Rishi-licious disco masala: Karz
My favorite thing about Karz just might be that it helped bring about Om Shanti Om. I don't know how exaclty OSO came about or how strong the ties are in Farah Khan's mind between the two films (and I don't mean to overstate them), but I think she did some great work with what she found in Karz. Personally, I think OSO is the stronger and more enjoyable film - it's a lot sharper and funnier, and that's what I tend to like.* That's probably not a very fair assessment ot make, though (but might be a good discussion for later: what responsibilities does an original work have for what later people do based on it or how they interpret it?) So let's pretend for a minute that we live in a terrible world in which Farah never saw Karz - nahiiiin! - or, more easily, that I saw this movie about a year ago, before Om Shanti Om came out. In that case, I'd have to say the best, self-contained thing about the movie is Rishi. I'm sort of surprised to hear myself say that; I've liked Rishi in other things, but I would never have called him the greatest strength of any of the movies I've seen him in so far. In an impromptu North American Karz watch-along, Apni East India Company, Old Is Gold, Filmi Girl Bol!, and I all agreed that Rishi was workin' it really well in this film, playing all his masala-required faces with equal starry appeal. Pop star Rishi (named Monty, as the back of his silver sequined jacket helpfully tells us)!
Violin-playing, emo Rishi!
O Rishi, you're so fine! You're so fine you blow my mind!
Manic, weird, flashbacking, stalking Rishi!
Jacket-without-shirt Rishi! And most of all, disco-dancing Rishi! I'd really like to assemble the songs and funny segments from this with the best moments of Disco Dancer and create one fantastically groovy disco-laden movie that puts too much emphasis on electric guitars...and just ignore the parts about going bonkers while avenging historic wrongs done to one's mother.
Karz is masala-y - and we can all agree that "disco masala" is a concept with a lot of potential, no? - but its balance of R(ecommended) M(asala) A(llowance) ingredients was not my favorite. Too little comedy and romance, too much revenge and convenient coincidence. I think what nudged it over the edge for me was the reincarnation storyline. When a masala hero finds his long-lost family and discovers that all the other people in his life are relevant to his previously unknown true identity, that's pretty convenient. But when a masala hero finds his long-lost family and learns that all the other people in his life are connected to his true identity only after he has deciphered mysterious flashbacks to figure out that in fact he is the reincarnation of a different person who was murdered by his wife 21 years ago as part of an evil plan to control a tea estate, that's really convenient. (So many italics are necessary to explain these things!) Convenient - yet so convoluted and complicated. It's meta-masala! Reincarnation is more difficult for me to get on board with than plain ol' ordinary mistaken identity or unknown past. Here is where I have to admit that I was really confused at the beginning of the movie, and had it not been for the others watching with me, it might have taken me a long time to realize that the actor playing the man Simi Garewal (evil Kamini) ran over with her jeep (Raj Kiran, playing Ravi Verma) was not in fact just Rishi with an icky mustache.
The casting of Raj and Rishi as reflections of each other was smart - they definitely work as relatives.
Now that I've thought about Karz some more, my bigger complaint is that there was no explanation of how the reincarnation was supposed to have happened or why Ravi's soul ended up in Monty in particular. If you want me to accept that Monty is actually dead Ravi, give me some documentation of how (and preferably why) Ravi got into baby Monty (whom we never see) - like the way the link is set up in Om Shanti Om. I don't think the filmmakers were trying to be subtle about it - "subtle" is not really a part of this film - so I'm left thinking maybe they just didn't want to bother.
Long story short: Karz never fully inspired me to suspend disbelief. But apart from no explanation as to how Ravi became Monty, the story fit their lives together well. One loved his mother and sister; the other felt the bitter sting of not having any family. One was duped by his beloved; the other dished out deceit as payback. One talked about learning to play guitar; the other was a...I was going to say "virtuoso" but let's settle for "pop star who is presented as adept with at least three instruments."
Aside on set design: speaking of instruments, what is with the guitars all over the place? If they meant something other than reminding us of Monty's musicality, I missed it. Also, there are repeated visual references to mothers and mother's milk (or else somebody had a breast fetish); I'll leave it to Filmi Girl analyze that one, since she pointed it out, but in the meantime here are some bits of evidence (or maybe they're all references to Kali from the pre-reincarnation scenes?).
Just in case we didn't get the live mother/child pairing, the painting in the background clues us in.
This one is in Kamini's bedroom, and the only time I noticed it was when the camera swirls around her bed as she is attacked and almost raped by this guy,
who turns out to be someone hired by Monty to mess with her head. Personally, I don't think there's anything particularly maternal about that image, and I resent the movie linking female sexuality with sexual assault. And speaking of incongruous home decor, in the hallway outside Kamini's room, there's a poster of a bunch of kittens in a basket; we see it as Rishi collapses against the door frame and fires a gun at the creepy man. Weird!
Second best thing about Karz: songs! "Paisa Yeh Paisa" is a wonderful way to introduce the main character! Its outfits are inexplicably Euro-ish (see second image from top)! I kept wanting Rishi to do some of those Russian squatting kicks. The way the credits are integrated into the set is so clever!
Plus it adds another great Bollywood counting song to my repertoire in case I ever get tired of tired of "Ek Do Teen" from Tezaab. "Dard-e-Dil Dard-e-Jigar" gets stuck in my head all the time, and Rishi looks like he's having a great time performing it. "Om Shanti Om" is one of the best sets I've ever seen. I like its oversized record player even better than the oversized typewriter in Bombay Talkie, its Shashilessness notwithstanding.
The title theme is worked throughout the movie really well, even when potentially oveshadowed by giant drums, chimes, thunderclaps, and aesthetically displeasing disco riffs. Teeny downside about the songs: my viewing companions and I are not sure this movie sufficiently showed off Rishi's dancing skills.
Third best: Pran! In earrings! Being helpful! Dressing up in fun disguises!
Runners-up: Simi Garewal's wigs,
the many hats of dubious taste,
I don't know if you can see it, but in addition to Rishi's little furry cap, the women have flowers all over their heads and the men are wearing fedoras with plumes and one side of the brim pinned up (à la an unfortunate marching band).
and the skeleton suits that managed to convince Kamini she saw ghosts. What about these says "BHOOOOOOT!" to you?
The one on the right has glasses on over his mask. Oooh, scary.
Unless you're dealing with something along the lines of Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani (recently excellently reviewed by Todd over at Teleport City), guys in skeleton leotards with glasses should be a sign that you've got nothing worthwhile left to say about a movie. So I'll stop and sum up. For all its wacky bits and excellent songs, Karz didn't do much for me, and I'm really glad it reincarnated into Shahrukhy, affectionately satirical Om Shanti Om. The upcoming Himmesh version, though...yech.
* To my mind, OSO is at its worst once the revenge plot really kicks in, with Om terrorizing Mukesh and staging the elaborate reenactment, and that's when it's most directly comparable to the action in Karz. When OSO lost its sense of fun towards the end, that's when I got unhappy with it.