Reviewed By Abhishek Bandekar
Posted 07/12/05 18:26:35

"The Phantom Of The ‘Paheli’!"
3 stars (Average)

A crow shits on your head and people tell you that it’s good luck. Okay that’s assuring, you think, but a crow just shat on your head! That is precisely the conundrum of emotions that I am faced with after watching Amol Palekar’s ‘Paheli’. In that sense, the title is apt. For categorizing this movie as good or bad is truly a riddle. And it’s not one that I’m eager to solve either!

To begin with a crow shits on Lachchi(Rani Mukherji), the newly wed bride of Kishenlal(Shahrukh Khan). Turns out that the crow is infact a shape-shifting ghost, kinda like an X-Men, who is besotted with Lachchi’s beauty. Surely, this crow-shitting encounter augurs good…I guess! Anyway, Lachchi’s weak-at-math husband-cum-trader(or is it the other way round?) leaves for five years on the eve of their first day as a married couple! Apparently, our bania-boy has to tend to a new business setup in a distant village. He even resists the hormonal urge to consummate his marriage; this after Lachchi asks(read begs) him to unveil her ghungta! As Lachchi’s left dry(no pun intended) and lonely, our love-struck ghost assumes the form of Kishenlal and enters Lachchi’s life. Everybody thinks that it is Kishenlal who is back, except Lachchi to whom the ghost confides his true identity and intent. As someone who has never been asked an opinion of, Lachchi is faced with a predicament of choosing between staying loyal to a husband who has abandoned her into leading a forlorn existence or accepting a ghost who promises her bliss and recognition as a woman! Interesting premise, yes! But the proceedings get so tortuous that the central idea is lost in the scuffle of unnecessary sub-plots which involve a camel-race, setting up a water-resource(Shahrukh did the same in ‘Swades’!) and Lachchi’s sister-in-law who suffers from a similar problem of a runaway husband! The biggest faux-pas is committed in the atrociously convenient climax. I admit I haven’t read the original story by Vijaydan Detha that Sandhya Gokhale and Amol Palekar have adapted, but I’m sure that the original meaning and subtext has been lost in adaptation! I cannot accept a story which admittedly purports women’s liberation and individuality relegate her choice only to conjugality! Maximum screen-time is taken up by the phantom with potent sperm and the patriarchal male characters, while the women merely complete the furniture!

Nonetheless, ‘Paheli’ is admirable as a movie that is suggestive without being didactic. If the movie falters, it is because it doesn’t know if it wants to be to the right or left. Because frankly speaking as an aesthetic art-house cinema it is too flashy besides the songs, and at the same time too languorous and loquacious for an unabashed commercial enterprise. The positives that come out then, are its technical aspects. The art-direction(Muneesh Sappel) and costumes(Shalina Sarna) evoke a period Rajasthani feel immaculately. Scenes come to colourful life like the pages of Amar Chitra Katha, and Ravi Chandran’s cinematography captures them superbly. Add to this a couple of well composed songs(M.M. Kreem), and you have a genuinely good movie in regards to its technical palette. The performances aren’t anything special to write about. Shahrukh looks very conscious of acting in a Palekar film while the able supporting cast is hardly given any depth. Anupam Kher is good in an understated performance after a long time. What is sad though is to see Rani Mukherji underused, a cardinal sin considering her amazing performing skills.

In spite of all its technical proficiency, ‘Paheli’ doesn’t offer an engrossing time at the cinema-hall which is what most people come for anyways. I’m still unsure whether I should recommend it. A paheli indeed!

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