Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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Paheli - Unrealistic glossy: Review

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” (released in India on July 1 2005), based on a Rajasthani literary work by Vijaydan Detha, falls into this pit.

Rani Mukherjee and Shahrukh Khan in Paheli
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 in riding on 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 – Shahrukh 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 a bridegroom 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, takes 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 “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 inautheticity. 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 caliber could have certainly got a far better performance from one of Indian’s cinema’s promising artists. Anupam Kher as the merchant is the usual delightful self that he is. Beyond this, “Paheli” has little to offer.

(This review appeared in The Hindu on July 1 2005)

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