It is a measure of my foolishness that I get lured again and again to spend precious resources – money and time – at the movie theaters. Coming back home at night, in a rickshaw, caught in the everyday traffic which if it was a nightmare, would have awoken me in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, I brood about the utter worthlessness of my life, that causes me to fritter it away so thoughtlessly. This time, the reason for my despair is “Cheeni Kum”
As if a 6-7 year old girl, called Sexy, who badgers her friendly neighbor, Buddha (Amitabh Bachchan) to bring her adult DVDs, and lectures him on women and sex, is not enough to make one cringe every time she appears on screen, she has to be dying of blood cancer (what else do children die of in India?). The combination of precocious, failing-to-be-cute and trying-to-be-heartbreaking, complete with dire, dark shadows under her eyes, is enough to make me puke even in retrospect. Do scriptwriters in commercial Hindi films even know any children in real life? Don’t think so, because the only reasonably true-to-life children in commercial Hindi films that I can remember are the kids in “Masoom“, “Makdee“, “Anjali“.
Then, we have Nina’s (Tabu) father, Paresh Rawal, a Gandhian who eats only chicken for every meal, and uses Satyagraha as a personal blackmailing weapon. Was this even meant to be funny? When the lovely bhajan “Vaishno jan to tene kahiye” is used as a playback for his melodramatic fast-unto-death scene, where he is tempted by Nizamuddin‘s chicken kababs, I must confess, I did not feel very non-violent just then. The father is supported by a curiously immobile tableau of relatives, who sit in the same position and with the same expression, day after day, as the satyagraha plays out to the end.
It seems to me that Paresh Rawal has forgotten that he is a good actor, and functions only as a money-making machine, accepting and executing all roles that come his way.
Buddha’s mother, a 90-and more year old Zohra Sehgal, for all her commendable energy comes across as slightly demented, particularly in the scene where she drags her son to Nina’s house for a final confrontation, and then decides to sit in the car, and listen to the goings-on on the terrace of the house with a cocked ear, as does the rest of the crowd which has without an actual line of vision, or hearing managed to find out what’s happening inside the house, and gathered around it inquisitively. Thankfully, there are no news reporters, and no media coverage, though one would have thought that today’s news hounds with their task of pounding silk out of a sow’s ear, should have found it a very interesting story.
An important and equally irritating character of the film is the umbrella which passes back and forth between Buddha and Nina, in the unpredictable rains of London. The bunch of buffoon chefs and waiters, working in Buddha’s restaurant spend their time making jokes about the umbrella, which is also a term for the condom. The only scene worth anything at all in the film, is when Buddha goes to buy a condom, and the shopkeeper inadvertently tells his assistant, “Chacha (Uncle) wants a condom”. Buddha’s helpless rage, as he walks through the city towards his girlfriend’s house, has to then be ruined by some black frame inter-cutting, (“mood-editing”) which aims to reflect his state of mind, but only makes me slightly giddy.
The only saving grace of the film is the father of Sexy, who limits his lines and appearances to giving medical reports about her – “She is dying, she is dying, she is dead”. Wish everyone else in the film served some such purpose, and did it as briefly as he does.
I am not even going to talk about Amitabh Bachchan and Tabu. He is asked to be a sarcastic old man, she to be an enigmatically whimsical woman, and they go through the motions in their own way. The notion of a love story between a 64-year old man and a 34-year old woman is good, if it had not been so burdened by the director’s urge to make a comedy, which means comic lines, comic protagonists, comic second cast, unhindered by any substance in the plot line, making the film too, too tiresome for words, particularly as none of it is very comic.
Sadly, the almost-full house laughed. The cackle of young girls behind me was particularly loud in their hoots of laughter, which sometimes came even before anything had been said or done. I cynically speculated whether they were being college interns, paid to laugh, and then felt a bit ashamed. I don’t like the way Hindi films are darkening my soul.