Soldier


Director: Abbas-Mustan
Music: Anu Malik;Lyrics: Sameer
Year: 1998
Running Time: 2 hours 35 minutes

For some reason, the refrain “Soldier, Soldier, Meethi Baaten Bolkar” has been rattling around in my head like ping pong balls since I saw this film. There are some movies in which a song or its picturization can make an entire three-hour viewing experience worthwhile. Not that this film didn’t have some other enjoyable aspects – how often do you get to see a loving Bollywood mother dragged through the hot desert sands from the back of a horse – but for me just watching the astonishingly adorable Preity Zinta do her straight-legged march to the catchy beat of the music was a gleeful pleasure. Sure there is plenty of action, revenge, betrayal and Bobby Deol killing guys by the handful – but give me Preity and her heartbreaking dimples in charm overload anytime. She should have a stuffed toy modeled after her – something warm and cuddly with an ability to change expressions from cute to cuter.

One of the real skills of Bollywood actresses that are not often addressed is their ability to vary expressions during dance numbers - from joyous to playful to seductive to coy to poutingly irresistible. In a typical musical number the woman will go through a myriad of facial expressions – it’s a choreography of another kind as these expressions move in unison to their steps and hand motions – often making the number as much a theater piece as a dance number. Though Preity is not considered one of Bollywood’s better female dancers, one can still take immense pleasure in simply watching her expressions over the course of a song. What amazes me is how good she was at this point in her career - Soldier is only her second film after her smaller role in Dil Se, but watching her face during the title song is like Christmas morning and a red fire truck under the tree. Before entering into film Preity had been a model and then gained some fame in a few commercials but this doesn’t necessarily explain how she learned how to use her emotive face so well.
The film sadly doesn’t really center on Preity, but instead on the dour, poorly coiffed Bobby Deol. The film begins with a short prelude in which three army officers betray one of their colleagues (Pankaj Dheer) by killing him and framing him for a crime against India. Not only is he killed and dishonored, but his wife (Raakhee) is also branded on the forehead as the wife of a thief and left to mourn in isolation in a temple for the next twenty-years. Two decades later one of Pankaj’s old friends picks up the scent of one of the three betrayers (Salim Ghouse, Dalip Tahil and Suresh Oberoi) and seemingly hires Deol to snag him under the eyes of the cops to make sure he answers no questions from them.
Deol looks to be a professional killer who has watched more than a few Hong Kong hitmen films and studied their moves – the hanging upside down gun in the mouth kill being one of his favorites. At one point a bad guy thinks he has Deol finished and tells him “When the job is finished, the man is finished”, to which Deol replies – after shooting him, “I like to say when the man is finished, the job is finished” – and smirks and walks away. He next moves on to Australia where he begins a surveillance on Preity Zinta – watching her every move, her every dance step, her every bath – this is more like it! For reasons not yet clear, he begins to romance her – the usual courting moves from a paid killer – crash into her car, irritate her, know her favorite fruit and beat up a bunch of annoying hooligans when she is around – it works every time.
It turns out that Preity is the devoted daughter to another one of the loathsome threesome and Deol seems to want to get very close to him – even – gasp – if he has to romance Preity! It all leads up eventually to a wonderfully over the top final twenty minutes full of action, mothers in the sand, being buried alive, deadly sword carrying horsemen, shots to the legs and patient buzzards waiting for dinner.
It’s all quite ridiculous of course and though it seems to take itself somewhat seriously the best way to view it is as a smorgasbord of tongue in cheek fun. Adding to the absurdity is a series of cameos from Johnny Lever as a twin looking for his significant other and one scene of the three main villains all dancing in a musical number. And if that isn’t enough Preity pops in from time to time to offer her toothy grin and fetching dimples usually attired in an eye-catching miniskirt. And I can’t tell you how often while watching a Bollywood movie with a mother who is too good to be true thought to myself – if only someone would tie her to a horse and drag her across the hot burning sand. And somebody finally does!

My rating for this film: 7.0

Song 1

Song 2

Song 3