Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Main Hoon Na: A Study in Nostalgia

This past weekend, I had the great pleasure of watching Farah Khan’s direcotorial debut
Main Hoon Na with somebody who had never seen it before - a complete Bollywood newbie. In a way, Main Hoon Na is false advertising for contemporary Bollywood because they really don’t make them like this in Mumbai anymore. Main Hoon Na is a masala film in the vein of the classic Bollywood masala films of the 1960s and 1970s. Unlike the recent South Indian remakes like Wanted and Ghajini, the masala stamp on Main Hoon Na is pure Mumbai.

Farah Khan
recently explained that while everybody always compares her to Manmohan Desai, she actually feels more of a kinship with Nasir Hussain. When I read that, I turned that over in my head a few times. People are not always their own best mirrors (i.e. I’ve had my writing compared to flighty firang Jessica Hines but would prefer a comparison with Disco Dancer expert Anuvab Pal) but in this case I think Farah Khan is right.

Manmohan Desai specialized in highly entertaining but silly films.
Pavaarish and Amar Akbar Anthony may live on (very) fondly in our memories as stylish romps but watching Amar, Akbar, and Anthony reunite doesn't really tug on the old heartstrings as much as it gets me excited because it serves as the prompt for an excellent song . (And if I’m being clueless here, then speak up because while I have a lot of affection for AAA, I have NEVER heard anybody speak of it as having made them cry or get misty eyed or any emotional response like that.) The plotting in a Manmohan Desai film was never of primary importance. Indeed, the films are almost more suited for the short attention spans of the current generation because you never have to retain much information in your head to be able to go from one scene to the next - his films consist of a string of really good items (songs, fights, etc) separated by some filler. That is not how Farah Khan rolls.

The plot of
Main Hoon Na, for those who have not seen it, goes something like this. Major Ram (Shahrukh Khan) is sent back to college to keep an eye on his commanding officer’s daughter Sanjana (Amrita Rao) because a nasty terrorist (Suniel Shetty in not his greatest look ever) is threatening her in order to derail Project Milaap, a prisoner exchange with Pakistan that would be vital to the two countries joint future. While Major Ram initially hesitant at having to return back to college at the ripe age of 30-mumble mumble, he agrees when he finds out that his long lost half-brother Lakshman (Zayed Khan) attends the same college as Sanjana. Finding Lakshman isn’t just a whim. Major Ram needs to find Lakshman in order to fulfill his dying father’s wish for both of his sons to immerse his ashes in the Ganges. Of course, there are subplots and more subplots but that is the main narrative push.

Main Hoon Na is much more like watching a Nasir Hussain film than a Manmohan Desai film. Sure, there are plenty of items in Main Hoon Na but the film hinges on the relationships between the characters with the powerful pull between Major Ram and his long-lost family at the center of it all. This earnest emotion is never lost even as wacky happenings and dishoom-dishoom take place all around it. That is a trick that Manmohan Desai never mastered (although one might argue that he never needed to.) I’ve seen Main Hoon Na a handful of times and while the puppy romance gradually loses its charms, I get teary eyed about Major Ram and his brother every single time. Masala needs that emotional pull - that masala dil - for a film to work, otherwise it’s just a collection of items.

There isn’t much more to say about the substance of Farah Khan’s debut that hasn’t already been said by the
inimitable Post Punk Cinema Club but since I love typing my own thoughts out (almost as much as I love hearing my own voice) I’ll make a few more points.

Coming back to Main Hoon Na in 2011 is bittersweet experience in a few ways. Shahrukh Khan is no longer the humble, virile Major Ram. The years following 2004 have thinned him out and hardened his surface. Major Ram was never glib like Don. Along the same lines, it’s sad to see a puppyish Zayed Khan so full of energy when you know that this is the only role worth anything that he’ll do, unless you count the endless promos for Rocky that haunt every DVD from a certain era. (I wasn’t following filmi gossip from that time so I have no idea why Zayed didn’t take off. Was it the cheezy films he picked, like being second banana to Abhishek Bachchan in Dus? A career move that didn’t work out great for AB, either, but he has the backing of Amitabh.) Amrita Rao was cute as Sanjana but I understand why she never went anywhere - there are a million cute girls hanging around the film studios in Mumbai and it’s easier to find a new one than recycle an old one, and a bikini babe makeover will only get you so far. (As far as one role, usually - Amrita Rao in Shortkut; Amisha Patel in Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic; Minissha Lamba in Kidnap; etc. etc.)

One final word on a bittersweet viewing of
Main Hoon Na - what happened to the sweetness in Bollywood? Where has the masala dil gone? The string section that shows up whenever Major Ram spies his lady love is funny, yes, but it’s also heartfelt and those snippets of golden oldies that play in the background are meta-references meant to connect us with the feelings those song evoke - quite different from the mocking tone taken towards Bollywood in films like I Hate Luv Storys. It’s like everybody has learned the wrong lessons from Farah Khan’s success. Maybe that is at the root of my complaints with those callous and calculating “modern” romantic-comedies like Aisha and those painfully “cool” films like the upcoming Players - the heart is gone.

And judging from the glimpses of
Ra.1 and Don 2 I’ve seen, Major Ram is not returning either.

Thank Helen I saw Band Baara Baajaat or I might be tempted to decamp completely down South.


Pardesi said...

Can anyone seriously compare a Main Hoon Naa to a Don? That would be like comparing apples and oranges. In my opinion Om Shanti Om is a much more complete film than Main Hoon Naa was. And then Farah "graduated" to Tees Maar Khan :-(

As for Major Ram - he was always a caricature, so hopefully he is buried and gone and something different will emerge.

Pessimisissimo said...

FilmiGirl, a thoughtful appreciation of a movie that I have mixed feelings about. But what Main Hoon Na does well it does really well. Of course among the things it does best of all are the songs (Farah Khan made her name as an excellent choreographer). If you can't enjoy "Tumse Milke" or "Gori Gori" or the (almost) continuous-take "Chale Jaise Hawaien" then you're watching the wrong national cinema.

I'm not the hugest fan of masala, but I'm with you all the way on the need for dil. The references to previous movies that saturate modern Bollywood have become a cynical ploy to evoke emotional responses that the current films haven't earned. "It’s like everybody has learned the wrong lessons from Farah Khan’s success"--I couldn't agree more.

Great post!

nayika said...

I think you mean Major Ram. Although considering how often SRK plays Raj/Rahul it's hard not to get confused :)

Filmi Girl said...

@Pardesi We'll have to agree to disagree because IMHO OSO is less complete than MHN and TMK is a completely different style of film. I wasn't comparing Don with MHN but the emotional response SRK's character generated in each. I get that they are different types of films. :)

@Pessisisissimo I'm glad you agree on the cynical nature of all those references - and would count the remake of Don in with this. It drives me crazy because it feels like the people adding in those references either haven't seen the originals or view them all as 'camp.'

@nayika THANK YOU!!!! I fixed it. I have no one to blame but my own scatterbrained self. Maybe I should watch K3G again to punish myself for making that mistake. :))))

Lime(tte) said...

Sometimes, I also just want Bollywood to be as it has been a few years ago... But then again, it has to evolve, and that's what we have to accept. And if we get so sad that we can't stand it, we can always watch the old films, like MHN, right?

BTW, this was my first film with Zayed Khan, and I thought: Hey, he's a cool actor, that's someone I'm going to watch more... But it was his only good film until now. That's what I think.

Rathi said...

The song 'Chali jaisi hawayein' was directly lifted from a Malayalam song in a movie called '4 the people' (later dubbed in Tamil as 4 students). You can search YouTube for 'Unthan vizhi munai paarvai'.
Anu Malik was infamous for casually lifting tunes from Tamil and Telugu movies and calling them his own!!

Soul Care said...

Seeing old movies is always a charm! :) In fact I just came across a whacky story about the age old hit 'paanch rupaiya baara aana!' apparently kishore kumar had a canteen debt which inspired that song amazing!

Filmi Girl said...

@Limette It was sad breaking the news to my friend that this was Zayed's only good film! :) Maybe he'll have a good 2011.

@Rathi Yes, a lot of the Bollywood composers freely borrow from old songs. It's good that we have people dedicated to searching out their influences!! :)

@Soul Care - thank you for the link. I will read it. ;)

ruggedboyz said...

Their is a increasing amount of feeling in india, that we arent good enough, we as a country are a 3rd world nation and if America or the West is so up their, that is for the ways or things they live by and nothing else.
So what we are doing or thinking is wrong/ or regressive and no wonder the loss of cinema that onces existed is losing ground.
today their is an increasing need to be like the West, media laments n whines bout indian movies not be as intelligent as Inception
questions are raised if they can, why cant we? the youth a good no of them abhore the idea of indian cinema and take pride in being fans or viewers of Hollywood cinema and speaking english over hindi is hip and in vogue in campus then taking pride in the national language and no wonder the veterans lament the increasing westernisation, for it kills ur own culture

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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