Directed and story by Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Much is made of this film, especially in terms of its directing—the cinematography, the music, the images the camera dwells on. I found these qualities irritating—it was like Bollywood trying to prove that it could do Hollywood, but trying so hard that everything came off as precious—like college students who write very serious poems comparing their personalities to different characters in The Wizard of Oz (I’m referencing myself…I think I’m old enough to laugh at that now). The title means “bird,” and birds caged or taking off in flight are used throughout as heavy-handed metaphors.
The plot is no surprise—two brothers are left homeless on the streets, so the elder takes up with a gang to pay for their lives and to send his brother off to a good school (the brother unknowing the whole while). The younger brother, Karan, played by Anil Kapoor, is that bothersome stock character, the happy innocent (especially off-putting is the way these characters laugh). Jackie Shroff, as the older brother, is frightening in his active, powerful role—he moves and kills with agility, but his face shows his growing disquiet of soul. The head of the gang is a caricature of evil, but the story does attempt to humanize him by showing his sorrow at the loss of his family. Madhuri Dixit plays the love interest of Karan; here is where some of the preciousness comes in. They kiss on screen and after their marriage, their wedding night is shown with the camera moving slowly along shadowed naked limbs—everything is really drawn out, as if the filmmakers are frightened, fascinated, and extremely proud of the fact that they’re showing something not normally in a Bollywood film. All this removes any ounce of chemistry that may have been relayed on screen (if there actually had been chemistry between Kapoor and Madhuri). The plot is not surprising until the end, when it takes a turn away from the usual Bollywood way of wrapping up brother against brother. The film ends in flames, but there is nothing satisfying about the surprise; it’s the difference between watching the Yule log on TV and having an actual fireplace (perhaps this comparison works if the latter is Deewar). The only real shining point is Jackie Shroff’s character portrayal (and this is coming from a big Madhuri fan).
Song Highlights: Although the music is by the great R.D. Burman, no song really jumps out. There is a humorous song between the two brothers as they prepare for the wedding, but even that feels overwrought. The movie opens by using “Fanfare for the Common Man” over a pan of the city, and later the “Ride of the Valkyries” is used during an action scene, but these Western classic staples only show more clearly how the movie does not reach the level of filmmaking it is reaching for. Of any Bollywood film I have seen, this film is the best argument against critics who think Bollywood should conform more to Western aesthetics. If Bollywood weren’t what it truly is, what would be the point? We could just have Americans waltz in and take over the industry. The reason that they can’t, and the reason Bollywood filmmakers can’t go the other way, is as good as proving that they shouldn’t.
Rating: In spite of my own analysis of the use of more Western aesthetics, to general viewers, these aesthetics may make it easier to swallow than other films.
Library Collection: It’s considered a stand-out film of the 80’s, but I don’t think it is necessary to understand Bollywood films on a fundamental level.