2006 has had great hits: Fanaa, Rang de Basanti, KANK, Dhoom 2, Krrish, DON… However, one cannot help but notice a lack of family movies.
The festive season has had two major family ones, Vivah and since Friday, Baabul. Both have: addressed traditional social issues, had a star studded cast and a great promotion. On the other hand, they have also both: failed to hit the box office on the day of their releases, with a poor and predictable storyline that is far too slow paced.
The film is much weepier than Vivah; one could compare the tears you shed in this movie to the ones you shed in Kal Ho Naa Ho. The only difference is that the latter had a very good script and unfortunately, Baabul did not.
Baabul challenges the issue of making traditional values live, whilst making human beings die alive, in this case transforming the widow into a living corpse. “We have given up the sati, but the way we treat widows is a way of keeping this tradition alive”. The father in this story gives up all his relationships – wife, brother and his own family- in order to make sure that his widowed daughter in law wins a new life again.
This is story of an unconventional daredevil father Balraj, extremely modern and progressive in his approach. His life is a perfect picture of happiness: has a wife Shobna – Hema Malini- that he loves, a son Avi (Avinash) – Salman Khan- with whom he shares a buddy relationship, a daughter-in-law Millie –Rani Mukerji – he loves and that dearly loves her husband; finally a grandson that he and his wife dote on.
Life takes a cruel turn when the son Avi meets with a cruel accident, leaving the family and especially his wife in a numbing shock and utter distress. In a bid to bring her happiness, he decides to bring some happiness back into her bleak existence by finding Rajat, her best friend – John Abraham- and asks him to marry her. However, Balraj’s elder brother settled in rural Punjab with family and widowed sister in law, takes pride in abiding by tradition, convention and honour, vehemently objects to Balraj’s plans.
Interpretation and execution
I must say hands up to the Big B for putting himself wholeheartedly in this role. He acted his heart out, incredibly convincing in the role of the unconventional father sharing more of a friendship than a father to son relationship, but also as a loving and caring father in law strongly believing in his convictions and that … against all odds. Another striking aspect of his work on the film is that he sings the main theme of the film… quite well for someone who is not a professional singer.
Rani is a great cast when it comes to casting a dramatic and sorrowful character. Some critics argue that she is a modern Bombay girl and that she would understand the issues and bumped; leaded emotional journey a widow goes through. I would not agree. Her tears and the way she goes through her grief and feels the loss is totally convincing. However, there were times when one could not help wonder whether she had acted her role as if she knew the whole story from the start some of the elements were a bit predictable.
John Abraham and Salman Khan acted well, but very often failed to send any emotion across. Salman was fine as a loving, young married man and father. But seriously, it might be because of the age of the actor, but he failed to convince as a young son coming home from studies abroad. I just think that he is getting old and that he should start shelving these roles of young lover chasing a young girl and start leaving those roles to the likes of Shahid Kapoor and John Abraham.
Although John Abraham’s tears as a smitten rejected lover were real, he failed to convince on the whole in his role. He just did not manage to give that depth to his character. I will not mention his performances as a singer that looked more like Fame Academy Friday night shows…. But then, that might not be his fault, it could be blamed in the filmmaking.
India vs. diaspora: disconnect between the different types of audience
The film on the whole had a very noble a goal, which was to tackle a subject that has affected the Indian society. There are mixed feelings about this, since for a great part of the audience in India the subject does not seem to be a great issue. However, for the NRIs, it is.
When you’re an immigrant and have left your home country, you tend to stick to your traditions and values, the way they were when you left. You also make sure that your children inherit these and pass them on etc… However, the country we leave goes through changes over time and sometimes when you go back to live there, you are just shocked at how different the country is and also how inexistent these values have become.
This could explain why the film is likely to be more successful overseas with NRIs who like traditional subjects, than in the domestic market in so-called urban India.