Humraaz (Secret)

Director(s): Abbas- Mustan
Music: Himesh Reshammiya: Lyrics: Sudhakar
Year: 2002
Running Time: 2 hours, 53 minutes

I was flying high somewhere over the Pacific and the little red light started blinking – telling me I didn’t have much time left. There wasn’t far to go, but I knew in my heart that I wasn’t going to make it. I kept mentally trying to push it faster – a little further – but it was pointless. Time had run out. So my portable DVD player goes blank on me with about four minutes left in Humraaz – leaving me feeling tense and frustrated that I would have to wait till I reached my destination before I could find out how it all ends. An hour into the film, I certainly hadn’t expected to be in this state but that was before the plot took an unexpected screeching turn into territory that Hitchcock used to lovingly tread – deceit and murder.

For much of the first half of the film, it has all the accoutrements of a typical Bollywood romance – a potentially conflicting triangle between a beautiful woman and two competing males – one an aspiring poor musician and the other wealthy beyond most of our dreams (you could fit much of Central Park into his mansion), but then it delivers a sneaky rabbit punch to our soft complacent middle. It turns delightfully dark and desperate with more spite and malice than a rash of poison ivy and has more twisted turns than the back streets of Cairo. Though parts of it are clearly influenced by a few American films, it’s Bollywood characteristics somehow both enhance and act as a contrast against these influences and make the film seem better than it perhaps really is. It is so far one of the few – perhaps only? – Bollywood films that I have intentionally viewed even knowing that I didn’t really care for any of the three main stars – but word of mouth on the film was excellent and so I dug in and am glad I did so. Without giving very much of the plot away, here are a few sketchy details.
Akshaye Khanna runs a small flashy dance troupe that he has high ambitions for. His cute tweety bird girlfriend, Amisha Patel, dreams of the day when they will make it big and their opportunity may have arrived when multimillionaire Bobby Deol hires them to be the entertainers on his vacation cruise ship. Soon thereafter he spots Amisha through his two-way mirror adjusting her dress and ripping off her torn stockings. His hormones zap into instant ultra-drive and he begins a plan of attack on her affections with a cruise ship and crew at his disposal.
Though Amisha seems to care for Akshaye, she appears to be wilting under Deol's constant attention – though whether it’s his charms or his assets is difficult to discern. Akshaye seems to witness all this from a studied distance, but doesn’t seem too concerned, as he apparently trusts his little sweetie. That’s about as far as I will go with this – but rest assured the real plot is just beginning and no one is quite what they appear – beneath the surface anyone can sometimes go beyond the point of no return – and these three characters are soon caught in a spiralling destructive descent that will rip open their lives.
All three give good performances – Amisha’s soft buttery big blue innocent eyed features give no indication of the hardness below, Deol straightforward and socially awkward is well-drawn – but it is Akshaye who really delivers here. This along with his excellent job in Dil Chatha Hai has redeemed him in my eyes after his mushy characterization and Brownie infatuation in Taal. He seems to have gained a harder edge to both his looks and to his acting that makes him much more interesting to watch. Here he dominates the proceedings with an assured hooded cobra like performance – always looking for an opening. His only weakness as an actor here is that as the supposed lead dancer in his troupe he isn’t really all that good a dancer, but they hide this with some ensemble choreography and steps that are not particularly complicated. Amisha still looks almost too young to me for her romantic roles – one feels she needs the occasional burping – but her slightly askew facial structure is appealing and her slim figure is like a well-tuned string instrument. She is also beautifully attired in this film and looks quite glamorous throughout.
The musical numbers did not really grab me on the first go through but upon further listening they are quite tuneful if not completely memorable. The set pieces around them though are lively, colourful and well filmed with excellent production values. Two of the numbers are part of the stage act and contain a few great images such as Amisha rising from the fire or being encased in a block of ice.

My rating for this film: 7.5

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