Friday, December 3, 2010

Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey

Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Starring: Abhishek Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, Sikander Kher, Vishakha Singh
Stars: **1/2



No 'Jaan' in this Khel...

Ashutosh Gowariker probably meant well when he thought of bringing alive the Great Chittagong Uprising of the 1930s and the life of young Bengal revolutionary Surjya Sen who helmed it. The episode is not too well known and certainly, a figure like Surjya Sen ought to be more nationally recogonised. So the effort is commendable and sincere.

Unfortunately, Gowariker's execution is unbelievably flat and lacklustre. His actors are weak, there is no lived-in feeling to the characters and the period look is a fake. For one half of the film, the action just doesn't move and every actor (a whole bunch of unknowns) appears too self-conscious about being transported into a period set, wearing dhotis and speaking sanskritised Hindi. There is nothing organic about the characters' action and reactions, result being that the film comes across as a poseur. The film was shot in Goa, when it actually needed an authentic Bengal texture and topography. Deepika Padukone (horribly miscast) paints her nails in transparent gloss and makes sure to tantalisingly keep her shapely waist exposed in her starched cotton sari. This attempt to create an illusion of the real thing makes Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Say greatly disappointing.

The film captures a valiant chapter in history, where Surjya Sen (Abhishek Bachchan) along with his trusted friends, form a group of young revolutionaries, training them in guerrilla tactics. Many of them are impressionable teenagers and two of them are women (Deepika Padukone and Vishakha Singh). They plan an armoury raid, with the idea of launching an attack on the Britishers. They succeed only partially and soon enough, the British start chasing them down with a vengeance. The revolutionaries put up a brave fight, but not many survive in the end.

The first half, where the director tries to establish the setting is terribly drab. There's so much artificiality, with Deepika perennially standing like she's about to recite poetry, that you don't buy these characters at all. The screenplay again is limp. For example, there's an episode where Surjya Sen agrees to admit the two women into the fold - but only if they can prove themselves with a particular task. Gowariker spends a long time setting up this sequence, but there is no pay off, because the next thing you know the goal has been accomplished! How it was done you have no clue. The second half gets more interesting, but there's not much even here that is truly spectacular.

It's fine for Gowariker to recreate a period in history, but he ought to have added more depth and contemporary resonance to his narrative. The episode itself, about revolutionaries attacking the Britishers, was never going to be terribly unique -unless it had other interesting period narratives added to it. If nothing, the film should have rivetting characters to hold the drama. Khelenge...unfortunately has none of that. You don't ever feel for the characters, because Gowariker's characters are all so tepid. For a film about Surjya Sen, Abhishek Bachchan doesn't have one worthy scene or dialogue in the film.

This is certainly one of Gowariker's weakest and most sluggish films. The filmmaker needs to revisit his own Lagaan to see how to combine patriotic flavour with hard-hitting drama.

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