Monday 26 January 2009

Taal (1999)

Thank you, thank you. For my next number, I will set my backup dancers ON FIRE.

Taal (Beat) is a flashy, tacky spectacle that is a lot of fun as long as you can cope with Akshaye Khanna's hideous haircut. The music by (Oscar-nominated!) A.R. Rahman is, as in Yuvvraaj, leagues beyond the film's quality - except that Taal is a very decent little story with pitch-perfect narrative form, whereas Yuvvraaj was a car careening around with no driver. Taal demonstrates again - as Black & White and Ram Lakhan - that director Subhash Ghai has a cunning ability to just crash into genius sometimes. Because Taal was really, really well-told, with an ending that aspired to Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge or Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna in terms of sprinting, sobbing, gargantuan satisfaction.


The story is simple. London-based rich boy Manav (Akshaye Khanna, in The Hair) accompanies his dad, Jagmohan (Amrish Puri, in gentle paternal mode), to India for the first time. There, in the gorgeous setting of Himachal Pradesh, Manav spots village girl, Mansi (Aishwarya Rai). Her father is a locally famous folk musician, Tara Babu (Alok Nath), and, when not accompanying her dad on one of his folk songs, she teaches yoga and runs around in the rain. The lovers are smitten, leading some of Manav's evil relatives to grumble and gripe about gold diggers and poor folk who don't know their place. Eventually, Manav and his wealthy family head down to Bombay - but not before Manav and Mansi exchange tender embraces, an onscreen kiss (!), a scarf embroidered with "Manavsi" (GET IT?! LIKE BRANGELINA!) and promises of eternal commitment.

Not long later, Mansi and her father head to Bombay too in hope of setting up the marriage. Unfortunately, they come to the mansion "without an appointment" and on a day when Manav is out - so the evil relatives have a helluva time prolonging the tortures and making Mansi and her father undergo a nine-hour game of musical chairs in the burning sun (this started to feel very Alice in Wonderland after a while). Properly humiliated and grumpy, Mansi and her father confront the Evils, and things degenerate into name-calling and bitch-slapping. They storm out.

And who should they run into but - yes, Anil Kapoor! We mean "Vikrant Kapur", the hugely successful and hugely trashy music producer, who cheerfully rips off Tara Babu's folk songs according to his personal Seven Commandments of Selling Out and Getting Ahead in Mumbai. Vikrant, who Prof. Lutgendorf describes as "postmodern" and an older, cynical-er SRK from Dil To Pagal Hai, operates at a mile-a-minute, and he speedily invites Tara Babu and Mansi to join him. At least they'll be able to join him in profiting from their music!

And thus, the love triangle square has delineated. Well, reader, should Mansi choose:
    1. The arrogant yet sweetly endearing Manav, whose puppy-dog pouts reveal a tender sensitivity.

The Pout #1: includes wounds that need to be tended, puppies that need to be cuddled, and woobieness.

    2. The arrogant yet sweetly insane Vikrant, whose puppy-dog pouts reveal a tender, wounded sensitivity.

The Pout #2: includes older wounds that need to be tended, REAL TEARS COMING ON, but, alas, no puppy.

    3. The puppy.

The Pout #3: dispenses with other formalities and just GIVES US THE PUPPY.

We know what you're thinking ("THE PUPPY!"), but you'll just have to watch the film to see how it all plays out.

Now onto the main thing that everyone mentions about Taal (Prof. Lutgendorf, Carla, Beth...): the product placement. We think the product placement - in particular, the use of Coca-Cola - in this film was GENIUS. Pure, unbridled, postmodern GENIUS. Don't believe us? Read on!

Never has beverage choice been so inextricably linked with matters of the heart - behold, as Beth names it, the "Coke-bottle flirting". There is a notable scene when, at a party, Manav drinks from a Coke bottle and cheekily sends it to Mansi. Prof. Lutgendorf notes:
Cultural point here: this is not merely bad manners, but a violation of the strong Indian taboo against jutha, or food/drink contaminated by someone else’s saliva, so when Manasi daringly takes a sip it is somewhat akin to kissing Manav. Not surprisingly, this will follow ‘ere long…

Indeed, "sharing the Coke bottle" comes to mean a lot more than just, well, sharing a Coke bottle.

The odd and funny "moohahahHAHAHAHA!" Dr. Evil laugh moment.

The puppy again. What?

Later, as the more world-wise and cynical Vikrant begins to fall for his heroine, he starts to hit the liquor and, interestingly, his love is finally given raucous, epic expression in a drunken Sufi-esque chant, Ramta Jogi, where he recalls "drinking everything available" and "living entire centuries in a moment". This all seems to imply that Vikrant has aged past the era of young, pure Coca-Cola love and is now in the more hard-edge, emotionally baggaged red wine love. This is, of course, much more appealing and interesting (who needs bubblegum heroes? not us! Han Solo, all the way!) and has poignant Sufi undertones. Interestingly, this is also the only scene in the film where it seems that Mansi feels the slightest flicker of affection for Vikrant. Gasp! Is the Rumi working?

Well, no. Behold another symbolic scene: when we see Manav and Mansi's fathers laughing over a couple Coke bottles together. When we the audience and Vikrant witness this, we know it's time for Vikrant's heart to pack up. And when Vikrant drinks from a Coke bottle and hands it to Mansi, urging her to, "Drink up! They're our company sponsors!" she is hesitant. Sorry, my Sufi man, Coke love has beat wine love!

The music of Taal is just gorgeous - which is right and proper, as Taal is about music, after all. There's the spectacular Jungle Mein Bole Koyal, the touching Ishq Bina and the repeatedly-used leitmotif Taal Se Taal Mila. A vibrant and addictive soundtrack, we've actually been listening to it ever since the post-Yuvvraaj "A.R. Rahman is AMAZING!" boom here at the PPCC.

Beneath that hard, sleazy, oily shell of a man, there is a tender, loving spirit. Not convinced? Perhaps you'd prefer...

Performance-wise, Prof. Lutgendorf is, of course, right in noting that Anil Kapoor owns it and manages to make Vikrant a parody of his earlier screwball performances (and of SRK's performance in Dil To Pagal Hai): he is clearly OTT insane, pinballing from crazy to crazy, with moments of unexpected depth and vulnerability. When Vikrant asks Mansi desperately, again and again and again, "Do you love me?" We at the PPCC kept going, "YES, WE LOVE YOU!" And we do. We'll take one Vikrant and one puppy, please.



eliza bennet said...

Hahahhhaaaaa, this is a very entertaining review. When I watched this long time ago, I kind of enjoyed the film on a shallow level but the music didn't impress me at all (of course I admired A.R Rahman like the rest of the world but in Dil Se, not Taal)

And this film is where my Anil/nostril issue started. And his performance was really good here.

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

The more I think about this film and read what other people think, the more I'm taking away points for its woman-related stuff. She's doubly stalked/cajoled/pushed/objectified/commercialized around and we're supposed to find both instances charming. She also has no character development. LE SIGH.

But oh, the music!

Filmi Girl said...

I couldn't get over my loathing of Akshaye Khanna - and his stupid hair - in this one. I remember loving Anil (obviously) and wondering why she would choose the smuggest and most condescending man ever to grace the silver screen over loveable (and grown-up) Anil.

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

As much as I love Akshaye, it almost felt wrong that Anil is the "man left behind" in the end- maybe in an extended form of the movie, he meets Madhuri and they live happily ever after.

Rum said...

awww the many stages of puppy! my favorite being the anil puppy, btw i screeched aloud again at the screen actor's guild when anil came on "i'm anil kapoor and i'm an actor"

Anonymous said...

OMIGOD, so it's Subhash Ghai I've got to kill for this dumb name mashup business?

Give me ze puppy! I heard it was actually his puppy.

a ppcc representative said...

eliza bennet - Shallow enjoyment is def where it's at for me too - but you didn't dig the music? Aww! I must say, I noticed his nostrils in this film as well. WHOA, NELLY! He's still da bomb in a basket though. Love that man.

Beth - I think the key to Taal is to suspend gray matter activity, as it's true the two boys are both less appealing than the puppy and poor Aish has a helluva pickle to deal with.

Filmi Girl - Ha! I think Akshaye can be quite hilarious at times - he was great in Salaam-e-Ishq and he was quite funny (in his upbeat scenes) in this. When he turned into a hurt puppy, I was like, "Uh oh, back to Anil!"

Shweta - YES! Anil, under that facade of OTT insanity, was clearly a lot nicer and more sensitive than silly old Akshaye.

Rum - Argh! Another awards ceremony I miss!

Amrita - I believe he prefers to be called Subhai (mwahaha). OMG the puppy was the star of the show!! They should have had a final scene where the rejected Anil just cuddles the puppy and sighs.

ajnabi said...

If you thought Subhash Ghai managed to plug Coke in increasingly creative ways through Taal, you should totally see Yaadein, because it takes the Coke-placement-cake and ices it. Amazing.

NidaMarie said...

I was already sold after reading Beth's post, I've really got to check this out!

Love the Akshaye picture after bullet point #1. Yum.

I feel like I love AR Rahman more and more with each passing day...

a ppcc representative said...

Ajnabi - Uh oh, I've heard only bad things about Yaadein, but you may lure me with promise of more Coke. The coke/alcohol face-off in Taal was really interesting and funny!

Nida - Def go for it! It was fun and silly and the music is DA BOMB. I actually find Akshaye quite cute and funny - here and in Salaam-e-ishq - despite the horrible haircut. He's got a certain Shashi-esque manner about him sometimes.

Temple said...

I really don't remember all that much about the movie except the music, which was wonderful. And seeing an even more baby faced Shahid Kapoor among the backing dancers. I thought both male leads were pillocks and Mansi was just as bad for putting up with them. But you are right, the puppy was delightful!

ajnabi said...

Oh, Yaadein deserves every bad thing that's been said about it. That doesn't stop me from having a guilty affection for the thing. That post I linked to is an Adventures in YouTube recap that goes through the whole film if you'd rather not watch it. ;-)

Q Leo Rahman said...

A great AR Rahman musical. He should have worked more with lyricist Anand Bakshi.