Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Rakhee-Lab I: Barsaat Ki Ek Raat

Filmi~Contrast has several "House Favorites."

On the hero end of things: Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, and Shashi Kapoor rank at the tippety-top. I also usually enjoy Rajesh Khanna and Naseerudin Shah. Some heroes took a little time to grow on me. I think the first thing I saw Rajesh Khanna in was Kati Patang (1970), and I was both annoyed and intrigued by him. But others, like Shashi or Vinod, never had to sell me on their hero-chops--I turned loyal immediately.


Amitabh as his young hero self didn't appeal to me until I saw Suhaag (1979), and then I didn't question him so much anymore. I knew he would eventually step out of gruff-mode and into hilarity-mode, if I just waited long enough. I like Shah Rukh most of the time, even when I don't like the film he's in. I also think Ranveer Singh shows a lot of promise to be more than just a pretty face.


When it comes to heroines, I always enjoy the spunk and energy that Vidya Balan and Preity Zinta and Neetu Singh bring to their roles. Rekha and Zeenat Aman also never fail to intrigue me with their otherworldly beauty, mystique, and naach-styles.


For the most part, the appeal of these actresses is not hard to pin down (or even to "pin-up" if you will). They light up the screen with their charisma and personality and match the willpower of the men with their own kind of agency.


However, I have one favorite that still mystifies me: Rakhee Gulzar.

She just doesn't seem to share much with the other actresses above. I also kind of loathed her in the first role I saw her in (Kabhi Kabhie), minus maybe two scenes where I found her really interesting (no prizes for guessing which two scenes). But just one film of hers later, I fell completely "in love." I should have known that anyone who can induce one kind of strong feeling can also induce another. In each new film I see, I find reasons to love her and reasons to dislike her. But I can't stop watching either way.

In an attempt to figure out why I find such a seemingly quiet and distant actress so magnetic, AND why I love to hate her and hate to love her . . . I am going to subject her films to the scientific process. Maybe it will finally make sense if I just watch everything she has ever done... (Feel free to disagree with my logic, here.)


Experiment #1: Barsaat Ki Ek Raat (1981)


I thought I would start with a mediocre film to analyze here at the Rakhee-Lab. After all, a good film can make almost anyone look good. 

The primary hypothesis: Rakhee and Amitabh hold up as a couple in films that aren't Kabhi Kabhie. 

To be honest, what initially drew me to this film in particular was the Rakheetabh pairing. In Kabhi Kabhie their romance was the black hole of the film, dragging everything and everyone down with their poetic depression. However, after watching their understated romance in Kaala Patthar, which is all around one of the best movies I have ever seen, I thought they deserved another chance at love. 

The elements

Pretty tea-plantation on the mountainside:

We are NOT tea-pickers who dance. We are dancers who pick tea.
These bumbling baddies...with the Big Bad of the film, Kaliram, on the far right. 


This stranger riding into town with strange motives on a strange beast. 

Riding into town on a donkey. And you say I have a Messiah complex. I just don't see it. 
I don't know where I stabled this donkey, or why I rode into town in the first place, since I seem to like my Jeep for the rest of the film. 
A village caught under the local Smuggler Don's thumb: 


Rajni, this saintly blind daughter of the local tea plantation owner: 


Abhijeet, an inspector on a one-man mission to shut down the smugglers for good. 


Love with a stranger. . . who's spying on your lovesong for him: 

This song was kind of cute, even though Amitabh's character is spying on a girl who is singing about him, but can't see him. . .

Amitabh's character reveals himself to save her from hitting her head against a tree, thus sparking this delightfully facetious conversation: 









EXTENSIVE public shaming, in SONG, of the Big Bad that seems a bit excessive coming from the hero this early in the film.

This song is ostensibly to shame me for "bursting my drum" during our drum-off. But now that you're making fun of me for it, I think our drum-off was really a substitute for something else.
Private shaming of the good girl.

This lecherous Kaliram guy should be on the run, but instead has hung around waiting for the perfect night to get Rajni alone to rape her--which will also serve to hurt his enemy, Abhijeet. Although, for a blind girl without a white cane, her servant/helpers are NEVER around and seem to be the only people who can run stupid errands.
Of course Abhijeet saves Rajni, both from Kaliram and from the prospect of a future life alone in hiding from all the talk about the attempted rape. They start a new life together:

For those of you who might have wanted to see Kabhi Kabhie turn out a little differently. 

 Five years down the road, a new life is coming.

On the nose song about having everything they ever wanted, naively synchronous with the release of Big Bad from prison. 

Way too many boring scenes about painfully one-dimensional baddies that actually take up at least a third of the film:

Final catalyzing agent: The Big Bad gets released from prison and is still out for rape and blood and bad guy things. 

This scene was scary and scarring. Consequently, for once, the cause of miscarriage in a movie made sense. 

The reaction: Epic Beatdown by Bachchan


Results: 


  1. I do not like it when Rakhee plays blind. I realize it's a favorite masala trope, but within the first three frames of a random song I saw from this movie on a stroll through Youtube, I figured out that she was blind, so obvious were her movements. And it never got more subtle. I mean, maybe it would have helped if the fine scriptwriters or production team had actually given her a cane so she didn't have to do THIS all the time.                                                                                                    
  2. Rakheetabh DID indeed turn out to be the best part of this movie. Primary hypothesis supported. They managed to bring a fun sensibility to all their conversations, even if their songs together were pretty forgettable. In this conversation, Abhijeet assures Rajni that although he's excited for their coming baby, he doesn't see her just as a mother, but as his lover still. 
    We are still having flirty, facetious conversations after five years of marriage. 
  3. Also, I do not much care for movies where attempted rape takes up SO much of the storyline. 
  4. Rakhee should definitely be given as many humorous dialogues as possible. Her deadpan delivery was one of the best parts of this film. 
  5. Rakhee does not dance in this film. She also does not really dance in the other films I have seen her in. Strange. Further research is necessary. Maybe in Sharmilee? 

Experiment #1: Conclusion

I realized something important about Rakhee when I watched this film, ironically enough through my irritation about her character's blindness. Though I enjoyed her character's gutsy style (for being blind, she doesn't expect other people to take care of her, which tends to get her into trouble), I hated the limitations on Rakhee herself in this film. It was a bad move to make someone so observant act blind.

To me, Rakhee excels in "reacting" rather than acting. I love to look for the subtle but important changes in her demeanor during conversations or emotional scenes. I also always get the sense that she is painfully observant and sensitive towards everything going on around her . . . that every little emotional beat hits her heart and shakes it up. But of course her characters tend to hide this sensitivity, which makes you actually care about her suffering or her internal processes a lot more.

I have more Rakhee coming from Netflix, and we'll just have to see if those particular films warrant another day spent at the Rakhee Lab. I'm sure, however, that I'll need a lot more research and experimentation to figure The Quiet One out. 

2 comments:

  1. Actually, Barsaat ki Raat was refreshingly different in one thing - the heroine *is* raped (the second time) *and* she suffers a miscarriage, but she is not 'punished' for it. They don't even make much of it except her own shame, which her husband is supportive of and reassuring about. I found that interesting.

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    1. Looking back, I have to say I was still relatively new to watching older Hindi films at this point, and I think I would call it more boring than mediocre now. However, at the time, some of the tropes in this film were still new to me. Also, I agree--how Rakhee's character is treated by her husband is an island of sanity . . . among a frankly messy film.

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