Rangeela (Colorful)

Director: Ram Gopal Varma
Music: A.R. Rahman; Lyrics: Mehboob
Year: 1995
Running Time: 2 hours and 28 minutes

Director Ram Gopal Varma simply loves movies and the magic that can surround them. His film Mast revolves around a fan of an actress who travels to Bombay to meet her while this one concerns a female background dancer who gets the opportunity to step forward into a starring role. Its pure 42nd Street with Ruby Keeler – unknown makes it big. Unfortunately, in the real Bollywood system this is a real rarity. Most Bollywood stars are groomed for stardom from the very beginning – coming either from filmi families, modelling careers, beauty contests, well known families or good connections. The PR machines go into full force and their first film is launched to either acclaim or ignominy. Very few actors work their way up from being a bit player or a background dancer to ever becoming a star. So those gorgeous female background dancers that inhabit so many Bollywood films like visual exclamation points are likely always going to be background dancers.

But this is the movies and in film anything is possible. Here dreams do come true – especially Bollywood dreams. During the opening credit sequence Varma pays tribute to the actors that he loved growing up with black and white photos of them – the last one being his very favorite actress – Sridevi. It proceeds immediately into a dream – literally – a big brassy musical piece with Urmila jauntily leading a group into a song and dance on the streets of Bombay. She wakes up though to find herself still only a background dancer and living with her folks. Her best friend (Aamir Khan) is a bit of scamp who makes his living scalping movie tickets and trying to get by with as few responsibilities as possible. He loves Urmila of course, but is afraid to tell her.
At the movie studio the director, who believes he is the next Spielberg, is going crazy dealing with the lead actress who expects to be fawned over and completely spoiled – and as her mother complains she is having trouble learning “MTV dance steps”. As is a fairly common Bollywood star practice in fact, she is late every day; quits early and often doesn’t even bother to show up. From my readings, there are many Bollywood actors who do this sort of thing. Jackie Shroff (in one of his most likeable performances) is the lead actor and one day he spots Urmila doing a lovely little dance workout on the beach. He is dazzled and smitten (as we all are) by her lithe and graceful dancing and even more so by her full figure in her tight orange leotards!
So when the lead actress leaves the film, he recommends that Urmilla take her place. She steps in like a ticking bomb going off. This film turned Urmila into an icon and Bollywood’s top siren – her sexuality and profiled poses entered into that of cinematic myth. Her rumored relationship with Varma (she has been in many of his films) became the talk of the town. Watching this film from a Western perspective it is rather fascinating that this film created such a hubbub. Urmila obviously displays no nudity, but doesn’t even really get at all risqué by Hollywood standards.
Much of the sexuality is only suggestive – by swinging her ample hips in a hypnotic erotic locomotive drumbeat in the dance numbers or her occasional Betty Boop walk – but she certainly gets your (male) mind going places it probably shouldn’t. Her clothes though fairly modest in terms of exposure are snugly fit to best give witness to her legendary voluptuous figure – and Varma is a master of shooting this opulent figure from just the right angle to accentuate every twist and curve.
Just as one expects, both men fall in love with Urmila and one has to see in which direction Urmilla will go – for the wealthy actor or the down at his heels Aamir. Though one generally knows exactly how a film like this will proceed – in this case it is a bit intriguing because the wealthy fellow is actually in many ways the nicer of the two – and Aamir wears these awful fishnet t-shirts that always make me feel like sending him a gift certificate to the Gap. So I know whom I was rooting for. Parts of the film are quite wonderful – certainly all the musical sequences are excellent – frothy and delicious at times – a sweet and charming performance from Urmila whose innocent face belies her very adult body, but parts of the film also drag and it never generates the romantic tension that is needed for a film like this.
There are eight songs from Rahman – not his best work certainly – but each song is quite strong and its wonderful how he brings so many different musical influences to his work – from a smattering of chorale music that than shifts over to a funky beat – or the song “Beat of Rangeela” that is all driving rhythm and then he can also give us a pop gem like “Rangeela Re” that even brings in a little Indian rap.

My rating for this film: 7.5

Song 1

Song 2

Song 3

Song 4

Song 5

Song 6