Monday 22 December 2008

Pukar (2000)

For lovers of maximum meltdown, Pukar (Calling) is for you. Kind of like a superficial version of Dil Se, it has all the same juicy ingredients - gorgeous, dream-like song sequences (music by A.R. Rahman!), a demented heroine who drives her hero similarly demented, an unhealthy and very doomed love triangle, fabulous fight sequences, an impressionist, colorful aesthetic, a Himalayan backdrop and heaps o' crazy. Heck, it even has a "we must avert the evil terrorist plot to blow something up on August 15" climax. Unlike Dil Se, however, Pukar isn't worried about advancing any sociopolitical message or philosophical conundrum. It's just about the crazy. WELCOME THE CRAZY!

We at the PPCC are highly appreciative of actors who can melt down like steel at high temperatures. We like to see The Flip-Out, that moment when he or she just loses it completely - flailing, yelling, havoc-making. Our best-of-the-best, Toshiro Mifune, used to go all frenzied on enemy samurai. Hayaaaaaaah! Dil Se's Shah Rukh Khan won our hearts with that fight scene in the sewer - he was at 200%! And the reason we can't get off the Anil Kapoor All the Time train, no matter how hard we try, is because - happy surprise! - the man is just so good at flipping out. And Pukar is just one, long flip-out. Usually a character flips out only after he or she's reached the end of his tether. Well, in Pukar, Anil reaches the end of his pretty early... with Madhuri following close behind! So most of the film is just watching these two charismatic actors go demented, again... and again... and again... Enjoy! We know we did!

At the top...

...and at the bottom.

Pukar is essentially the story of an angry, young PPCC Amitabh Anjali (Madhuri Dixit). When Anjali's old school crush, Jai (Anil Kapoor), returns home as a conquering hero, all the old, squishy feelings come flooding back. And Jai's pretty awesome - with his goofy smile, poofy hair and bad-assness, he's just come from single-handledly taking down terrorist mastermind, Abhrush (a bald and scary Danny Denzongpa). Yet after skimming past Anjali with some pleasantries, he falls for beauty queen Pooja (Namrata Shirodkar) at the awesome West Side Story-esque bop. Argh, Madhuri's dil! Heck, our dil! Anil, how could you break it like that?! It's Madhuri, your pyaar, for crying out loud! This does not bode well.

At the top (and incidentally, YAY OM PURI!!!)...

...and at the bottom.

Poor Anjali, rather than picking herself up and gathering the pieces of her heart off the floor with some dignity, quickly spirals into Medea-esque spurned-and-insane-now destructiveness. Lured by the Mississippi Masala Uncle - who, by the way, looks a lot like our beloved Giancarlo Giannini at certain angles; and is, in the film, in cahoots with the evil Ambhrush - Anjali steals some military code from Jai and basically succeeds in ruining his life. Her plan to hurt him works a little better than expected - as the beauty queen, military glory, joie de vivre, raison d'etre and sobriety flee from Jai like... uh, something that flees from something else very quickly. Hindus from a beef buffet? New Year's Resolutions from the PPCC?

Anyway, the rest of the film is just one protracted meltdown at maximum voltage, with a hasty patch-up cobbled together for the required "happy ending". Though honestly, everything that does go wrong, can go wrong to Jai and Anjali, so the only reason we think they're smiling in the end is because they've finally completely lost their minds.

Check out that fabulous composition! The ladder's diagonal, the rough texture of the stone wall, and poor Anjali dwarfed by the size of her HUGE, exponentially-expanding problems.

Even though this wasn't a very profound film in terms of content, it was very well-done in several ways. The music, as we said, was absolutely divine. It was so good, even Lata ji shows up in a rare on-screen appearance. It was so good that - we kid you not - the PPCC actually loved the song Kismat Se Tum from long ago, before having seen a single Hindi film. Yes, it was that good. It crossed temporal borders and went BACK IN TIME to make us love it! Many of the compositions were striking - with excellent colors, textures and lines. The choreography in the "love is great, no, love sucks" dance-off was inspired.

And the acting!


Well, Anil himself thinks and others agree that this is his "best performance ever" - and nota bene that he won the National Award for Best Actor in this. What can we say? This is probably one of the few films that amply showcases his very wide range - from the comedy with Pooja's mom ("My daughter won't marry an army man. You should probably just leave.") to the crazy (yay!) to the bad-ass to the romping around on icebergs and singing love duets. But hey - we don't need National Awards or Pukar or Anil himself to tell us how talented he is. We know, dude, we know.

Anyway, Anil's notable scene which has been mentioned by others and yet more others is - similar to Mashaal's - the drunken breakdown scene, with its forced smiles, tenuously hidden despair and the Amitabh Bachchan sweaty, tearful drunk face (except done right this time). Vah! But what made that scene really heartwrenching was... Madhuri! Oh, Madhuri. Poor Madhuri. When she gives Anil his roti parcel (stuffed with cold, unmicrowaved GUILT) and then watches him eat it and CRIES quietly, we at the PPCC felt like the movie had just blended our dil into a Frappe of Woe.

Where have all the charismatic heroines gone? Madhuri has the difficult task of maintaining sympathy for a character that the script didn't seem to know whether to make a villain or anti-heroine or what, and yet she succeeds. Not only is Anjali likable, even during all the ups and downs, she's also got three dimensions. We understand, little by little, just how important her childhood sweetheart has become in her life, and her hurt at being quickly dismissed in favor of some "plastic girl" was all too painful to watch. Her scenes of desperation and bad ideas were heart-breaking! Even when she went all crazy lady, we couldn't get angry, we were just disappointed.

Another movie where the most unexpectedly affecting scene was when someone ate.

A lot of other good actors show up - Om Puri was a very welcome surprise, and Danny Denzongpa was wonderfully evil - but this film, once again - belongs to Anil, Madhuri and Anil/Madhuri.

Alas, apart from a very good slice of melodrama, the film makes plenty of silly mistakes. The characterizations are uniformly superficial and everyone seems motivated by... well, it's a mystery. Ambhrush is evil because he just... is evil. He hates India because... well, he does. Anjali likes Jai... because she does, and Jai doesn't respond to Anjali's initial advances because... Oh well, you get the idea. And no one seems to have second thoughts or self-doubt - excepting, of course, Anjali (but you'd be having second thoughts too if people are starting to throw their shoes - that's a pretty blunt message!). We were ready to forgive these paper-thin characters since the plot was just rootin' tootin' along like a steam train, but then things started dragging in the second half and there were enough logical inconsistencies in the climax (why did Jai's parents attend the ceremony? why did Jai threaten to blow someone up in order to stop people from blowing up?) that we eventually went, "Oh, come on now." Also, hairy ethical moments: We didn't much care for all the hawkish India/Pakistan warmongering (Jai and Abhrush spend way too much time trash-talking each other's countries), and the gender relations were pooh. That is, this movie failed Mo's Movie Measure big time - I mean, as perversely fascinating and fun as it is to watch people get a little crazy about their crush, it was just disappointing to see Anjali's entire characterization built around her obsession with Jai. Massive HMMM! of Feminist Disapproval.


Rum said...

LOl i remember watching this in the cinema when i was 10 in england, as soon as we left the cinema, my sister shouted "That was a lot bhukar(illness)" But I might have been the only one who liked as usual but maybe i liked more on journalistic angle! I love the freakout scenes here, Anil almost topped the AB1 in a drunken cry/freakout!

indianidollive said...

Dear Sir/Madam

Allow us to introduce ourselves.

We are, India’s premier online portal and the first choice for several of India’s popular reality shows. For a record fourth time in a row, we have been selected to be Indian Idol’s online partner.

Besides our regular offerings of daily coverage, videos, discussion boards and the likes, we will also be commissioning the Sify Indian fan club. This letter is to inquire if you would be interested in hosting your links on our site.Your link will be prominently displayed on our page

If you are interested, please contact us on

We look forward to hearing from you soon

Warm regards,
Indian Idol Team(sify)

Filmi Girl said...

PPCC, I must see this immediately! Anil is very good at flipping out, which is maybe why he is not the cross-overy kind of actor. US productions seem to enjoy 'naturalistic' acting - what I would call 'boring' - and for whatever reason, totally losing it is considered over-the-top.

Also, why have not seen Karz yet, which contains my darling Rishi Kapoor TOTALLY LOSING IT LIKE A CRAZY PERSON! We must add it to our movie marathon. Rishi does the disheveled and crazy-eyed thing surprisingly well for a chocolate box hero.

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Ah if its OTT u seek, then Karz u shall love :)
I had been scared of watching Pukar before ur review- but now that I know danny is in it, I can sit through the whole thing :)

ajnabi said...

I love Anil's trademark Glassy-Eyed Stare Into the Emptiness of Existence. He's perfected it! It makes me want to hug him and give him a reason to live! LOL

Anonymous said...

Thanks to you my queue keeps getting longer and longer...

a ppcc representative said...

Rum - Bhukar indeed! What's the word for mental pain? Dimag something? This movie was just one long WALLOW OF DOOM. Fab! (And Anil's drunken freakouts def top Amitabh's.)

Indianidollive - Dear Sir/Madam: Sure, go for it!

Filmi Girl - Totally agreed about the boringness of the Hollywood-defined "naturalism". Def prefer OTT flip-outs! And KARZ, I KNOW! EVEN WITH PRAN!!! I need to get a good copy with subs. And ooh, Rishi, he has a great breakdown in Duniya Meri Jeb Mein.

Shweta - Danny is GREAT. He was pure, unadulterated, shaven EVIL.

Ajnabi - The Glassy Stare, LOL! Maybe he was reading too much existential philosophy. It's def a "WHY, GOD, WHYYYYY?" face.

Brian - Yeehaw! Sweet, I wanna see your reviews of all this stuff!

Banno said...

Your links. Do you realize it's going to take a day to read all that crazy stuff. :-)

I remember liking Pukar too for some reason, even while I knew it was Bakwaas. Madhuri maybe. She carried off the role without making you grit your teeth, eh?

NidaMarie said...

Ok, so I need to get going on my Anil/Madhuri list, eh?:)

Just rewatched Hum Aapke Hain Kaun and once again, realized how much I love, love, love Madhuri. She's so well known for her dancing skills that I didn't realize what a good actress she is. But man, she really is.

Anonymous said...

This is Anil back when he was Jack Bauer. In fact, I wondered if 24 was a copy of this movie. So Anil to me didn't seem that crazy to me. I found it especially interesting since Anil is going to be in 24 when Season 8 starts.

I was actually expecting Madhuri to become a little crazier, either like Amrita Singh in Aaina, or Urmila in Ek Hasina Thi.

Anonymous said...

Forgot to say this: I agree it is an awesome movie, a few of the technology special effects are hilariously low budget at times, but a riveting story with a great soundtrack and picturizations.