Whenever PPCC loves a movie, particularly a Shashi movie, and I don't, I start to wonder if either I've missed something important and/or meaningful or I've just inexplicably and momentarily turned to stone, unmoved by Shashilicious powers and masala dil-squish. I don't know exactly what happened with Salaakhen and me, but in thinking about it, I've realized something: I think I expected this to be something it wasn't, namely a romp, superwow, masalavaganza, etc. It is an enjoyable, sweet film, but it is not the fun-fest I was anticipating. When a movie starts out with a fiery action sequence (neatly closed when the camera pulls out and you realize you've been watching not a preview of the scenes to come but the same film that the characters in the movie you're watching are watching),
an orphan fighting The Man, Mehmood playing a jovial Muslim caricature, someone's dad stealing diamonds, and children suffering cruel fates - and one of said children grows up to be Shashi Kapoor -
you figure it's going to kick into high gear of masala formula-charged excitement. I had thought these traits automatically signaled vivacious silliness and gleeful over-the-top-ness, but in this case they did not, and I felt a little disappointed with what seemed like a bait and switch in tone. Lots of familiar ingredients are here, proportioned for effective storytelling, and things end up just as you'd assume - but there's no "Wheeee!" None of my disappointment is Salaakhen's fault; after all, I've never seen it written anywhere that certain R(ecommended) M(asala) A(llowance) components invariably and absolutely must add up to Parvarish or Shaan. Sigh. If only things were so simple.
As in life, expectation management may be key to satisfying experiences with films.
So what can one reasonably expect form Salaakhen? For starters, a healthy dose of 70s fly style, as much in interiors as in costuming.
Alright, so there's nothing particularly 70s about this one. But so much of yum!
Her dress camouflages with the sofa!
Look at those orange- and yellow-tipped shoes with a violet sparkly gown!
A bad guy hangout bar with (and made out of) a tree (and stained glass windows and diagnoal panneling, but who's counting?)!
The romantic leads have a very satsifying, if predictable, re-introduciton. Childhood friends Raju and Guddi
Love that sari with giant flowers.
enter the film as adults in contrasting elements (Shashi Kapoor in fire/smoke and Sulakshana Pandit in rain)
and have a funny and veiled re-meet-cute during a blackout (though in classic masala fashion, they are not yet aware of who the other is).
Once Raju and Guddi join forces to con the bad guy, conveniently named Master and even more conveniently played by Amrish Puri in a ridiculous wig and supported by Mac Mohan being Mac Mohan,
the capers begin: double-crossing, under-covering, and pretend drunking. Please note that Guddi's booze sparkles as it pours out of the bottle in her vamp song.
All of the heist and re-heist and un-heist plotlines made sense to me at the time, but even after seeing the movie twice I can't remember the details (alright, or the basic set-up, either). Here's what I think I recall: Raju is in bad with some gamblers because he won all their money, and while he's on the run from them he bumps into Guddi. She helps him keep running, and somehow he takes a job for Master, but I think he only does so to get closer to some other, bigger, or more important/personally meaningful crime, being the good-natured gold-hearted small-time crook that Shashi tends to be. Further proof: he needs that gambling money to pay for his adoptive sister's wedding - that's the kind of bhai he is. Also, the diamond theft I mentioned a few paragraphs ago is revisited, and Shammi Kapoor has a cameo as an annoying Sikh/Santa Claus stereotype (sorry, Memsaab). That's probably all you really need to know of the plot; it's not complicated in situ.
Let's see...what else.... The songs are unmemorable except for a stage show in which grown-up Guddi romps through regions of India.
While in jail, Raju picks up some sidekicks and a comic side plot that's actually amusing.
If you've seen Veer-Zaara, you can guess his prisoner #.
Shashi doesn't get to dance but does have some fight scenes, including a rambling brawl in the gambling club, in which he dishooms a guy in a really horrible open-neck fringed velvet shirt.
Director A. Salaam experiments with some interesting shots,
The wheel of life, how it turns!
although I gotta say that having about ten minutes of the climax in a nighttime exterior this dark (a visual bookend to the meet-cute in the blackout, perhaps?) is a bit rude to your audience.
Here a few things in Salaakhen that made a lasting impression on me:
1) Even though she was only slightly too chirpy in this movie, I still wish Sulakshana Pandit had been Neetu Singh.
2) The eventual truth-is-revealed full-blown reunion between Guddi and Raju is very sweet, echoing a happy memory from their childhood. PPCC will tell you more about that one.
3) My Shemaroo DVD had spells of whooshing sounds - like there was a fan on on the set - and occasional bits of fuzz dancing around the top of the frame.
4) The movie must have had some funny and/or WTF moments, because when Gebruss and I met up for a watchalong of it one afternoon, my chat transcript contained lines like:
- "That is an impressively fake beard" and "This bald, wow, so fake."
- "Two religious stereotypes for the price of one."
- "I see more of Shashi's spread legs than I wanted to"
- "That's the world's most threatening bar stool."
- "WHAT was that woman wearing - that sparkly suit thing?" "Black cling film?"
- "Oh dear, pretending to be a rapist."
5) In certain scenes, Shashi looks divine.
6) In other moments, he has a pulsating multi-color freakout.
I rate Salaakhen a solid but forgettable timepass. Nothing more - unless you really like Sulakshana, who has at least four songs and wears a lot of rather fetching pink - and nothing less - unless you are so desperate for masala wackadoo that you breeze past my warnings, put this in expecting cracked-out greatness, then have a pulsating multi-color facepalm of your own, distraught by its relative normalness.