"Paheli" as India’s Oscar Entry? Puzzling.
A Movie Review by Ajit Acharya
** Fair warning: The following review may contain plot spoilers. **
Rani Mukherjee sees dead people in "Paheli".
Welcome to the prestigious Academy of the Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. We recieved your entry application for next year’s awards. See that office over there? That’s where our head honcho Oscar sits.
Don’t bother knocking on the door just yet.
Let’s review your qualifications. Hm... You have excellent cinematography. Every shot is framed beautifully. The vivid hues of Rajasthan leap off the screen with sparkling color. The score is quite melodious also... and those song and dance sequences are well done. Perhaps they are somewhat unecessary and sluggish to the momentum of the story, but we can look past that.
There’s really something missing though... What could it be?
Let’s start with the plot. I’ll preface by saying this: I understand that suspension of disbelief is sometimes necessary in the moviegoing experience. The Harry Potter movies, the Star Wars trilogy and even the recently released “Just Like Heaven” all require a bit of forgiveness in the realism department. We don’t scrutinize the details too much because we are distracted by good storytelling and compelling characters.
Amol Palekar’s “Paheli”, based on a story by Vijaydan Detha, begins with a wedding party returning home. A young bride named Lachchi (Rani Mukherjee) stops to rest under a banyan tree while her aloof husband Kishan (Shahrukh Khan) dwells on business matters. A curious Ghost, in the form of a bird, defecates on the bride. (Yes, you read that correctly.) She lifts her veil and the apparition falls instantly in love with our attractive heroine. (I know what you men are thinking – “Crap! If only all courtship rituals were this easy.”)
Soon after the wedding party arrives at home, Kishan announces that he will depart on a business trip for five long years. This is a cue for Rani Mukherjee to put on her weepy face. Alas, the marriage is not even consummated because Kishan is more interested in settling the wedding accounts. Woe is her as her insensitive husband sets off. The lonesome Lachchi is consoled by her sister-in-law (Juhi Chawla), who’s still waiting for her own hubby (Suniel Shetty) to return from a similar trip. These women sure get the short end of the marital stick. The Ghost seizes the opportunity to get closer to Lachchi and transforms himself into an exact likeness of Kishan.
The shape-shifting spirit (now in the form of Shahrukh Khan) confesses the truth to Lachchi. Since no female can resist the hunk-o-riffic charm of Mr. Khan at his most romantic best, she accepts her ghostly lover. They live together as man and wife for three years. Ah... but then the plot thickens. You don’t believe in ghosts, you say? Ghosts, as it would seem, do not believe in contraception. Lachchi’s biological clock starts to ring... and lo and behold, my friends: she’s pregnant. At this point, my mind starts to wonder about the miracle of childbirth and the genetic makeup of the yet-to-be-hatched offspring. Will it look like Shahrukh? Maybe it will resemble the original form of the Ghost (whatever that may be)? I confess I don’t know much about the DNA configuration of dead souls. As the “intermission” credits came on at the halfway point, I smiled to myself that one moment the Ghost was a bird crapping on the heroine, and the next, he’s impregnating her. This isn’t exactly “Sixth Sense” territory, is it?
But nevermind. I digress.
The real husband, obviously surprised by the lack of interest in his whereabouts, hurries home. Everyone is confronted with two identical husbands! Who is faking and who is the real Kishan? To make a (very long 3 hour) story short... the two men are eventually taken to a remote desert location where they meet a wise shepherd (Amitabh Bachchan in eccentric screen legend mode). The shepherd poses a test – the real Kishan who truly loves Rani will prove himself by changing shape and attempting to enter a flask. Will the Ghost bite for the sake of true love and honor even if it means revealing himself? What happens next I will not disclose. However, the ending and the explanation that it hinges on pretty much negates the entire two and half hours preceding it.
How do you say “glaring plot hole” in Hindi?
Sort of. Big Bird doesn’t have an Oscar either, beta.
“Paheli” has all the ingredients of a folk-tale fantasy and it does have its moments. The art-direction (Muneesh Sappel) and costumes (Shalina Sarna) evoke a period Rajasthani feel immaculately. Scenes are redolent of the frames of my favorite pages in Amar Chitra Katha comic books. The narrative is framed through the perspective of two talking marionettes (voiced by Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak) as if told at a traveling puppet show. In the movie theater I actually heard one mother say to her unruly youngster, “It’s just like Sesame Street, beta!”
Ajit Acharya is an aspiring screenwriter with a lifelong passion for provocative and artistic films.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these columns are solely those of the writers and do not necessarily represent those of the editor/publisher.
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August 2005 - Ajit Acharya reviews Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s "Black"
All Material © Copyright Kavita Chhibber and respective authors.
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