11 July 2005 | BrandtSponseller
Fear/Cape Fear Melodrama
At least Aetbaar didn't involve a love triangle. I was getting sick of seeing Bollywood films with love triangles. On the downside, there is a love story as the focus, there is a lot of overblown melodrama here, there are songs as travelogues, and a bunch of other Bollywood clichés are present. Aetbaar is also strongly derivative. It's basically an uncredited remake of James Foley's 1996 film Fear, with healthy doses of the Martin Scorsese version of Cape Fear (1991) thrown in for good measure. But if it has to be derivative, those aren't two bad films to be derivative of. The more Bollywood thrillers and horror films the better in my view.
Aetbaar is told primarily from the point of view of Ria Malhotra (Bipasha Basu). She's a college student "waiting for the right guy to come along". She says she'll know him when she meets him. She meets him (although she doesn't think so at the time) when he, Aryan Trivedi (John Abraham), almost runs his motorcycle into her. They run into each other again later, at a disco. Aryan keeps coming on strong, and Ria falls for him. Little does she know at the time that Aryan has an extremely obsessive, violent side and basically runs his own gang. We see the violent side early on when Aryan heads out to a whorehouse for a little extracurricular activity, and his idea of a good time is assaulting his host instead of making love to her. Ironically, Ria's father, Ranveer (Amitabh Bachchan), is a well-respected surgeon who ends up treating Aryan's victim. Ranveer suspects that something is off with Aryan as soon as he meets him, and his pleas, then demands, that Ria cease seeing him begin to grow stronger. Eventually, he uncovers some "dirty secrets" about him. Meanwhile, Aryan's behavior begins growing more threatening. Anyone who has seen a number of thrillers will probably be able to predict a lot of the plot from this point, and of course, anyone who has seen either Fear or Cape Fear will be able to predict it in a fair amount of detail.
But insofar as Vikram Bhatt focuses on creating a suspenseful thriller, Aetbaar usually works. Of course Abraham is no De Niro, but he's psychotic enough in his own way. Some of the later scenes, especially those in the climax, can suffer slightly from pushing the envelope towards ridiculousness--for example, at one point, characters do the classic U.S. action film move of outrunning a fireball, but on the other hand, the less bombastic violent material works extremely well.
The sets and locations in the film are attractive and suit the material well. The Malhotras' getaway home was particularly effective and the landscape was impressive cinematographically. Of course, the same sort of bucolic but atmospheric setting was used in Cape Fear, but that makes it no less successful here.
Problems arise on two fronts. The more serious flaw is that Bhatt directs his cast to horrendously overact. The melodrama couldn't be thicker. There are a few attempts at comic relief, but those are just as painful. Bachchan, in particular, makes you want to cringe when he lays on the syrup, and his English "hip youth" spiel towards the beginning of the film is not only cheesy, but for some reason he's almost shouting with a bizarre, affected phrasing. That's a very minor moment, but such groan-worthy tangents are littered throughout the film. I wish Bollywood directors would more often stress underplaying a role. With that type of acting instead, Aetbaar could have nearly been a gem.
The other flaw arrives with Bhatt bowing to various Bollywood conventions. Ria has to fall for Aryan for the film to work, but to conform to the standard Bollywood ebb and flow, Bhatt has Aryan strangling Ria one moment, and the next moment they'll be singing a travelogue romance song to each other--you'd half expect them to get married in the next scene while Johnny Lever shows up to tell a few jokes. The build up from Aryan as love interest to Aryan as dangerous psycho needs to be gradual, and once he does something like strangle Ria, she needs to approach him with a bit more skepticism, even if she still gullibly loves him and has a bit of provisional trust in him.
There are also some very odd production design elements. For some reason, Ranveer has a piano on his patio, uncovered. Pianos aren't weatherproof normally. Maybe in the film, this one is supposed to be, but it's weird enough that it distracted me. Or, Aryan is supposed to be an artist. He's done some portraits of Ria. The first one he shows her is actually quite scary looking--she seems to be melting, as if it were an "acid portrait"; nevertheless, she's impressed, as if it were a normal painting. Again, these are minor points, but there are many of them over the course of the film, and in the general context, they are kinks in the flow of the thriller.
There are also a few dangling threads; these should have been better developed. For example, Ranveer never does find out who beat up the prostitute, even though there's a great chase scene where he comes very close. It's just dropped after that. But that's also a backhanded compliment. It should have been better developed because the idea was very good. Bhatt, who also wrote the story, had no shortage of good ideas in his details, and he can create a lot of suspense when he wants to, even if the basics were cribbed from other films.
Aetbaar is nowhere near a perfect thriller, or a perfect Bollywood film. But it is well worth a look, and if you're more sympathetic to the typical Bollywood melodrama mode and other clichés, you just might love it.