Blast from the Past: Raja Hindustani (1996)

Today, we are going to have an in-depth look at the highest grossing film of 1996: Raja Hindustani, starring Karishma Kapoor and Aamir Khan.

Aarti Sehgal (Karishma) is a wealthy, sentimental, and good-hearted girl with a doting father and a step-mother because her mother passed away when giving birth to her. For holidays, Aarti decides to go to a hill station “Palankhet” because that’s where her parents had met for the first time. Accompanying her are her two servant cum companions “Gulab Singh” and “Kamal Singh.” Aptly named as both appear to suffer from gender dysphoria, a mis-match of gender identity. Gulab Singh is a feminine male and Kamal Singh is a masculine female.  It is delightful that this elite household gives priority to minorities for employment.

 

Gulab Singh forgot to make arrangements for their transportation from the airport, as well as the hotel, so they take the help of a taxi driver, Raja Hindustani (Aamir) to get settled in the home of a sweet elderly couple. Pay attention to the first place Raja looks when he sees Aarti for the first time.

 

Aarti continues to call Raja when she needs a ride, to spend time in town and go shopping, etc. Even though Raja doesn’t let go of any opportunity to stare at Aarti, as all sex-starved men are wont to do, he does not forget his social standing and shows respect to his wealthy employer by referring to Aarti as “Memsaab” in every sentence. But then the beautiful Memsaab commits a most grave mistake….. by offering her taxi driver a tip!

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“Oh the height of belittlement and insult by the wealthy upper class!”

Then Gulab Singh and Kamal Singh have fun at the expense of Raja by convincing Raja that Memsaab praises him all the time, finds him handsome, likes his singing, etc. Since all men naturally believe that they are God’s gift to humanity and that no one can resist their charms, even if they are a taxi driver, he dresses up and dances to show it all off to Aarti. You know, like what male birds do when they need to convince a female bird to mate with them during mating season. Then, naturally, this happens…

 

But despite being wealthy (because all wealthy people have no choice but to be depreciating to the poor), Aarti is a sweet girl, so she comforts Raja by saying that he is priceless.

Then Aarti decides to wear a pretty red dress in town and asks Raja’s opinion on the dress because it’s very important to get your driver’s views on your outfit. Raja doesn’t like it because she is showing skin. Poor Aarti doesn’t know that showing skin is a big no-no, especially when your driver likes you and has started to feel possessiveness over you. So she disregards Raja’s warning and walks around town in her red dress. Lo and behold, just a few moments later, some loafers start verbally harassing Aarti because of her dress. Yeh to hona hi tha, how can a young, independent woman be so silly to think that she can wear what she wants without being harassed and abused?!

 

Raja cannot tolerate this and he beats the loafers black and blue. Aarti becomes angry that Raja got involved and used violence. After returning home, the two argue, Raja says “this is our Palankhet!” and reinforces his domination over her by telling Aarti that he doesn’t like her wearing such clothes. The driver tells his employer that he doesn’t like her wearing such clothes! So Aarti is like “Who the hell are you to tell me what to do?! I’ll do what I like and wear what I like!” Like duh! Raja becomes even more angry and runs off.

Aarti is suddenly full of remorse. Dread fills her face when she realizes that she upset her driver by refusing to dress as he wants. What blasphemy! So immediately, she changes into respectable clothing and goes looking for him.

 

Aarti finds Raja, calls him a sweetheart and asks him to show her all of Palankhet. While sight-seeing, the two continue to praise each other and the first romantic duet comes where Aarti wooes Raja with the lyrics “Tu hai pagal, tu hai joker!”

 

Next, comes the first defining point of the film– the kiss! The kiss in Raja Hindustani is not just important because a real on-screen kiss was practically non-existent in the 90s, but also because it is the primary motivation for the characters and the driving force of the script!

Raja is the more decent of the two. When the flame starts sizzling between them in the pouring rain, it’s Raja who backs off and tries to distance himself! But Aarti calls him to herself with her feminine charms and gets even closer!

 

 

 

 

And the inevitable…

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But then, this happens…

 

 

The sudden realization of the major sin of  kissing outside of one’s social class, Aarti and Raja have a premonition of the evils they may have to endure for this grave mistake. It’s the end of the world.

Storms rage and Aarti battles a herd of sheep to find refuge in her room from the reality of the sin that she just committed.

 

But it’s not so simple. Desire and passion overtakes her body and she cannot get the kiss out of her mind. Hormones are raging and fevers are rising when…

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daddy arrives…

Poor  innocent daddy, oblivious to the gross transgression committed by his daughter, thinks she ran in the rain in order to meet him as soon as possible. And she’s like, “uh-huh.” Her father tells her that he has come directly from his trip to meet her, and that they will return home together. Aarti is literally crying when she hears about returning. Soon the news reaches Raja and he has to drive Aarti and her father to the airport.

Aarti, despite being shaken up from her recent kissing experience, is back in decent mode. A little embarrassed and emotional, but prepared to return home with her father, raat mein kala chashma pehan kar.

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On the way to the airport, Aarti is trying to hide hear tears while her father makes small talk with a much irritated Raja. Look at Kamal Singh’s expression when Aarti’s father offers Raja a job as a driver in their home!

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Of course, Raja refuses and they make more stupid small talk (and Raja tries to make Aarti feel bad with his remarks) until they suddenly come across a traffic jam. Raja’s friend Balvant Singh (Johnny Lever) comes and Aarti gives this brilliant introduction: “Papa, yeh hai Balvant Singh. Balvant Singh, yeh hamare papa hai.” Balvant Singh convinces them to spend time at a nearby dhaba while the jam clears up. They readily agree for some pass time and entertainment, although they were in a rush to reach the airport just minutes earlier.

Next comes the second defining point of the film. And the craziest dhaba dancer you’ll ever meet. The lyrics of the iconic song are “Pardesi, pardesi, jaana nahin…mujhe chor ke, mujhe chor ke” X50. Soon, Raja joins in on the song. While the young lass is showing off her dancing skills and flirting with Raja, the more mature dancer is downing bottles of neat alcohol. Aarti remains in gangster mode. 😎

Clearly the song has rubbed salt on a deep unresolved wound in the mature dancer, and she experiences powerful emotions as Raja sings, her expressions moving between pain and murderous plans.

 

Just when Aarti was relieved that the song got over, the mature dancer delivers her philosophy on the zalim duniya that fails to appreciate love. She asks for the song again, to dance her way to revenge. They should have cast this woman for the role of Chandramukhi. And those lyrics X50 start ALL OVER AGAIN.

Aarti is like “Nah, I ain’t taking this shit anymore” and decides to put an end to the torturous song by breaking all social boundaries to hug Raja in public, and in front of her father. Because no social repercussion can be worse than listening to that song all over again.

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Of course, then, all hell breaks lose…

 

Or we thought it would until Aarti’s father surprisingly decides to agree to the alliance, with very reasonable conditions that Raja should enter and assimilate into their life (like obviously). But the proud chauvinist that Raja is, he will never take any step to meet a woman half-way for a mutual life. And of course Aarti chooses Raja over her father, because it’s the fate of all woman to do exactly as their husbands or to-be-husbands want, no matter how unreasonable, illogical or insensitive the demand may be. Aarti’s heart-broken father curses the couple with unhappiness and drives off. Then Aarti is like “daddy did not even bless us!” But what to do, when it’s hormones vs. parents, hormones are bound to win. Meanwhile, Kamal Singh, with gender dysphoria (or is she a butch lesbian, it’s really confusing) married Balvant Singh after losing a wrestling match with him, and began to dress as a woman. It only took Johnny Lever to resolve a lifelong struggle about gender identity and sexual orientation!

Aarti and Raja have a modest and intimate marriage ceremony with the support of the sweet elderly couple.

 

And the long awaited night… it was all for this…

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And the following few blissful days of Aarti and Raja, finally content and satisfied, like children who finally received a long awaited sweet treat…

 

But all good things must come to an end, and destiny has its way of taking revenge from lusty youth who seek intimacy with those outside of their social class.

So, post-marriage domestic fight #1

Aarti’s father, out of shock and anger, initially considered disinheriting Aarti, but being the teddy bear daddy he is, he soon changed his mind and visited Aarti, in fact gifting the newlyweds a home. Pretty nice thought if you ask me, he gifted them a home where they wanted to live, without demanding any change in their lifestyle or occupation. But I think you can imagine what happened next. Our Raja, who has far too much vanity for a garib, refuses the gift and lashes at Aarti for even considering a gift from her father. Doesn’t she know that all gifts from rich father-in-laws to poor son-in-laws are not gifts, but rather a slap to the son-in-law’s manhood. Because a man who cannot afford to treat his wife like a queen financially is not a man at all.

This fight nearly leads to their separation, and Aarti finally comes out with the true reality of her situation. Now that she’s married Raja, she doesn’t have any choice but to live with him forever. Because by marrying outside of her social class, she has closed all other doors for herself and will literally have no place to go if Raja leaves her. Other than him and death, she has no choice, she tells him. Interestingly this dawns on our coy bride AFTER marriage and nuptials, because as we all know, raging hormones = death of logic.

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No sex + temptation = blockage of all nerve function in the segment of the brain that performs logical analysis. And the only cure is sex as drano to clear out the pipes. So logic returns, but unfortunately, cleaning the pipes causes damage which is beyond repair at this point.

By the way, after marriage, there is complete role reversal between Raja and Aarti. Before marriage, Raja followed Aarti around like a puppy “Memsaab, Memsaab.” After marriage, he is back to his normal rude self, while Raja for Aarti before marriage, becomes Rajaji after marriage. After all, pati purush nahi mahanpurush hota hai.

After that brief dose of harsh reality, we finally get another song, where Aarti sings in premonition of woes yet to come from this marriage “tumse dil laga ne ki saza hai…”

The differences between their worldviews become clearer after a visit to Aarti’s home in Mumbai, exacerbated by the interventions of Aarti’s step-mother causing misgivings between the couple. Raja starts to believe that Aarti is embarrassed of him, and Raja’s stubbornness reaches a new height.

Aarti’s step mother is unnecessarily influenced by her brother who fears that she will not get any share in her husband’s inheritance and that it will all be left to Aarti and her garib husband. It’s all so silly because the wife always gets a share of the inheritance. Putting this aside, Aarti’s step-mother is actually the only sane and reasonable person in this film. Even though she is presented as the bad guy, she seems to be the only one who understands that the distances between Aarti and Raj caused by their social and economic status can never be abridged.

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From whatever angle you look at it, the relationship has simply emerged from the hormonal fluctuations of two 20-year-olds. The sooner they understand this, end the relationship and move on, the easier it will be for them. But since no step-mother can wish for the well-being of a step-daughter, the correct assessments of the step-mother are ignored and thought to be her expected evil ways.

Dum dum duba duba duba

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The much expected breaking point arrives over a stupid suit and who bought it. Raja is obnoxious, rude and narcissistic as usual. He makes a huge tamasha in the middle of the birthday party. Aarti finally realizes that the marriage is a complete mistake, and that Raja is not right for her. But Aarti suffers from low self-confidence. That is why, whenever she is upset with Raja for completely rightful reasons, the stubborn anger of Raja and fear of being rejected, causes her to forget her accurate assessment of the situation, and run after him like a fool (remember the red dress wala incident). Thankfully, the only smart member of the family, the step-mother, is there to stop her this time. And realizing the weakness in her step-daughter, decides to take the matter into her own hands, to make sure that Aarti continues to lead her life in the right direction. Suddenly the word TALAQ TALAQ TALAQ resonates in our ears. (It’s a boo-boo word).

After this point, Aarti goes completely berserk, believing that Raja is punishing her and that all of it is due to her father’s curse earlier.  Aarti decides to be the faithful and ideal wife and lead her life selflessly waiting for a shockingly arrogant and stubborn husband. Despite being from a wealthy and elite family, Aarti is unbelievably meek, timid and submissive. To top it off, the saza she referred to in the earlier song “tumse dil laga ne ki saza hai…” has come to age in the form of a baby. And Raja turns into wolf-man. Are they seriously expecting me to believe that a man of such arrogance is capable of feeling remorse and sadness?!

 

Aarti continues to be an example wife, by continuing her wifely duties, wearing sindoor and mangalsutra and keeping karva chauth and all… because however bad marrying a rude and mean man may be,  divorcing him and being a widow is far worse!

Meanwhile wolf-man comes to know that there is a baby wolf and goes and steals the baby, walking all over Aarti (quite literally). After all, the child belongs to the man, who cares about the woman who gave birth to the baby? By the way, the baby has taken after the grandfather.

Aarti and everyone comes to know about her step-mother’s scheming and all rush to meet him in Palankhet. But the early entry of Aarti into the scene makes wolf-man run galloping away with a poor infant in his arms, and gunned men firing behind him. Suddenly it’s a chase and fight in the forest, with the baby tied to his back!!!

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As it often happens in intense fights with babies tied to the back, the baby comes flying off during a blow, falls thankfully safely into the arms of Aarti. Crazy brother of the step-mother gets hold of the baby, reveals all his plans, and threatens to harm the baby if he doesn’t receive all of the inheritance. Then a child and gang of gender confused people rush to the aid of the baby and defeat the evil man with a gun.

Wolf-man bonds with baby wolf. Aarti delivers a touching final dialogue of how they are fault for not trusting each other. But no one has changed. Wolf-man is again stubborn, Aarti is again submissive. Now she says that she will only love him. What can she do, now baby wolf has also come. Too late. Must tolerate this rude and arrogant man forever. They sing that dreadful song, hoping for another embrace. You know it has worked when wolf-man starts singing too. And happy ending.

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Or is it?

I mean that was only their first year! Phew! All is well only until the next domestic fight, next separation, and this time, real divorce!

Kids, please do us a favor, don’t kiss outside of your social class. Thank you.

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Blast From The Past: Shabd

Shabd is a 2005 film starring Sanjay Dutt, Aishwarya Rai and Zayed Khan. The film is about Shaukat (Sanjay), a writer who is going through a rough patch because his last book did not do well. The criticisms about his book has really gotten to him and he is struggling to write another book. Unable to find inspiration elsewhere, he looks towards his wife Antara (Aishwarya), a college teacher. When a young and handsome new teacher Yash (Zayed) joins the college and shows interest in Antara, Shaukat encourages her to befriend him to find more inspiration for his story. However, as his wife becomes closer to Yash, fiction and reality start to resemble one another.

Shabd is a strange film. I’ve always liked irony in films. Shabd, though, is ironical in not a very entertaining or appeasing way. It’s kind of bizarre. It’s not just a story about a husband encouraging his wife to cross the line into infidelity for the sake of his book, it’s also about a man who actually believes that he can control people’s lives through his writing. Although some of the language was very nice and well written, Sanjay Dutt appears as a mad man throughout, talking to himself constantly, and allowing himself to forget his identity as a husband for the sake of writing another successful book. It’s sort of like he chooses success over his marriage, his wife and their honor. And his wife strangely goes along with it till the very end.

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I actually enjoyed Aishwarya’s performance in this film more than anyone else’s. Sanjay’s performance felt a little too forced to me. And Zayed unfortunately overacted. In some of the scenes where he lowered his voice to a tone he believes a romantic hero sounds like and his puppy sad eyes actually made me want to laugh. He tried too hard. Aishwarya on the other hand was very good. She performed very honestly and really got Antara’s sincerity and naivety across well. I highly doubt that anyone else could have made that character work. She hit a great balance in this film with an avatar that’s a combination of sensuous and innocent. Without her beauty and portrayal, I’m sure Shabd would have lost the very little credibility it has as a story.

At the end of the film, I really wasn’t sure what exactly it was I watched. I can’t quite fit this film into any main film genre. It’s definitely not a thriller drama as described. It’s more of a surreal film — not in its imagery– but more as a concept. I think what the writer and director went wrong with Shabd is that they wanted those surreal elements in the film but they also wanted to make a film that would fit the typical Bollywood cinematic experience, probably to attract the masses. But they diluted what could have been a well made, shocking art film. If they had taken the story a little more to the edge and removed the commercial elements (and tweaked the ending), Shabd could have been more influential, more disturbing.

This might sound contradictory to the beginning of my review. It’s not that I like or approve of Shabd’s plot. But the way that the film was made left little impact on me as a viewer. At the end of the film, I just brushed it off as silly and inconsequential. When I think about it though, the story is very unique and so much could have been done with it. But art and commercial don’t really mix. In order to work, they need to be kept separate. Shabd should have been an all-out art film. Having said that, I do appreciate that they got some big names involved in this project and tried something out of the ordinary for Bollywood.

Blast From The Past: Ek Hasina Thi

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Introducing my new series, Blast From The Past, where we will remember some older films.

I have had a list titled “Films I Should See At Some Point” for some years now. These are films that I heard people talk about and recommend at some point. And I have the intention of seeing them but it takes me a while to get around to them. The list has included films like Omkara, Socha Na Tha, Ek Hasina Thi, Rangeela, Sholay. Thankfully, I have crossed a few off the list, one of them being Ek Hasina Thi.

Ek Hasina Thi is a 2004 Ram Gopal Varma thriller starring Saif Ali Khan and Urmila Matondkar.

Sarika (Urmila) is a beautiful woman who works at a travel agency in Mumbai and lives alone. She is wooed by Karan (Saif), a businessman, who seems to be coming to her aid in difficult times. Although Sarika is careful and distant at first, she soon falls in love with Karan and starts dating him. One day, Karan asks Sarika to expect a guest, a friend of his who is arriving to Mumbai to catch a flight. The strange man arrives and leaves his suitcase at Sarika’s place in order to run an errand. Sarika is shocked to discover on the news that the man was a criminal and was killed by police. A phone call arrives from Karan in which he tells her to get rid of his suitcase and make sure not to mention Karan’s name to the police. Things quickly get out of hand when police catch Sarika red-handed with the suitcase and arrest her. What follows is Sarika’s realization of Karan’s betrayal, her efforts to get out of jail and how she will revenge him.

This film has Urmila Matondkar written all over it. What an actress! She is just superb. I am not too familiar with Urmila’s films. I’ve only seen her in a few other ones before Ek Hasina Thi. But she completely bowled me over with her performance in this film. Not only is her appearance so perfect for this role, but her dialogue delivery and reactions are also very natural. She was completely in character, living it, rather than acting it.

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Urmila was angelic-like throughout the film with beautiful innocent looks. She left no doubt in the mind of the audience just how naive and good hearted this character is. As impressive as Urmila was as the naive beauty, as impressive she was when she transforms into a strong willed woman who is living for revenge. Saif Ali Khan also suited his role very well and was convincing as the cunning player who doesn’t mind destroying an innocent woman’s life. The director Sriram Raghavan also did a fine job.

I enjoyed the film thoroughly. It was definitely very exciting. The only point I am confused about is why Karan wanted to get Sarika involved in the first place? Was it so essential for his “friend” to leave his stuff at her house? Did Karan woo her just for that single benefit? It certainly seemed like Karan had planned and tricked Sarika from the very beginning. It was obvious that he was never into her. Did he go after her because he realized very quickly how easy it would be to deceive her? I guess so. After Sarika went to jail, everything Karan did from that point on made sense. It was just the parts before that didn’t really make sense to me in an afterthought.

If you have never seen this film, I highly recommend it. Aside from the fact that the story is very good, Urmila is reason enough to see this film. I actually feel sad now that she isn’t really doing films anymore. She is an excellent actress. We don’t come across many powerful female performers these days. And seeing Urmila’s performance in this film makes me wonder if we have overrated today’s actresses like Vidya and Kangana. They are not necessarily better performers than Urmila.