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Friday, September 07, 2001

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Film Review: Lajja


RAJKUMAR SANTOSHI'S ``Lajja'', which was released this past week, is an uneasy film. It raises several questions about the status of the distaff side and answers only a few of them. Through cliches, stereotypes. It could have accomplished so much. It achieves so little. Which is a pity considering that over the past one year Bollywood has shown a new zest in tackling women- oriented subjects. And met with varying degrees of success.

First came Mahesh Manjrekar's ``Astitva'', followed by Kalpana Lajmi's ``Daman'', and the more recent ``Hari-Bhari'' by Shyam Benegal. ``Lajja'' is the grandest of them all - lavishly shot on a budget of close to Rs. 25 crores, it is a veritable parade of beauties from frame to frame. Rekha, Madhuri Dixit and Mahima Choudhary vie for space with Manisha Koirala around whom revolves this tale of gender genuflection from the First World U.S. to the Third World Bihar. The film has opulence screaming from its sets. Whether it is Sonali Bendre's special dance number at a wedding or Madhuri Dixit's countryside gyrations or even Urmila Matondkar's scintillating song, there is an enchanting backdrop.

Unfortunately, this colourful film is a black-and-white disappointment, particularly in the second half when Santoshi loses track of his story and in a blatant bid to get the tax-free certificate brings in bits about computer education, female literacy and infanticide. The viewers have the ridiculous spectacle of village midwife Ramdulari, played by Rekha, speaking in countryside English.

``Lajja'' actually is the tale of Vaidehi - incidentally, all four heroines are named after Sita, leaving one wondering why Bollywood producers should extol Sita as the role model for the modern woman and neglect Draupadi completely - a New York- returned girl who has experienced deceit and debauchery in the Wild West but lands to find things are not much better back home.

At one place there is a marriage at constant risk because the father of the groom keeps repeating his demand for Rs. 5 lakhs in cash as part of dowry. At another place, it is a theatre artiste who has to bear the burden for one man's indulgence and another man's roving eye. At the third, it is the good samaritan of the village who has to pay the price for bringing in awareness against the feudal order. Among them all is Vaidehi, a woman whose husband wants her for the life kicking within her.

Watch this diatribe against men if you are wedded to the increasingly popular idea of male-bashing. Despite sensitive performances by Madhuri and Manisha, it is alternately too loud, too simplistic. There is no space for grey matter: men are all black, women all white. Which is as far from reality as you can get.

ZIYA US SALAM

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