and marry Preeti, the very idea of his daughter marrying a skate instructor sends a chill down Seth's spine, and now begins a very confusing whirlwind of deceipt and coincidences that only a director like Manmohan Desai could cook up. We end up with this: Preeti thinks her child was born stillborn, Prem is taking care of the child and thinks Preeti is just some cold-hearted bitch for giving the kid up, and Preeti also thinks Prem is heartlessly greedy and doesn't love her. The only one who knows everything is Seth and, briefly, Prem's mom (who promptly expires on the lawn).

Suddenly the film takes a human-soaked turn, as Prem jumps into his paternal role with much heart and soul:

Don't you just melt?

The poor kid grows up into Rahul (Master Tito), who wears a leg-brace for what we assume for much of the movie is polio-related. Rahul and Prem live in a humble abode (made of corrugated iron! under the hot sun!) by the skating rink at which Prem teaches. Rahul is fun and cuddly and just cheeky enough to make you love him. Prem, now nursing the wounds of this sad situation for over eight years, is a bit more subdued from earlier.

Cue more coincidences. Preeti's fiancee, Amar (the excellent Shatrughan Sinha from Kaala Patthar), returns from Germany, bumps into Rahul, invites everyone to a big party at his place, and declares, in front of everyone, that he will not get married to Preeti until he cures Rahul. (Interests... conflicting... brain... cannot cope...) Prem and Preeti see each other again, and there is much tearful misunderstanding. Everyone plays a jolly round of musical chairs, which actually works wonderfully in establishing all the intricate emotional connections between the characters. Now, as Rahul's desire for a mother flares up in his growing friendship with (unbeknownst to him, his real mother) Preeti, the pressure is on: when will everyone just realize what the hell is going on!? Grandpa Seth almost gives it all away a number of times, due to Rahul's overpowering cuteness and his own growing guilt. But it takes a long, tangential fight on fiery roller skates, some questionable applications of Freudian psychology (which we at the PPCC do not endorse!), and a reprise of the father-son song to get to reconciliation. And trust us, you will weep like a baby who has just been tossed up into the air when it didn't want to be.

He drowns his sorrows in an accordion. Damn that falsetto!

We are now going to take this moment, when we usually evaluate the performances, to complain. Why, oh why, is the mainstream Bollywood heroine so bitchy? When Preeti gets all saucy with Prem at the skating rink, we could not help but want to throw snow cones at her. Where is your heart, woman? Maybe we're siding too much with Prem, though.

Anyway. The stand-out performance is, of course, Master Tito as little Rahul. Some people have a natural disinclination towards child actors, and it's true that some come across as weirdly happy and maybe a little high. Master Tito, however, apart from having an interesting name, also makes many a smart turn as Rahul and often matches the adult actors in terms of subtlety. (Which is, of course, to say that these movies are never incredibly subtle... but he was good!) Watch, for example, his adorable humming and hawing at Grandpa Seth, when the latter catches him cursing a painting of him. Or when Rahul yells at Grandpa Seth to watch where he's driving ("Hey, I'm walkin' here!"). Actually, all the Seth-Rahul interactions were terribly, painfully adorable.

We are blinded by Shashi's hotness and thus cannot objectively evaluate him.

Sharmila Tagore was acceptable as Preeti though, whether this be her fault's or the director's, our sympathies went invariably towards the father-son pair. We did, however, love her early 70s do and her outfits.


Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Oh my god. You do love Shashi! Good. We can now move on, holding hands and skipping through the flowery fields.

Here at BLB we tend to be very happy whenever anyone flips the man-as-dominant-breadwinner paradigm, particularly in Bollywood, where women come out badly, socio-economically, most of the time (and tend towards the shrill, as you point out). We also like interesting applications of science, such as Shashi being able to de-hypothermia-ize and impregnate someone just by being in the same bed with them. It gets very cold here in Illinois in the winter, so we might be looking into that technology. Also blindness-by-Shashi is a serious problem and the authorities seem to be doing nothing about it. While BLB cannot recommend going cold turkey, we don't want to be ruined for all other actors, not even just all the other prominent-in-the-70s actors.

But then again, the little hamster that runs on the wheel that powers our brain fell off due to exhaustion during this movie, and that can be hard to recover from.

Anyhoo, really I'm just commenting to say
1) right on
2) I have some very fine screen captures from this movie that I am happy to share should you so require,
3) I'm in love with you blog and I want the world to know, and
4) more please!

Hans Meier said...

To PPCC: In that list of requirements there at the beginning of the article, you don't mention
- a healthy dose of Sharmila Tagore
I think you should give your priorities a think-over!

Hans Meier said...

Me again. Like Beth, i think something carried you away. The captions in this post, for instance, are way sub PPCC standard.

Then that list at the top, i can't get over it: So you prefer dinosaurs over Sharmila Tagore? And is that why you disapprove of Freud?