Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Love and Terror and Songs

In this new age of warfare often involving strategies for combating terrorist tactics, war films in the U.S. have endeavoured to analyse the psychological impact on the regular soldier. So far, though, no film of Kathryn Bigelow or Clint Eastwood has confronted the issues of love triangles, hilarious misunderstandings, and musical numbers like the 2000 Bollywood movie Pukar. And make no mistake, Pukar states its intentions early on to honour India's real counter-terrorism soldiers.

As a romantic adventure comedy, Pukar is entertaining despite conspiciously bad sound editing, even for a Bollywood film. But as a war movie, it's so out of touch as to be sort of charming and like so much of Bollywood, it's reminiscent of 1940s or 50s Hollywood.

Anil Kapoor plays Jai, a decorated soldier who, as the film opens, succeeds in a seemingly impossible hostage rescue operation, going into battle even after he learns it's a trap. After these first ten minutes or so, Jai goes home and the movie becomes a complete romantic comedy for over an hour of its two hour and forty five minute running time.

There are two beautiful women in love with him--Pooja (Namrata Shirodkar), the General's daughter, and Anjali (Madhuri Dixit), his childhood friend. Jai, like most male Bollywood leads of the 1990s, is unattractive and an asshole of such absurd proportions one has the impression that a lot more bad behaviour is tolerated from men than in most other countries. Despite Anjali obviously being in love with him, Jai starts avoiding her to spend time with Pooja, nevertheless assuring Anjali in between that he loves her and tells her she's beautiful.

He and Pooja have a montage of ridiculously diverse Kodak moments, from trying on sombreros to playing with foals on a ranch in some idyllic green landscape.

Meanwhile, he's also torturing the captured terrorist leader, Abhrush--played by a very effectively menacing Danny Denzongpa.

When Jai finally does announce his plans to marry Pooja--after, of course, some prolonged comedy about his parents thinking he's announced his marriage to Anjali--Anjali is devastated and one of the best musical numbers of the film has her waxing really sexy with a torch song while Jai and Pooja are trying to eat dinner.

Sooner or later, Abhrush's bumbling henchmen figure out they can use Anjali to get some secret codes from Jai's office. There's more torture, murder, mayhem, hijinks, and tragic misunderstandings. The fight scenes have the worst punching sound effects I've heard, there's a liberal sprinkling of a generic "Pssht!" sound, like a bad recording of a slap, throughout the fights rarely connected to any visuals of actual punches.

But the songs are nice with music by A.R. Rahman and the movie features a rare cameo by Lata Mangeshkar as herself. Bollywood stars very rarely do their own singing, the sort of traditional singing demands, I understand, an uncommon sort of vocal control. Mangeshkar has provided the singing voice of Bollywood leads since the early 1940s.

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