Monday 15 December 2008

Ram Lakhan (1989)

Ahhh, there's nothing quite like well-cooked masala. Why did this beautiful, wonderful genre have to die? Well, as with all things this season, we think the fault rests squarely on Shah Rukh Khan and Aditya Chopra. If it wasn't for Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and the advent of NRI romance cinema, our precious masala wouldn't have been abandoned, dammit. In the 90s and 2000s, Bollywood starting churning out weepy melodramas about rich, jet set NRIs living in international capitals - that's fine if you're targeting the lucrative diaspora market, but what about all of us who want something set in India? With poor people? And outrageous coincidences? And estranged brothers? And a Mom who grabs her hair and shrieks,


When Rakhee does that in Subhash Ghai's Ram Lakhan, the PPCC sighed in happiness. All was right in the world.

They just don't make masala like they used to. Using Filmi Girl's term, the "post-modern" masala genre - Farah Khan's films, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Tashan - isn't really the same. It's squishy heart is all calloused. There's a self-aware, slightly tongue-in-cheek, slightly cynical vibe to things - it teases the genre even as it mimics it. But real, wholesome, honest-to-God masala - that which you find in the 70s and 80s, and that which we love - was earnest and righteous and pure. It was Shakespearean. It had other fish to fry. It didn't worry at all that the probability of two estranged brothers running into each other in the heaping, super-populated Mumbai is close to zero. They do. Of course they do! They always will! Real masala wasn't about reality, it was a fable - a LEGEND - and always the same story, too: There are two brothers. One is a little morally ambiguous. One is a policeman. They have a hard time in the prologue and live on the edge of poverty. Their mom suffers for a really long time. Their dad dies, or is otherwise unavailable (e.g. he might be in his criminal lair). Amrish Puri will probably show up at some point. There is revenge, romance, great songs, lots of tears and laughter. Sometimes, in the sad-sala subgenre, one of the brothers will die. But most of the time, all ends well.

This is what we want. Nothing more!

Another reason real masala is dead: since the origin fable of masala depends on two brothers and the very important connection between them, a good jodi is critical. The angry, young Amitabh Bachchan had great jodi power with our beloved Shashi Kapoor, Vinod Khanna, Dharmendra. In Ram Lakhan, Jackie Shroff and Anil Kapoor have similarly great chemistry. But nowadays? Well, SRK's basically a one-man show, and while there are some feeble sparks of jodi potential in the current generation, it's just not the same - Akshay Kumar and Saif Ali Khan, as they dance! is slowly convincing us, are decent together; we also enjoyed Nana Patekar and Anil Kapoor's vibe in the otherwise dismal Welcome (then again, we like anything Anil Kapoor these days), but what else? Nuffin'. SRK and Zayed Khan? Cute, but come on. They're like a caramel soy latte, when we're talking about Vat 69!

The Jackie-Anil jodi magic again!

Anyway, Ram Lakhan is buttery, bloated masala, a veritable feast of operatic enormity. An epic three hours, its Standard Prologue lasts an astounding forty minutes (!)... heck, it even takes us twenty minutes just to get to the title! While this sort of long-windedness usually merits some criticism - I mean, come on, we all know the story, so let's be efficient, naaaa? - we were very beguiled by everything, from Amrish Puri's droopy Lazy Eye of Evil, to Rakhee getting splattered in blood and going properly demented, to the exuberant introduction of the young, rapscallion Anil Kapoor (complete with a curled mustache and scruffy mullet, YES!). There were even more major brownie points: Saeed Jaffrey (if ever there was a case of "What the hell am I doing in this movie?!"...), Madhuri Dixit (yay!), a surprisingly super-hot Jackie Shroff (our knees went wobbly when he appeared all svelte and stoic in that police uniform of his), and faaaaabulous songs. And the direction! Subhash Ghai's direction is hit and miss with us, but he was definitely on his game in Ram Lakhan. The emotional climax was so gargantuan that the film threatened to explode, yet Ghai managed to hold it all together - creating something that was loud, fast, fun, anarchic and EXTRA-LARGE.

The story is all the standard stuff. Evil relatives, led by Amrish Puri and his drooping eyelid, plot a massive, intra-familial coup, killing off the noble father (Dalip Tahil), stealing the family home and sending the widow (Rakhee) and two sons, Ram and Lakhan, into the gutter. This fairly straightforward plot point takes, as we said, forty minutes. Anyway: Ram and Lakhan grow up into the super-fine Jackie Shroff and the super-fly Anil Kapoor. Ever since they were kids, Ram was the upright maintainer of rules and justice, whereas Lakhan was a cheeky little bugger who skipped school to go dancing in the streets. Now, as adults, Ram is an upright maintainer of justice - in other words, a cop - while Lakhan spends his time ogling Radha (Madhuri Dixit), waxing the tips of his stache (good move) and basically loafing around with his tapori crew. The story gets interesting when Lakhan weasles his way into the police force to become an inspector - like his brother. Except - unlike his brother - Lakhan becomes immediately corrupt, schmoozing and conning the enemy, and just crashing from crazy idea to crazy idea. Clearly, he's on the road to disaster, but you'll never guess what happens during the final show-down (except for the marching band with secret machine guns, which we saw coming a mile away).

Trying to contain Anil Kapoor's REAL, ULTIMATE POWER (!!!). Good luck! Anil is a mammal and his purpose is to FLIP OUT.

As Rum hilariously notes, the villains are eco-mindful and carpool. Good for them! As Beth wisely put it, "Why bother taking over the world if there's no planet left to enjoy?"

This film is really the Lakhan/Anil Kapoor show. Naturally, the bad brother of masala movies is the one we root and cheer for - whether that's Amitabh Bachchan in Deewaar, Amitabh Bachchan in Suhaag, or... well, Amitabh Bachchan in Amar Akbar Anthony. And it's the same here: Ram Lakhan's entire narrative depends on the choices of hot-headed, tumultuous, Puckish Lakhan and, even as he is mischievous and corrupt and irreverant, the audience loves him. Anil Kapoor delivers an absolutely awesome performance - channeling a sort of weird combination of Amitabh Bachchan's Angry Young Man, Shashi Kapoor's schmoozing charmer, Toshiro Mifune's flipped out samurai and Goofy the cartoon. More than once, Lakhan's character receives a grand entrance full of pageantry, build-up and booming drums. He even has a couple great mottos: "My name is Lakhan!" and "1, 2 ka 4!" Believe us, every time Lakhan kicks ass or takes bribes or hustles and then tips his hat with, "My name is... Lakhan!" you just wanna give a big ol' cheer.

Some cute Anil-Madhuri jodi moments of pure pyaar.

Subhash Ghai gives himself a cameo. But hey, we'd give ourselves a cameo too if we had made a kick-ass masala movie like this!

We should also just say that we love, LOVED this film. Maximum masala! It was massive and hugely satisfying and hilarious and pitch-perfect. It toed that intoxicating line between the sublime and the ridiculous - and we just couldn't get enough! Three hours? How about ONE MILLION MORE! We watched it with the volume way up, because we wanted to just soak in all the glorious, endless choral reprises of, "RaaaaaaamLAKHAN! (boom boom boom) RaaaaaaaamLAKHAN!" There was silliness galore - that enormous man who works for the evil Sir John (Raza Murad), the marching band with hidden machine guns, the Tapori vs. Sleazy Man dance-off - and there was feel-good fun galore as well - demented Rakhee becoming an action hero mom, girls with machine guns, the silly mottos ("India is great!", "Hey, bad man!", etc.). And the dishoom! It was maximum late 80s, high octane, full of mud battles and force-feeding and explosions and one awesome, vicious fight between the brothers. It was mental! We loved it!

The operatic excellence was only enhanced by the fantastic use of music throughout the film. Apart from the Ram Lakhan anthem which was the standard leitmotif punctuating all the many moments of extreme emotion, the background score was also full of pounding, crashing percussion. This near-constant aural barrage made our heart go dhadak-dhadak - it was fab! The songs were great as well. Our favorite might be Madhuri's melodramatic dance extravaganza, Beqadar Bekhabar - which was part of the enormous dennouement and thus might contain spoilers, though, honestly, the plot takes many more unexpected left turns after this song, so you may as well just watch it. And behold! Madhuri's pointy hat! Her and Anil shooting hateful, suffering glances at each other! The sweeping cameras! The compositions! The pageantry! The worst aspect, of course, is those back-up dancers in blackface (?!), but we just pretend they're not there. And our second favorite song was the other melodramatic Madhuri dance extravaganza, O Ramji, which took a more Courtesan's Ghazal of Doom-esque flavor (and ends with one of Lakhan's mega-entrances).

Overall, heaps and heaps of fun. Highly recommended!


Filmi Girl said...

I've been scouring my brain to think of some contemporary brotherly jodis and all I've got are Sanjay Dutt and Arsahd Warsi in the Munna Bhai films. Fardeen Khan and Ritesh were also pretty good together in Heyy Babyy.

John Abraham and Abhishek Bachchan had nice chemistry in Dostana - let's see if they get cast in a bromance of their own... Or I wonder how Imran and Ranbir would play opposite each other...

It also occurred to me that Rani and Konkona were trying the brothers plot as a good sister/bad sister plot in Lagaa Chunari Mein Dag. It would have worked if prostitution hadn't been the bad sister's choice, I think.

Curse the jet-setting one hero NRI movies where the only villain is Saif Ali Khan refusing to grow up!!

Rum said...

YAAy My eyes popped out of my head when Anil did some mud-fighting, sorry for that it was just soo freaking HAAAWWWWTTTT! This Anilackie jodi is up there with Feroz-Vinod and the Shashitabh, they are sooo bromantic and sweet!
LOL the Lakhan song played constantly in my tape player in England, and i think i still know all the moves to that! especially the men up the ladders who announce with their massive dhols!
GOD i love this movie, it reminds why i kinda like Subhash Ghai in the first place. He was once the king of Anil movies!

Anonymous said...

I need to revisit this. For some reason it annoyed me when I watched it, but it could easily have been a crabby mood. I do remember that I thought Jackie was hot, hot, hot. And I didn't love Rakhee appropriately back then, so she annoyed me. Yes, I will try it again.

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Even just with Rakhee, a dance-off, and mottoes, I am sold! Sing me up!

PPCC, I think you are really on to something with the point about the world lacking appropriate jodis on which to base pure, totally un-ironic masala. Now, I likes me some ironic masala (as long as it is also with heart - so not solely ironic), but as you say, it's not the same. Let me throw something out: I agree with FG about Sanjay and Arshad...and what about Rani and Abhishek?!? Are they not long-lost partners in B&B? They may combine romance and bhai-ness, but still! Something to consider.

My word verificatino word is "hyshazem." Doesn't this sound like fake Urdu? Like an evil Pakistani villain or bad-guy code word or something?

Anonymous said...

A very good review of a truly enjoyable masala film.

RL was a super hit in India. Songs used to constantly blare at public places.

The Jackie-Dimple song " Mujhey tum se kitney ---- bol tumney kya kiya " was very picturised. other songs were good too esp O Ram Jee

PPCC - pls see "Tezaab" - another hit Anil-Madhuri Masala movie of early 90s i guess

Crazy on Bollywood said...

It was a super hit movie.Anil Kapoor presented a stunning performance in that movie.

Banno said...

My sentiments exactly, a couple of days ago, after I saw 'Lucky Oye', where is the masala? I had to see 'Johny Mera Naam' after that, to feel better. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

You have not seen Raakhi do demented if you have not seen Dacait. She goes well and truly over the edge in that one. Really chilling that one!! Sunny Deol, Meenakshi, Paresh Rawal. Have a look.
And - discovered your site recently. Love your take on something so dear to so many Indians, including myself ;)

a ppcc representative said...

Filmi Girl - John and Abhishek had some pretty good jodi power, indeed, but I'm most intrigued by your Rani/Konkona suggestion. That's the way forward!

Rum - The mud fight was SPECTACULAR. After this movie, I can almost forgive Subhash Ghai for all those silly mistakes in Yuvvraaj ("Prague, AUSTRIA"?). He seems to crash into geniusness sometimes.

Memsaab - Usually I too am annoyed by the demented Rakhee roles... and yet, in this film, she took it to such a loony extreme, that it was impossible not to love! Plus, she kicks ass in the end. She TAKES CHARGE. Yessss!

Beth - Another vote for Rani as being good jodi potential! I have to agree. She seems to work very well with everyone (another reason to love her!). Hyshazem is actually the name of the villain in my masala meltdown script... Mwahahaha! Or maybe that can be Mogambo 2.0 in the next Mr. India.

Anonymous - Your wish will soon be granted, I just got Tezaab!

Crazy on Bollywood - Agreed.

Banno - I think masala has re-wired my brain. Now I just feel lost and empty if I don't get a daily injection of it - even a mere five minutes will do.

Srinivas - Welcome! And thanks for the recommendation. This movie has broken me out of the "I don't like Rakhee doing demented" mood I was in ever since Baseraa. Will check out Dacait!

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

I just saw "Beqadar Bekhabar" on a Madhuri song DVD and as I watched thought "This is familiar...." It was so fun playing "Oh, and there's THAT guy" as the camera panned around.

And yeah, blackface?!?! I've been told there's a thread on that topic on Bollywhat, which I must investigate.

Hans Meier said...

Most entertaining review, makes verbosity desirable. Liked your review more than the movie.

Indian said...

Nice one..was seeing the movie today and amazed that the movie holds great even after all the years. Very grand movie, unlike the stuff that gets made today. Reminded me of game of thrones :)

Indian said...

Nice one..was seeing the movie today and amazed that the movie holds great even after all the years. Very grand movie, unlike the stuff that gets made today. Reminded me of game of thrones :)