Laaga Chunari Mein DaagReviewed By Abhishek Bandekar
Posted 10/13/07 15:38:25
One experiences an unfortunate sense of irony while watching Pradeep Sarkar’s Laaga Chunari Mein Daag(A Stain On My Veil). This purported ‘journey of a woman’ has many things going for it at the outset- a director who’s already proved his mettle with the wonderful throwback to Bengali cinema of yore that was Parineeta, a cast headed by three supremely talented women and the backing of a monster production house to a script that is probably as far-out as the ‘house’ in question will ever greenlight. Where it falters then, and massively so, is in the department of…I apologize for putting this as civilly as crudeness allows…‘balls’. The film just doesn’t have any. The last thing I expected to miss in a woman-centric film was ‘balls’. And this is just the first of many unfortunate ironies, including a reel-imitates-real irony where a film crew lands up in Varanasi to hostile reception much like the crew of Laaga Chunari Mein Daag did.Sarkar doesn’t waste much time in getting down to business. The opening track ‘Hum Toh Aise Hain Bhaiyya’ (We're like this only)uses one too many crane shots and one too many cute lines to introduce us to the principal characters based in Varanasi. Works like a bad attempt at a musical this, especially Swanand Kirkire trying to pull off a Gulzar with lyrics that strive to read like poetry in prose, but fail. Vibhavri(Rani Mukerji) is the ‘brotherly’ elder sister to the bubbly Shubhavri(Konkona Sen Sharma), both daughters of Shivshankar and Savitri Sahay(Anupam Kher and Jaya Bachchan). Savitri sews the pieces of a fragmented present; Shivshankar lives in the glorious past and pines for a promising future. There’s a curious bit here when Kher’s reference of Harivanshrai Bachchan is presumed as Amitabh Bachchan by a ‘raddi waala’(waste paper dealer). Given that Jaya Bachchan plays Kher’s wife and Abhishek Bachchan is the male lead, this exchange is subversively interesting. What follows is not.
The Sahay’s live in an inherited mansion…a white elephant actually. When money-grubbing relatives(Tinnu Anand and Sushant Singh as Kanhaiyalal and Ranjeet reincarnates) begin to pester, Vibhavri makes a run to Mumbai(called everything from Bambai to Bombay and even ‘bhediyon ka shehar’[city of wolves], but not once Mumbai). In this city of ‘wolves’, she makes various unsuccessful attempts at getting a job(owing to her lack of education and inability to speak English) till finally a sleazy Mr. Gupta(Harsh Chhaya) offers her money in return for sex. She almost heads back when a financial crisis at home resolves her to take up Chhaya’s offer. And overnight Vibhavri is transformed into Natasha, a high-end escort girl. The transformation is too easy, the defense not justified and the execution troubling. What would compel a simple village girl to dive headlong into prostitution? Why is she advised only this vocation by the supposedly Good Samaritan, Michelle(Suchitra Pillai)? And why couldn’t Vibhavri learn English before taking the drastic step, as she easily does that after becoming a call-girl? Even if one were to overlook these flaws as cinematic liberties, there is the issue of ‘balls’.
For a film that aims to deal with prostitution, the ‘P’ word is never uttered once! There are no scenes that depict the vacuum in Natasha’s life, no moments of private reflection and no sense of depleting soul. If anything, the life as an escort girl is made to look stylish and glamorous. Escorts do lead a life of sass and gloss…but only on the surface. Afraid to hurt the sensibilities of its target crowd(read heavily decked portly ladies with toddlers and hubbies in tow), the film displays pathetic timidity and avoids any uncomfortable discussion altogether. What remains is just the skeleton of an idea…the concept lost in the cowardice of the Yash Raj banner. It’s like watching porn without penetration!
What we get in the bargain is a bunch of easy answers peddled for the ignorant; frankly because the difficult questions are never asked. So you have a sorry attempt at tying in economics with prostitution…which admittedly sounds good on paper. But stochastic statements on trademarks & patents(you’ve got to hear this; it comes out of nowhere), toying with dominoes and a cursory peek at Masterguide to Income Tax Laws do not a point make. It is left then to the rote outdated dialogues of 60s Bollywood, as uttered drearily by Abhishek Bachchan in the all too convenient climax.
Before we get to the boring finale however, we are made to endure ‘chemistry-less’ romances of Natasha and Shubhavri with the Bearded Bros. Rohan(Abhishek Bachchan in an extended special appearance) and Vivaan(Kunal Kapoor). Natasha and Rohan’s track is too glum while that of Shubhavri and Vivaan forced. In fact, the latter romance takes place over the product placement of Lux!
Laaga Chunari Mein Daag is a huge letdown from Pradeep Sarkar and the YRF banner(whose upcoming Aaja Nachle looks like a mangled feminine version of Chak De! India with a dance spin). There is absolutely nothing to recommend here, except perhaps the performances of the three leading women. Jaya Bachchan is effective despite being made to wear the same expression all throughout the film. Konkona does the best she can with her underwritten part. It is really Rani you feel sad for. Beneath the layers of that horrendous make-up, leaving her looking all bleached especially in the Zurich sequence, there lies a truly impassioned performance.
On an aside, I’ve had enough films about smalltime village folks coming to Mumbai and their travails in this ‘big bad’ city. If this city is so bad, why come anyway? Nobody’s asking you to. How about a film that talks about the travails of those living in Mumbai, those that continue to live despite the ugly makeover, the serpentine queues, the ever-increasing migration, the deforestation, the encroachments, the water shortages, the electricity cuts, the potholed roads, the choked up gutters, the roadside stalls, the beggars at the signals, the slums by the railway tracks, the malls springing up like acne all across the city, etc, etc, etc? Now that is a film I’d pay money to watch.Unfortunately, I paid to watch Laaga Chunari Mein Daag- a retrograde film that audaciously passes off dialogues like “Badi aayi beta banne!”(My daughter's trying to become my son!) The only upside to watching this tripe was sitting in an empty A/C multiplex. In a city where every square inch is occupied, that is paradise.
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