Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Treading the Fire

It was many years ago that Ram Gopal Varma announced himself as one of the most skilled filmmakers in the industry. He is perhaps most fondly remembered for giving Aamir Khan an unforgettable role in Rangeela, a film that also turned Urmila into an overnight star. His Satya undoubtedly won him the most critical acclaim, but it remains difficult to single out just one film from a director whose resume reads of Sarkar, Company, Kaun or even a Bhoot and a Mast. And so far we've only talked of direction. The list of creative films he has written and/or co-produced and the many assistants who turn director and attempt to mimic his style is rather endless. And now, after much talk, hype and controversy, his Sholay-inspired RGV Ki Aag is finally set to release this Friday.

Let it be said right now that the intention of this post is not to undermine Varma or any of his skills. I think the introduction rather proves that I am fully aware of his talent and also believe in his ability as a director. Nevertheless, Sholay is, in my most humble opinion, a film best left untouched. Especially when, as is this case with this endeavor, copyright laws are restricting you from using the same title or repeating character names, thus you end up with names that make your project sound more like a parody than a tribute.

With that, let's have a look at the casting, and where it all went wrong...

Ajay Devgan as Heero (Veeru)

We all know if there is one thing Ajay Devgan cannot do, it is comedy. He has tried and tried again, be it an Ishq or a Golmaal; or how about the recently disastrous Cash (see second post)? And for some reason beyond the world, RGV thought Ajay a good fit to Veeru.
True, Dharmendra was an action hero, too. But Dharmendra also had a flair for comedy that Ajay does not possess. On the contrary, Ajay would have been a perfect choice for Amitji's character, Jai. He's brooding and he's sarcastic - that is, if I'm not wrong, what defines Jai. Ajay getting silly drunk and climbing a tower to declare his love for the chatterbox Basanti? Yeah, I see it as a potential massacre, too.

So who should have been cast as Heero? Good question. I understand Varma's reservations about casting either of Dharmendra's actual sons. Let's face it - neither Sunny nor Bobby are good enough actors. And sure, like I said, you don't have to be a great actor to play the part. So maybe someone like Salman Khan or Akshay Kumar could have very well done it. The character is that of a drinker/skirt-chaser - last time I checked, that was Salman Khan as we know him. As for Akshay, the flirtatious quality + impeccable comic timing also would've made him a good candidate. Plus - both in both age and physique - they are in the right place to make a good Veeru/Heero.

Prashant Raj as Raj (Jai)

I'm sorry, who? While I am all for launching new talent, casting the first runner-up of Mr. India 2004 in a role even the most accomplished actors could have difficulty with is a recipe for disaster. Don't get me wrong - I'm not writing the guy off without even seeing him, but his boyish looks already render him too young for the role and certainly far too young to be playing Ajay Devgan's partner. And why create a cast of strong names like Amitabh Bachchan, Mohanlal, Ajay Devgan and Sushmita Sen, and then throw in a random newbie into the equation?

Young Prashant could turn out to be a surprise package, but he looks like a carbon copy of that James fellow Varma was so adamantly (and unsuccessfully) trying to push into the industry at one point. So who should have been Jai? I know what all of you are thinking - two words - Abhishek Bachchan. But let's face it: while Abhishek is turning out to be a fine young actor, he very much likes to imitate his father. It's only natural. But casting Bachchan junior in a role that his father originally played could really just end with him trying to literally reproduce his father's work. I could just see him playing it the same way his father did. Like I said earlier, Ajay should have been Jai. Even Akshay Kumar could've played Jai - he has that sarcastic humor in him, too.

Nisha Kothari as Ghungroo (Basanti)
RGV seems to have this strange tendency to latch onto one actress and milk her for all she's worth. In the case of Urmila, she actually turned out to be an underrated talent. With Nisha Kothari, I get more of a 'waste of space' impression than I do serious actress. Last I saw her, she was doing what she seems to be known for so far - shedding off clothes and calling it a performance. I don't want to make rude comments on why Varma is so obsessed with her, because well...yeah, I think I just implied it. But he gives her roles that she really shouldn't have.

Again, I understand apprehensions about casting Esha Deol in place of her mother. Esha, too, would probably mimic Hema Malini's classic performance, and given her limitations as an actress she probably would not even mimic all that well. My picks? Kajol, for starters - she could be that fast-talking, borderline annoying but funny village belle. She did it quite well in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, for that matter. I would even call Madhuri Dixit out of retirement to play a role that probably fits her to the T. Sadly, due to the decreasing amount of actresses in the industry who actually know how to act, there is no one younger I can even come up with. Yes, Rani Mukherjee is a great actress. But no, her take on comedy is not her forte. Which is what takes me to the next bit...

Sushmita Sen as Durga (Radha)

Sushmita Sen is a very capable actress. But does she give off a vulnerable, almost weak vibe? Not at all. If anything, the lady is known to play strong, independent women. And here she is cast in Jaya Bhaduri-Bachchan's place as a widowed woman who says and does very little in the film. Now, I'm sure Varma has changed this, because no fool casts Sushmita in a quiet role. But honestly, Sushmita could have been Basanti rather than Radha.

I would have brought the aforementioned Rani in to play a role that is all about giving an understated and soft portrayal. She has that sense of traditionalism that sums of the essence of Radha.

The Ones We Allow

Amitabh Bachchan as Babban Singh (Gabbar Singh)

This one, we will condone. Of course Amitjit is one of the greats of Indian cinema. Nonetheless, he appears in so many films/TV commercials/who knows what else these days that he seems to suffer from overexposure. And, as a result, I worry that people are growing sick of him and will therefore not appreciate his reprisal of India's most celebrated villain as much as they normally would have. Still, if there's anyone who can even try to do what Amjad Khan did, it is Mr. Bachchan.

Urmila Matondkar as Mehbooba Mehbooba dancer (as played by Helen)

Finally, a good match. I was almost worried that Varma would fall into Farhan Akhtar's trap and give the cameo to...Kareena Kapoor. It is well known that Ms. Kapoor was perhaps the worst choice to do a Yeh Mera Dil in last year's remake of Don. With her two left feet, it was almost like an unwarranted ambush toward the audience.

Urmila, on the other hand, can dance. So age is no longer on her side and she no longer carries the hour-glass figure, but she is a fair enough choice to fill Helen's shoes. Abhishek Bachchan as the male dancer, on the other hand, will be interesting. He's good at the nautanki style dancing, but his pairing with a visibly older Urmila is rather odd.

Verdict? Watch at your own risk. If you are a fan of the classic, you'd best keep away. If you have not even seen the original, don't even think about laying eyes on the remake before witnessing the masterpiece itself.

Who knows? We may love it. This is all just a cautionary post. I will most definitely share a real review once the film is released.


SB said...

you are the queen of indian films. :)

saloni said...

lol I don't know if I want to see this movie anymore..though I do like the Mehbooba song, really catchy and grows on you... maybe we'll dance to it next year?

Manish said...

I was watching it with a bunch of friends and it was so bad that we stopped the movie after 45 minutes and deleted it from the laptop :).
It seems RGV assumed that the audience knows the old Sholay by heart and decided to make a movie with zilch screenplay, so much so that it would be hard to follow the story if you haven't seen the old Sholay.