Saturday 20 December 2008

Mashaal (1984)

With direction by Yash Chopra in his socialist masala mode, powerhouse performances by our beloved Dilip Kumar, current house favorite Anil Kapoor and the wonderful Waheeda Rehman, and a great script by Javed Akhtar... there was no way Mashaal could have been bad. And indeed, the first half is transcendentally glorious. Unfortunately, things take a dip at intermission and the powerful story loses considerable steam, eventually dragging itself to a whimpering finish.

The original angry tapori kid.

We think the problem is that the first half is so nuanced and real that we were blindsided when things suddenly took a bizarre masala turn at intermission. Nonetheless, the incredible performances of Dilip Kumar and Anil Kapoor, especially in the early scenes, are reason enough to watch this film and call it - not great - but good.

Vinod Kumar (Dilip Kumar) is a courageous reporter who, after being fired by his editor for all that inconvenient muckraking, moves to a notorious Mumbai slum, Dongarbhatti, and sets up his own independent paper there. He's not thrilled with the sleazy surroundings - "Every night, drunks yelling, rowdies fighting!" he complains - but his supportive, patient wife, Sudha (Waheeda Rehman), encourages him to stick it out for a while. When a local goon, Raja (Anil Kapoor), starts threatening Vinod's paper business, Vinod refuses to back down. Instead, having glimpsed the hurt innocent hidden beneath all the layers of Raja's bad attitude and cocky swaggering, Vinod decides to take Raja under his wing and turn him into an upstanding member of society. Raja blossoms under Vinod and Sudha's care, and eventually they send him off to journalism school.

As soon as Raja is safely away, tragedy... after tragedy... after tragedy strikes, and all the foundations of Vinod's do-good idealism are shattered. Shaken and destraught, he decides to join the underworld (?!). When the new, squeaky-clean Raja returns from university and joins the Socialist Gazette (okay, it's not really called that, but it should be), he is soon confronted with the unsavory truth: his guru and guiding light has now fallen very low indeed. It all goes straight-up masala from here.

The Puri brothers - Amrish and Madan - play the villains, with (oddly) older Madan playing second-banana to younger Amrish.

All Raja wants to do is kick it with his loafer crew!

The problem, we think, is that Vinod's sudden decision to turn gangster strains credulity. For a film that methodically established all these complex and subtle characterizations, it was disappointingly filmi to have Dilip suddenly descend into his (admittedly low-key) crime lair. And it was very hard to believe that his bumbling, middle-aged friends (Saeed Jaffrey!) would suddenly become hardcore henchmen. If Yash ji and Javed sahab will permit us, we think the story would have packed a lot more punch had Vinod instead become an alcoholic or something. Same disappointment - much more believable and hence poignant!

This was really a shame, since the first half was so amazingly amazing. Gosh - the first half was like a more complex Hindi version of Good Will Hunting. Watching the hardcore, tapori Raja come out of his shell to reveal all the hurt and anger from being a slum kid always pressed down by the heel of society was incredibly touching. Anil Kapoor sirf ek abhineta nahin - hira hai, hira! All kudos go to Anil Kapoor, who won the Filmfare for this, for giving one of the best performances we've seen from him (and, if you've been keeping up with the PPCC, you know we've seen a lot recently). Just watch the following scenes: first, when Raja is first invited to Vinod and Sudha's house - how he marvels at being served coffee, and how he describes his parents' deaths with forced indifference. Second, when - after a falling out between the two - Vinod visits a drunken, upset Raja in his home and Raja tells him a little more about his parents. Anil just knocks it out of the park here - the rage at all the terrible injustices of his upbringing, and his desperate desire to be loved and accepted by Vinod! It was, as Rum would say, a moment of barsaat tears; very impressive and very similar to the "It's not your fault" scene from Good Will Hunting. Actually, most of the first half of the film was one protracted barsaat cry - e.g., the bit when Vinod kicks Raja out of his house was HEARTBREAKING.

The sad, drunken scene. Oh, Raja, you're not a worm! You'll never be a worm! Ham PPCC aur Bruce Lee hain tere saath!

Awww, Dilip! Awww, Waheeda!

The other reason the first half is so great is, of course, Dilip Kumar's performance. We were wary of this film because we kept thinking, "Oh, it's past-his-prime Dilip Kumar, naah..." but then we watched this and were reminded why we absolutely love him. He used his typically soft-spoken, understated delivery with the superbly naturalist fidgeting. Sigh, Dilip, you're so great. And his rapport with Waheeda Rehman was also compelling and sweet. Everyone go watch Dilip's Devdas and Waheeda's Teesri Kasam now - we know we're going to.

There were other great moments in the first half: the magnificent Holi song, the budding romance between Raja and fiery reporter Geeta (Rati Aghinotri), the feminist opening, the sweet scene when they all go out to the cinema... All this was really great, and got us all excited about how things would be resolved - and yet we lost so much interest with the second act that we started wishing the silly movie would just end. Don't get us wrong - well-done masala is great. Unfortunately, this suffered from the dreaded Mishandled Masala Injection of Doom, something that not only killed out barsaat cry, but unfortunately toppled this film from the greatness it could have been. Eheu, eheu...


Anonymous said...

The PPCC laments in Latin! Video atque gaudeo!

a ppcc representative said...

Heqit - Vah! Denuone latine loquebar? Me ineptum. Interdum modo elabitur!

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

That's really true- the 2nd part was just excruciating to watch for me. The flavor of the 1st half was just fine- dunno y they mnessed it up :\

Rum said...

I love this movie, so whole-heartedly that i didn't catch the less entertaining second half, i love it and my quibbles were that how can Dilip be a crime-lord so quickly? and how did Anil become so dark then light in the second half! Maybe he used "Fair and Lovely"

a ppcc representative said...

Shweta - Yeah! Written by Javed Akhtar, but he seemed to decide he wanted it to be a different movie in the second act!

Rum - Our quibbles are the same then, and goodness, YES, the skin tone change was a bit "ahem"-inducing. I just pretended that before he had been really dirty from lack of good sanitation facilities and indoor pollution.