Monday 17 December 2007

Koyla (1997)

SRK's character has been burning in the koyle of revenge for many years. Get it? Eh? EH?

Koyla (Ember) is like the cover of a Danielle Steele novel come alive, as horrific as that sounds. The first 3/4 of the film are perpetually in soft focus, where men are judged by their virility and women are either virgins or whores. Muscles glisten. Sweat pours down women's backs. Horses neigh, fires burn, and so forth. It's all a little embarrassing. The last 1/4 of the film turns much more Hindi, as the filmmakers suddenly remember to include a prologue (in the form of flashback) and the requisite 20-years-coming vengeance. But it's really the first 3/4 of the film which define Koyla.

The story: Somewhere in rural India, there is an evil mine owner, Raja Sahib (Amrish Puri). He wears puffy shirts. He drinks a lot. He has a big hairy mole on his face, obviously signifying Pure Evil. When angry, he calls people, "Bloody phool!" He has a large household of hangers-on: his sociopathic brother, Jirgwa (Salim Ghouse), his mistress, Bindiya (Deepshika), and his provider of fake Viagra pills, Vedji(Ashok Saraf). Vedji's son (Johnny Lever, in a rare serious-ish role) is the house jester and ventriloquist. Oh yes, and how could the PPCC forget the mute, hunky stable boy, Shankar (Shah Rukh Khan).

OMG, his hair.

OMG, his shirt.

OMG, his sociopath brother.

OMG, his ventriloquist.

OMG, his hunky stable boy!

In the same village, there is a happy-go-lucky girl, Gauri (Madhuri Dixit). Gauri has an army of pre-pubescent friends, and she enjoys eating marijuana-laced cookies with them and then dancing around the fields, high. See first item number. This is as much as she gets in the way of background.

Gauri and her child friends during their marijuna-induced romp.

If you cover the mullet portions with your fingers, it's really not that bad.

One day, Raja Sahib spots Gauri (presumably still high) and decides he must bed her. Preying on Gauri's greedy uncle and aunt, an exchange is made and Gauri soon finds herself in Raja's household, marrying him against her will. She is understandably appalled (more on Amrish Puri's appallingness later), and one evening, Shankar hears her cries. Forming an alliance with Johnny Lever, Shankar decides he must save Gauri. Meanwhile, Raja Sahib keeps getting drunk, demanding that Bindiya get naked, and then falling asleep before anything comes of it. Bindiya, being the Whore (yes, Gauri is the Virgin; she may eat marijuana-laced pastries with minors, but she doesn't just put out for anyone!), goes to the stables and proclaims that she needs the hunky Shankar for some sex, toot sweet. Except the man turns around: it's not Shankar, but sociopathic Jirgwa! We couldn't tell! Their mullets are so similar from behind! There is an attempted rape scene which is truly disgusting in how it lingers on the eroticism of the act, and then finally Shankar comes to the rescue. He is beaten, and once again the camera lingers in ways which made the PPCC uncomfortable. Ugh, it was all just so wrong.

The latest novel to hit the Romance section: Wounded Hearts: The Stable Hand and the Maiden.

We should note right now that we spent most of this film:
  • laughing
  • nauseous
  • both.
Anyway, after tending to Shankar's wounds in candlelit soft focus, Gauri cries and Shankar decides he must save her. But alas! If only he could say something. (Bindiya has meanwhile been shuttled away to the nearest whorehouse, where she belongs.) Since Gauri is completely helpless because she is a woman, and Shankar is semi-helpless because he can't speak, help comes in the form of Gauri's Brother, who unexpectedly returns from Dubai. Unfortunately, Brother proves to be useless, hence Shankar must save Gauri after all. He does so using motorcycles and cunning and the ever-playable Theme of Koyla (da DAAAA da da dum dum DAAAAAA, da DAAAAAA da da DUM DUM DAAAA). Raja Sahib and Jirgwa, with the help of some corrupt commandos, pursue them into the jungle. For several days, the lovers elude capture, thanks to Shankar's ninja training. Finally, it seems they are free. The helicopters disappear. Shankar has time to braid Gauri's hair. They even sing a love duet while frolicking around the mountains: Gauri and Shankar's heart (he may not have a voice, but his heart certainly does!). Yet before their song is even complete, the villains have returned. They shoot Gauri in the arm and cut out Shankar's Adam's apple in possibly the grossest scene the PPCC has ever witnessed in Hindi cinema.
This is not even half the grossness.
By now, Vedji and Johnny Lever have been completely converted to Shankar and Gauri's cause. Hence they are appalled when they learn of the two lovers' deaths. Of course, when Raja Sahib means, "I killed Gauri," he actually means, "I sold Gauri to the whorehouse." And, unbeknownst to everyone else, some Vague World Culture Mountain Folk have found Shankar in a tree and are busy replacing his throat using alternative medicine (Dances with Wolves, The English Patient)... do you see where this is going? Eh? EH? Couldn't speak, but now he gets a bright, shiny new Adam's Apple? EH? The rest is very Titus Andronicus-style bloody, where we get a flashback, Virgins and Whores unite (but Whores are killed off, as usual), grenades are indiscriminately launched, and evil is finally defeated in a protracted, needlessly violent dennouement.
Virgins and Whores, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains! OMG, that's how Johnny Lever sleeps. The best song. Yes, despite all this, there is a best song.
This is not a film that the PPCC chose to watch. we are not yet that desperate for Shah Rukh Khan, and we were certainly put off by the epic mullet he sports on the cover. Yet someone was kind enough to lend it to us, and once we started we found it difficult to stop. As we said, it was alternatively funny and disgusting. There were a number of strange occurrences: for example, the filmmakers' use of recognizable John Williams music. Just watch the fight scene between Jirgwa and Shankar in the stable, and then watch the scene in Jurassic Park where Ellie Sattler and Muldoon go in search of Dr. Grant and the kids, post-T-Rex. This wasn't even plagiarism; it sounds like they just bought a Johns Williams Greatest Hits CD and pressed Play and Stop! The PPCC also thought it recognized some of the music from Indiana Jones, which would have been doubly strange considering Amrish Puri's connection with Temple of Doom (and it being banned from India!). And yet we cannot criticize the craft of filmmaking: oddly, this is a very well put together film. The composition of many of the scenes was really gorgeous, with panoramic views of stunning mountain ranges, tracking overhead shots of people dancing, intimate close-ups with fab lighting. The songs were well choreographed, most particularly the one with chandeliers and, our favorite, the drumming one (see above). It was really the choice of subject which is to blame: who thought making Westernized romance novel-esque soft porn was a good idea? Even if it is well made, it still is what it is. The PPCC wonders what would have come about if the director had decided to remake Satyam Shivam Sundaram instead - a similar film in terms of archetypal characters and a fable-esque story coupled with pervasive eroticism. Not that Raj Kapoor didn't do a good job, but you'd just think the Koyla people would have better spent their energies making that, instead of The Stablehand and the Maiden.
What the hell was that?! Rambo.
Shah Rukh Khan was his usual self in this. The PPCC has always noted that SRK does a lot of swallowing and stuttering and stilted breathing anyway, so in this film, where he spends a lot of time trying to explain things whilst upset, it was appropriate. Actually, a note about SRK's gullet. As we mentioned there's a really gross scene where he gets his throat cut and his Adam's Apple basically falls out. It's truly the grossest thing ever, especially since afterwards they sow it back together and we get lots of stretchy throat-skin shots. (UGHHHH. Pause for the PPCC to barf.) Considering how SRK, bless his heart, has a weak chin and a wobbly gullet anyway, the PPCC was just truly disgusted by all of this throat fetishing. Ugh. Just leave his vulnerable bits alone! Madhuri Dixit was fine, but her role was awful (sigh, as per usual). She made the transition from fun-loving pothead to oppressed virgin believable, though the PPCC was still infinitely frustrated by her inability to do ANYTHING. Whatever happened to being assertive? Brother's about to get stabbed? Why not swoon? The Whore with a heart o' gold is about to be killed in your place? Hey, how about weakly banging on the grille? We think this is taking the supposed gender difference in physical strength a bit too far. But of course, it's not actually that. It's damn patriarchal society and this stupid damsel-in-distress genre! Anyway, Madhuri is such an amazing dancer, she was splendid to watch during the songs. And it was thanks to her and SRK's intense, sweaty drumming that the Drum Song was so effective. Amrish Puri often delivers his line very hoarsely and agitatedly, as if he's still hanging off that cliff in Temple of Doom. The PPCC usually enjoys this; it's his schtick, his distinctvie thing, his modus operandi as an actor. Yet in this film, where we get HEAPS and HEAPS of Amrish Puri and his hoarse talking, the PPCC quickly tired. Furthermore, the drunken lecherous scenes were disturbing. Like, really disturbing. An interesting note about Johnny Lever, who usually plays the awful Shakespeare-for-the-plebes comedy role (think Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing): it was such a change to see him playing someone with a bit more depth and sympathy.


Beth Loves Bollywood said...

I'm fast burning through all the Shahrukh that is readily available to me, but I don't think I'm going to reach for this anytime soo...EVER. It sounds vile. Thank you for explaining it, though - I would have been tempted, and you've saved me.

But all is not without a silver lining: I have a friend who does not watch Bollywood with me but is intrigued enough by my fascination that she has chosen a FPMBF (John Abraham), and she has always dreamed of having a mute stable boy at her disposal. So I'll tell her Bollywood has that covered.

Anonymous said...

My mother and I watched this film a while ago and... Oh my god, we could barely get through it. It was terrible! The only worse Bollywood film I've seen (at least watched completely from beginning to end) was the 1996 Anil Kapoor/Madhuri Dixit film 'Rajkumar'. Terrible. If you ever decide that you want either DVD? Just let me know. I'll let you have them for free. I just can't stand to see them in my DVD collection.

Ness said...

Because there is clearly something very very wrong with me, I JUST ORDERED THIS FILM based ENTIRELY off this review, and largely because of that picture of SRK's face covered in blood. It all looks so very very bad. I clearly need help (but I am hungry for Shahrukh, even horrible horrible mullety bloodied Shahrukh nonsense).

Ami said...

This film is like someone holding a checklist of what are the most horribly gory things they can include in a movie with SRK in it and ticking the items one-by-one.

A trivia: considering this movie is post-DDLJ, in the same year as DTPH and a year b4 makes SRK's "frequently-bloody" Shankar avatar grotesquely fascinating. Oh, he also buffed up for the movie and broke his knee/leg in one of the songs. This movie does indeed have everything~~ (lol)

JD said...

I too am on a happy trek thru everything Shahrukh has ever filmed. I moved this film up in my Netflix queue upon reading the above review. I liked it enough that I am now owner of a DVD copy of the film. Why? You ask and rightly so.

Yes, this is indeed a dime novel come to life, complete with:
= icky attempted rape scene
= evil bad guys who are predictably inept at shooting, lecherous but drunken off their tushes, megalomaniacal but stupid and prone to other assorted cliches
= senseless blood n' guts (or in this case, blood and larynx)
= a soft focus, love on the run montage

But right about the time Hero was braiding Heroine's hair while they were on the lam, I gave up on the whole necessity of cohesive storyline and simply wallowed in the tawdry, over the top trashiness of the whole thing. It was glorious. It is like a Lifetime Movie Network flick of the week on steroids, with some god-awful stunts (punches should at least appear to connect) and some truly smarmy, diabetes- inducing moments of kitsch. And yes, I so love it that it's going straight to my "guilty pleasures" movie list.