Saturday, June 14, 2008

Crazy Madness, SRK-style

In 1992’s Deewana, the romance that develops between perky young Kajal and pop star Ravi, a chubby, past-his-prime Rishi Kapoor, falls far short of epic. During his musical numbers, Rishi flashes that boyish grin and exhibits a bit of his old spark and charm, but for the most part it’s pretty painful, especially considering the slew of hideous Cosby sweaters that he keeps wearing. It’s actually a relief when Amrish Puri unveils his villainy and has Rishi killed, thus freeing Kajal for a more age-appropriate romance with Shah Rukh Khan’s rebellious rich boy.

The sad thing is that I’m very fond of Rishi. I was unexpectedly charmed by his absurdly cleancut nerd-boy in Bobby, and I mean, Karz is fabulous. He looks ridiculous in the silver pajamas, fondling his own nipples, but he has absolute conviction. So I feel bad for mocking him here, and I hope that SRK, oh-so-youthful in this film, knows better when his time comes to transition to the dad roles.

After Shah Rukh’s Raja rescues the lovely widow and her mother-in-law from the trouble he himself has caused them, Rishi’s mom adopts him as a son, and uses the awesome power of her mom guilt to make Kajal marry him. I’m so used to movies where Shah Rukh is on the other side of that situation, so it’s pretty funny here. Mom (who’s devoted to Ganesha, by the way) stresses the young woman’s need for protection, calling SRK an angel (an inkling of the KHNH), and all but saying, “For pete’s sake, are you insane? Marry him, already!”

Although the groom promises not to touch Kajal until she’s learned to love him, his marriage has a reforming quality on not only him, but his whole “motorcycle gang.” They’re inspired to re-open an old garage and become constructive members of society, instead of tearing around having youthful hijinks on their bikes. As SRK wins over his wife, in between tender scenes with his new mom, I can’t be the only viewer to have completely forgotten the first half of the movie even happened. It’s kind of a shock when first Amrish, then Rishi reappears (the latter bearded and grave, which suits him much better).

Amrish, for once getting a modicum of motivation for his villainy, looks debonaire in dark hair and a beard; at times even – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – kinda hot. Both he and Shah Rukh’s evil industrialist father (who responded to his son’s interest in a widow by hiring thugs to rough her up and smash her television) each have their own sinister theme music. They’re both delightful, but Amrish’s is better, with more of a minimalist, electronica vibe, so it was nice when that made a comeback.

In a further indignity for the still-alive Rishi, he’s set upon by street thugs, and needs rescuing by the passing SRK (who displays the fighting form he learned beating up his father’s minions). Rishi’s brought to the hospital, where the two men inevitably bond, and they all come together at poor Kajal’s birthday party: “Surprise! Here’s your other husband!”

Throughout the movie, there are many references to the inevitability of time. When the characters converge and the bigamous misunderstanding is out in the open, the noble Shah Rukh tries to prevent the noble Rishi from walking away, and Rishi delivers these heartfelt lines: “Don’t try to change the law of nature…I’m just a past. But you are her present. And a yesterday can never become, a today.” At this late point I suddenly thought, my god, maybe there’s been a method to this movie’s deewana!

P.S. Duh: it only occurred to me later that Rishi made his leading man debut playing a rebellious rich boy Raja in Bobby, which is evidence for a theory of conscious torch-passing. Although he would be paired up the younger Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla in a few movies, so it's not as if he really retiring from romantic leads...Hopefully, though, he retired those freakin' sweaters.

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