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Away from realism



PAHELI: Folk touch is absent.

Paheli
Genre: Folklore
The cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Rani
Mukherjee, Juhi Chawla, Suneil
Shetty and Anupam Kher
The director: Amol Palekar
Storyline: About a bride who lives with the `ghost' of her husband. Bottomline: Too glossy.

Today, most Indian filmmakers feel that technique and form can carry the day for them. They emphasise little on content: script, direction and acting are the casualty of this attitude. Amol Palekar's latest movie, "Paheli," based on a Rajasthani work by Vijaydan Detha, falls into this pit.

Imagine a Rajasthan village before the era of telecommunications and modern travel where the inmates of a haveli, prosperous though they may be, constantly look chic and glamorous, even when they are riding in bullock carts through punishing heat and sandy dunes!

It is easy to capture audience attention through such ad film approach, where every frame looks like a tourist postcard, where every figure in it like an alluring model. One would expect directors like Palekar to inject a degree of realism in what they shoot.

Compare "Paheli" with Mani Kaul's 1953 version of the same story — which Detha wove out of the rich Marwar folklore. Kaul's movie, which had Akbar Padamsee's daughter, Raisa, and Ravi Menon, evoked interest with its disarming simplicity and believable situations and characterisations. Obviously, a celluloid work based on a folktale cannot be anything else.

Palekar, on the other hand, has an impressive star spread — Shah Rukh Khan, Rani Mukherjee, Juhi Chawla, Suneil Shetty and Anupam Kher — and he uses this complement to narrate an essentially ghost story. Of course, without the macabre.

We have a friendly ghost here, who falls in love with the bride as she rests along with others on her way from her marriage to her new home. Her husband, son of a wealthy merchant whose mantra is money, has to leave home on a long business assignment. The ghost takes advantage of this absence, assumes the husband's form and begins to live with the bride.

The underlying message in "Paheli" is the right of a woman to make choices, and the bride decides to live with the ghost despite the fact that `it' reveals the truth to her.

It is not clear whether Rajasthani women enjoyed this kind of freedom at that point in time, but even if one were to dismiss this and other aspects in the movie as nuances of folk idiom, it is rather difficult to overlook Palekar's treatment, which borders on exaggeration and is not authentic.

Cinema in order to make some kind of impression must step beyond entertainment and gloss.

On the plus side, Rani Mukherjee as the bride acts with flair, though a director of Palekar's calibre could have certainly got a far better performance from one of Indian's cinema's promising artistes. Anupam Kher as the merchant is delightful. . Beyond this, "Paheli" has little to offer.

GAUTAMAN BHASKARAN

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