Reviewed By Abhishek Bandekar
Posted 07/22/05 16:54:16

"Against All Expectations…"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

The first week of July saw Ramgopal Varma give us an Amitabh Bachchan that we’d been waiting desperately for, a departure from his now trademark tired old man. ‘Sarkar’ gave us an angry old man but three weeks since, Mahesh Manjrekar’s ‘Viruddh’ offers Amitabh Bachchan yet another opportunity to play yet another drained elderly! That Amitabh plays almost the same character admirably every single time is a tribute to his prowess. But frankly speaking, I’m just tired of the tired oldie. Somebody better put him back into his place!

Vidyadhar Patwardhan(Amitabh Bachchan) is a sexagenarian diabetic. Vidyadhar goes on morning walks, avoids anything sweet, eats his daily dose of vitamins & calcium and chats with his morning-walk cronies(senile version of The Three Stooges) contemplating whimsical possibilities that maybe cigarettes, whisky, sugar and all the good things in life may one day be found less harmful for the ageing body! His wife Sumi(Sharmila Tagore), a retired school principal, has her share of blood pressure issues but that doesn’t stop her from exercising her cane to discipline Vidyadhar, Amar(John Abraham)- their son and Ali(Sanjay Dutt)- a rowdy car mechanic with a garage next door to the Patwardhans. A retired couple, Vidyadhar and Sumi wake up early mornings awaiting calls from Amar, studying in London. Amar returns, with an English girlfriend! And just like that thanks to Dabur Navratna Hair Oil, Vidya and Sumi get them married too! Just when things couldn’t get sweeter than saccharine, Amar is killed in a hastily contrived scene. And I don’t think I was alone when I thought, thank god…now let’s get the story moving!

Alas, it never does. After wasting valuable film-stock pre-interval in establishing the life of the Patwardhans, Manjrekar spends more reels establishing…nothing! ‘Saaransh’ this is not. We do not feel the loss of the Patwardhans, what with John Abraham as an aatma narrating the proceedings right in our face. Fustian arguments against the system, its failure and the ensuing political fracas played at the cost of Amar’s death come off as meek and distracted attempts to elevate the story into something substantial. But Manjrekar betrays his own cause by adding unnecessary footage of Amar courting his English girlfriend, extended sequences with The Three Stooges and the dubious inclusion of Ali- a character whose existence in the story seems to have no reason except an excuse to include the star-power of Sanjay Dutt. I’ll admit that Dutt does have massive screen presence though. But to what end? An aimless script, laughable tries to include all sorts of endorsements(Elf Oil, Calcium Sandoz, Nerolac Paints, Dabur Oil, Western Union, etc.) and a truly misplaced notion of justice pile on the agony!

If there’s any redemption, it’s in the lead performances. Sharmila Tagore is effective and a refreshing change from Jaya Bachchan and Hema Malini. Besides, she’s probably the only actress who can successfully cry without shying away from the camera. Her interactions with Amitabh have a natural charm to it that makes even the silliest of scenes work. If ‘Viruddh’ clicks at whatever miniscule level, it is to Amitabh’s credit. I’ve never been a Bachchan fan, but he’s given almost all of the best performances of 2005(‘Black’, ‘Waqt’, ‘Bunty Aur Babli’ and ‘Sarkar’). Notwithstanding its inherent weaknesses, ‘Viruddh’ is yet another feather in the already flourishing cap of Amitabh. Only his gaze in the opening scene with Sachin Khedekar conveys so powerfully, that we feel guilty along with Sachin Khedekar!

Bachchan’s mannerisms, his gait and his Marathi accented English prove that he has put in a lot of effort into being Vidyadhar Patwardhan. If only Manjrekar had put in half that effort while making this film!

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