Bichhoo (Scorpion)

Director: Guddu Dhanoa
Music: Anand Raaj
Year: 2000
Running Time: 2 hrs 42 minutes

If you are a huge fan of the Luc Besson film, “Leon, The Professional” and have seen it so often that you can do Natalie Portman’s impersonations along with her, then you may want to take a gander at this Bollywood theft of it. Most of the plot points remain the same and some of the action choreography, character traits and even dialogue will seem strangely familiar. The one major difference between the two versions is that 12-year-old Portman is replaced with the 22-year old Rani Mukherjee. Sadly Rani doesn’t do impersonations of Marilyn Monroe or even Urmila, but clearly this age change radically alters the chemistry of the film and to some degree the entire point of its existence. What made “Leon” quite special and intriguingly perverse was the relationship that grows between him and his young protégé and too near for comfort lover.

Of course with Rani yelling, pouting and whining through much of the film, it is somewhat difficult to discern whether she is suppose to be playing a young woman or a young girl! She is like a one-woman all-talk radio station that never takes a break – so much so you just want to have her stand in the corner gagged. On the other hand she is very cute when she is running around frantically like a caffeine enriched jumping bean. There are a few other Rani compensating factors as well – like the mini-skirts that she parades in throughout this film – her legs should have received co-billing. Finally she gets to gun down a few bad guys up close and personal – how many films have we had the chance to see Rani do that – none that I know of.
With her family film connections, Rani was able to star in top films right from the beginning - Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) being her second – and co-star with many of the more popular leading men of the time – Aamir Khan, Shahrukh Khan and Salman Khan – but she was still more flash than talent and had a lot to learn about her acting craft. Indian films tend not to nurture talent slowly as most film industries do – a few dancing lessons and you are thrust into a leading lady role with a huge P.R. machine behind you. Some grow, many others just vanish quickly if their films fail.
An interesting choice that Rani made in this same year was a small role in a very non-traditional Bollywood film called Hey Ram in which she plays a simple wife during the period of the partition. It was a totally unglamorous role in which some rather awful things happen to her – but her taking that role perhaps signified that she was serious about this thing called acting and she does a splendid job in it. Over the past year Rani has perhaps taken on the mantle of the Queen of Bollywood with roles in Chalte Chalte, Chori Chori and Hum Tum, but she has also managed to squeeze in roles in edgier fare as in Calcutta Mail and Yuva that show her willingness to stretch her acting skills. Interestingly, back when Bichhoo was made many of the reviews and comments made at the time reacted negatively to her deep raspy voice – but now her many fans considered it one of her many endearing charms.
So if you have seen “Leon, The Professional” you already know most of the plot of this one – and if you haven’t - you should – it is a much superior film to this one. Part of the reason for that is the age change, part of it is the musical interludes that all seemed to be crammed together and really throw the film off balance and part of it is Bobby Deol is not Jean Reno. Reno as an almost idiot savant killer is so uncool in the film that he becomes completely cool – while Deol actually tries to be cool (he has a scorpion as a pet) but just isn’t. Deol is a professional killer and a very good one – his kill rules are simple – no women, no children – but everyone else is fair game. If the target is a really venal specimen, he charges only for the cost of bullets. You may wonder just how someone becomes a paid killer. Perhaps you are mulling a career change – I often do. Jeeva (Deol) was a manager of a music café serving crumpets and coffee and very much in love with Kiran (the wonderful Malaika Arora of Dil Se Chaiya Chaiya fame), but her father doesn’t seem to think he is good enough for her. So rather than the usual Bollywood measures of keeping his daughter away from her lover, he gets a little extreme. He has Jeeva’s mother and sister falsely arrested for prostitution and dragged through the streets – and taking into account that mom is played by Farida Jalal – the mom of all moms – you can imagine that Jeeva gets a little annoyed and gets big time payback. So now he has no option apparently other than being a killer and after serving coffee to yuppie customers this is apparently no big stretch. Now in “Leon” this explanation took about one minute – here it is a thirty-minute flashback – but then I am always happy to see Makaika!
So he lives in the same apartment building as a young woman (Rani) who hangs out in the hallway smoking cigarettes and wearing trashy outfits and sporting a few tattoos and bruises. She lives with her father and her stepmother and stepsister and hates them all – but she loves her older brother (Sachin Khedekar) who is coming to visit. Also coming to visit are some corrupt drug cops headed by the psycho Devraj (Ashish Vidyarthi doing his best Gary Oldham) who suspect that the father has been skimming and so kill him and the rest of the family while Rani is bringing Jeeva his daily milk input. She wants revenge for her brother and her eyes light up when she discovers that Jeeva is a killer - “everybody has to work” she opines and wants him to help her get it. He doesn’t much care until she tells him her name is Kiran! And he gets a better gander at those legs. So off they go with the corrupt cops on the hunt for them. At one point they are trapped in an amusement park and are able to escape by . . . getting on a roller coaster – hmmm – in India roller coasters must not come back to where they started! There is a fair amount of action – and of course a few songs – and lots of dead cops.
The music – five songs – generally fall into the listenable but soon forgettable category. The weakest part about them though is a lack of interesting choreography that shows little imagination. Two of the five songs don’t even feature the actors of the film – one opens the movie as an outdoor stage presentation that has some nice gruff singing and the other is a Sufi influenced song performed in front of the Taj Mahal. Two of the songs are memorable mainly for how adorable Rani looks in various short skirts and my favorite song – Ek Baari Take Le – features Malaika – also in short skirt mode – and it’s a delight to simply watch her move.

My rating for this film: 6.0