30 September 2003 | zetes
Ambitious, uneven, but overall excellent Bollywood melodrama
Nargis stars as a suffering woman, Radha, experiencing tragedy after tragedy, surviving it all. The first half of the film doesn't promise anything overly special. A poor community falls under the weight of a moneylender, Sukhilala. When Radha marries, her mother-in-law mortgages her farm to pay for the wedding and Radha's jewlery. Since the mother-in-law has no education whatsoever, Sukhilala, probably the only educated man in the village, is able to take advantage of her. When she challenges Sukhilala's claim, she can't do much to disprove their deal. This part of the story is pretty cliché, rather predictable and very questionable. Sukhilala is a fairly standard villain, very cartoonish and simplistic. The audience is programmed to hiss at his every appearance. The conflict is compelling, but I was hoping for something more complex. It is nice, I suppose, to see the system challenged, but the fact that the system is challenged does not necessarily mean that the film challenges the system in an insightful manner. In reality, the film's solutions to the problems are all melodramatics.
Luckily, something else is brewing in the film at this point. Radha has two sons, Ramu and Birju. The story starts to focus in on Birju, who is very obnoxious. His mother loves him dearly, spoils him, and he becomes simply evil. I should say at this point that the little kid who plays him as a child, Master Sajid, is very, very annoying, not to mention a terrible little actor. As an adult, Birju is a devil. Sukhilala still runs the place, and now Birju is big enough to do something about it. Thankfully, Birju is not made a hero. Well, perhaps an anti-hero, but at least we're spared him becoming an Indian Robin Hood as I expected. Complexities begin to develop in the way Sukhilala is depicted, and, while he's still the villain, the audience is no longer programmed to despise him on site. Radha has to both protect her son and stand up for what is right. The climax is so extremely impressive that I was almost convinced that the film was great.
Yet the film is not what I would call great as a whole. There were dozens of scenes that I loved, but, as the film goes on for three hours, there was plenty to dislike, as well. The fat and gristle detract. Did I mention there are great songs? Great indeed! I love Hindi music myself. The cinematography is also often exceptional. 8/10.