By Subhash K Jha
Stars: Jeetendra, Sridevi…Oops, Ajay Devgan , Tamannaah, etc
Director: Sajid Khan
MUMBAI: Sridevi famously said recently that her 1983 career-making potboiler Himmatwala was no Mughal-e-Azam. She was right to a point….Until now, when Sajid Khan’s remake of the 1983 K. Raghvendra Rao film has come along to provide a comparative viewpoint.
And suddenly the old Himmatwala does appear to be a classic. It gave us the timeless Sridevi as an arrogant spoilt rich bitch who mouthed insanely capitalistic dialogues like, ‘I hate the poor.’
And 30 years later, Tamannaah Bhatia does a Sridevi. She gets into Sridevi’s leather pants, with a whip to match and tortures the peasants in a village lorded over by a fatuous feudal dad who is not really evil. He is just mad. Somehow Tamannaah misses the bus and the bullock-car by a wide margin.Not her fault, really. It’s the mood and milieu that this oddball of a remake generates.
We hear the larger-than-life hero Ravi (Devgn) mouth words of old-fashioned heroism with a straight face. But somehow we aren’t convinced if he means business. Indeed, there was more than a dash of Shakespeare’s Taming Of The Shrew in the way the original Himmatwala Jeetendra brought Sridevi to heel.
The new-age Sridevi is a squeal. She quickly changes from her audacious mini skirts and high heels with whips as accessories, to being a simpering salwar-kameez-clad doormat who is willing to walk that extra mile for the man in her life.
There are only two other female characters in the entire plot. The hero’s long-suffering mother (played with commendable dignity by Zarina Wahab) and a sister (Leena Jumani). Vanquished by the villains, the mother and daughter live in the village forests. Curiously, the daughter appears to have walked straight out of gym. Like all good sisters from the past history of commercial cinema, this one too nearly gets gang-raped .This one happens in a sealed van (Delhi’s grisly rape reconstructed?) until the hero appears to literally crush the wannabe-rapists’ balls. Ouch. Devgn ends his ballsy crusade with one of the film’s many bravura-tinged exclamation lines: “As long as women are attacked, Himmatwalas would be born.”
Chalk up a long-hurrah for this dime-store braveheart. We can look at Ajay Devgn in Himmatwala as the man who came in from the cold and warmed up the bucolic baddies’ backsides with what he calls a bum pe laat. That, we can say, is the other side of the jadoo ki jhappi with which Sanjay Dutt used to heal the world not so long ago. I guess Dutt’s jadoo ki jhappi got a bum pe laat .
Cute? That’s how Devgn plays his shehar ka hero gaon ka super-hero part. He wants us to believe he is having fun with the trite part. But the boredom underneath the façade of fun shows up often enough to make us cringe.
The fractured world of Sajid Khan’s Himmatwala is not looking for healing. It is happy being unfinished, wonky and out of shape. A wheezing grunting snoring world of demented feudalism where the Zamindar, as played by the gifted Mahesh Manjrekar, is part-fiend, part-clown. Meals are not cooked in this tottering tyrant’s kitchen. Instead he orders the villagers to get him khaana from their homes which he eats on a table long enough to serve as the passenger’s cabin in a domestic airline. And when his daughter announces she is pregnant, the father throws a fit in the style of a 8-year old who has just been told his favourite G I Joe has gotten flushed down the toilet.
The narrative serves up enough ‘feud’ for thought to make our heads go dizzy with thoughts of ruptured continuity. But gosh, are we really seeking logical explanation for what the characters do, say and convey in this film where a tiger appears from nowhere to help the hero fight the goons in the climax? Is this a film to be taken seriously? Presuming for a minute that we are expected to abandon all rationale and ….well go with flow, how do we set aside the uneasy feeling that the narrative is laughing not with us, but at us?
The second movement of the pesky potboiler is taken over by the Mahesh Manjrekar-Paresh Rawal duo doing the Amjad Khan-Kader Khan banter from the original Himmatwala with a dash of homo-erotic humour thrown in when the duo are forced to share a bed in a cowshed. This is where the mystery of the shapeless potboiler deepens.
The dialogue that follows between the two bedded buffoons has to be heard to be believed. To their credit Manjrekar and Rawal, seasoned troupers both, try their utmost to have fun with their parts. Their vain efforts to infuse a joie de vivre in the clogged veins of this perverse potboiler only reminds us that stereotypical characters from conventional mainstream cinema died long before Joy Mukherjee.
Any attempt to revive the old-fashioned masala potboiler would require oodles of inbuilt humour and a developed sense of spoofiness. Himmatwala lacks both. It is neither fish nor fowl. How does one describe the film in a nutshell? For that we can go back to one of the songs recreated from the original Himmatwala.
Ho tacky ho tacky ho tacky tacky tacky re…..