“Baabul”; Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Hema Malini, Rani Mukherjee, Salman Khan, John Abraham, Om Puri, Sarika; Director: Ravi Chopra; Rating: * 1/2
When you have everything going for you, including a top star-cast and a powerful socially relevant theme, it isn’t easy to mess things up. But “Baabul” does exactly that.
Just why or how director Ravi Chopra manages to make a monumental mess out of a potentially explosive drama is a matter worthy of an inquiry commission.
Years ago Raj Kapoor had cast Padmini Kolhapure as a carefree girl who’s transformed into a weeping widow in “Prem Rog”. She finally marries her beloved from the past amidst a tumult of societal protest.
Writer Achala Nagar adopts the same framework but she forgets that times have changed and widow remarriage isn’t quite the burning issue it used to be two decades ago, especially in the case of modern families like the one shown in this film.
The first half of the film, where Avinash (Salman Khan) marries Mili (Rani Mukerji), is replete with loud celebratory songs. The choreography, artwork and cinematography are more suited to the social dramas of the 1960s than a contemporary work.
It’s shocking to see how clumsily Ravi Chopra handles the familial inter-relationships and how much of his inspiration comes from tried-and-tested cinema.
The buddy-buddy bonding between dad Amitabh Bachchan and son Khan has been done in films as diverse as Vipul Shah’s “Waqt” and Karan Johar’s “Kabhi Alvidaa Na Kehna”, not to forget Yash Chopra’s “Kabhi Kabhie” in a much earlier decade.
It’s in the second-half when Bachchan goes husband-hunting for his widowed daughter-in-law that the director gets a grip on the main drama. It may not be too late to salvage the widow’s wrecked domesticity but it’s certainly too late to save the film from its catastrophic conventional drama.
“Baabul” is filled with superfluous scenes of family bonding, seen mainly through clumsily choreographed songs. The characters are too busy posing and preening to get under the skin of the roles.
Bachchan and Rani, however, make a genuine effort to light a spark in the dark. There are flashes of genuine drama between the two after Avinash’s death but moments of tragic resonance are often frittered away in pursuit of glamour.
Ravi Chopra’s previous film “Baghban”, about old age and negligence, worked mainly because of the superb chemistry between the lead pair – Bachchan and Hema Malini.
In “Baabul”, one feels Bachchan and Hema Malini are being forced to fake the couple’s camaraderie. Their singing and dancing fails to recreate their “Baghban” magic.
As for Nagar’s dialogues – it’s been a while since we heard anyone in a mainstream Hindi film scream, “Ruko … yeh shaadi nahin ho sakti!”. That’s what poor Om Puri, playing Bachchan’s super-conservative brother, is reduced to doing.
Puri should consider himself to be lucky. At least he gets to speak. Some of the supporting cast, including Sarika who plays a silently suffering widow, barely get to open their mouth in this otherwise over-talkative film.
Salman and John, as the two men in the leading lady’s life, are cocky and self-conscious respectively. The clothes they wear, the songs they sing and the dialogues they mouth could probably be held responsible.
The onus of sustaining the drama falls entirely on Bachchan and Rani. The latter’s growth as an actor since Sanjay Bhansali’s “Black” has been steady and remarkable. Rani proves that she is far ahead of her contemporaries despite the film’s basic flaws. If you must watch the film, watch it for Rani!