If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all? Fine. I'll keep this short. Yesterday I saw both Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey and Siddhartha and have little praise for either despite my love of the male leads and historical topics.
Worst thing first: Siddhartha. Conrad Rooks's 1972 adaptation of the Herman Hesse novel of the same name (which I haven't read) is mind-numbingly boring and inelegant. The script seems to be nothing - and I mean nothing - but the Big Moments and Deep Thoughts of the title character, who is a solipsistic, egotistical whiner on a life-long search for meaning. The story bounces from one trite "life decision" to another, sprinkled with philosophies cribbed from Dove Promises wrappers (for my non-American readers, these are chocolates wrapped in foil printed with gems from the worst self-help advice book for the most pathetic stereotype of a middle-aged soccer mom you can imagine). I couldn't decide if I liked most of the sentiments behind the cheese Siddhartha spewed and it was just the phrasing that was the problem, but the language is so insultingly simplistic that I just gave into my anger. Maybe when the film came out in 1972 some of this seemed worth putting in a feature film; in 2010 it's nothing but mockable.
Overall the film has no real substance or texture, none of the small moments or details that make life what it is, at least not in the dialogue or events. Visually the film is rich, full of gorgeous sunsets, riverscapes, and (anachronistic) palaces, as well as different settings for each stage of Siddhartha's life, complete with different homes and household items, clothing, hairstyles, etc. (I should note I have a good friend who thinks it's little more than a western fetishistic view of India.)
Shashi Kapoor does the character no service whatsoever, using a stilted, pronouncement-from-on-high style of delivery that I've never heard him use in any of his many English roles in Merchant and Ivory films (let alone in Hindi films). He looks great in all the different trappings and versions of the character as we see him age across several decades of his life, but even for me, Shashi costume porn does not a movie make.
It is nice, though.
I have a few more compliments for Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Say, though not many. The most powerful part of the film, despite the very dramatic and important story at its foundation, is the final credits: the names and sometimes heart-wrenching photographs of the real-life participants in the Chittagong uprising accompany smaller pictures of the actors who played them. I loved this simple method of giving credit where credit is due, as well as a last hurrah to the many competent players in the film's solid cast (Sikander Kher and Maninder Singh are the standouts in my opinion - left and second from left below). The ensemble is very strong and I appreciated Gowariker's approach of trying to show the contributions of so many of the individuals involved in both the historical event and the current retelling.
But somehow the film did not cohere into anything for me. It's really slow throughout the first half, and I'm not even a person who needs "action" to be bombastic or fast. There must be a way to make recruiting, planning, and supply-procuring exciting, but this wasn't it. The pace picks up post-interval with the execution of the plans and their horrifying aftermath, but even these are hampered by too many furrowed brows and the biggest collection of the worst white extras you have ever seen, who are especially egregious in contrast to the screen filled with talented Indian teenagers as the youngest members of the revolutionary army. Where in the name of Tom Alter did they find these idiots? Were there no actual British people in Goa during the filming? Or native English speakers of any shade of pale? Usually there's little I enjoy more in a period film set in the British empire than the imperialists getting their arses handed to them in rounds of rickety musket fire from the locals and in rousing speeches about freedom infused with moral high ground, but in this depiction, nothing stirs, nothing cooks, and nothing boils over. My expression in the cinema probably mirrored the rebels' look of confusion and surprise when they find the armory filled to the gills with guns but no bullets: it seems like all the ingredients should have been there, so why are there no fireworks?
Also: really, Gowariker? Deepika plays badminton again? I really hope there is historical evidence for Kalpana Dutta enjoying that sport or I'm going to have to thump you on the head.
If you want more bite-sized portions of big thoughts on films, the master of the mini-review is decidedly ...So They Dance!