Director: Yash Chopra
Music: Shiv Hari
Year: 1991
Duration: 167 minutes

Some people get chills riding up and down their spine from watching conventional horror films of slithering long haired female ghosts, but not too many films have creeped me out the way this one did. The strange thing though is that “Lamhe” is not in theory a horror film at all – though parts of it could be interpreted that way - but is instead considered one of India’s great love stories. Produced in 1991 and starring Anil Kapoor and Sridevi, this Yash Chopra film didn’t do too well at the box office upon release, but since then has taken on the velvet cloak of a classic romance. I feel creepy just saying that - “a classic romance“- for who I wonder - men who hang out around girl’s high schools in raincoats stuffed with a well-worn copy of “Lolita"? Chopra knew he had a controversial concept on his hands and kept the idea in his pocket for eight years before he put it to celluloid and he still considers it one of his favorite and bravest films. It is a strange movie to watch - Freud would have had a field day with it - part of you cringes and part of you is totally engrossed - you don’t know whether to reach for a hankie or a vomit bag. Whichever it is, it makes for an intriguing cinematic experience.

Viren (a rarely clean shaven Anil Kapoor) is returning to India for the first time since he was a child. His father has recently died and he is going to their home in Rajasthan to clean up some financial matters and sell their palatial mansion. He wants nothing to do with his country of birth and simply wants to be done with this as soon as possible so he can return to his comforts in London. His life-long nanny Dai Jaa (the legendary Waheeda Rehman) scolds him for these sentiments and forces him to touch the ground with his forehead as a sign of respect for his Motherland. Later in the day during a rain shower he looks out his window and sees a number of Indian maidens dancing and singing in the rain (Tera Mann Tarsare) – and one in particular catches his fancy. This is Pallavi (Sridevi) who is the daughter of a neighboring Thakur (wealthy landowner). It’s amazing what a wet sari scene can do to one’s hormones and in no time Viren is in no hurry to return to London at all. He becomes enthralled with Pallavi and follows her around like a sad-eyed puppy dog. Dai Jaa warns him though that Pallavi is older than he is (though by no more than a year or two) and that it is thus impossible for them to marry – to which Viren just hushes her.
Soon things take a tumble for the dramatic when Pallavi’s father dies of a heart attack with a final “Hail Goddess Bhawani” on his lips. During the mourning period Viren goes to visit Pallavi to tell her that he will take care of her (as bankruptcy is what killed dad) in the future. When she turns around and sees him she rises with a gasp of happiness and runs towards his outstretched arms – and keeps running – right by him into the arms of another man! Gasp, this is one of those great poignant Bollywood moments and the earth nearly shatters with irony. It is revealed that she has secretly been in love with Siddharth (Deepak Malhotra) an orphan who has made good in the military. They are in love and Viren has no choice except to give them his blessings and return a destroyed man to London where he feels he can never fall in love again. He tells his all too wacky buddy Prem (Anupam Kher) that he may marry some day but once having been in love, he can never love again. We have all been there, but for most of us this lasts until the next attractive person shows some interest in you – for Viren it is a life long commitment. Meanwhile in India, Pallavi and Siddarth have a great married life and occasionally break into song like all newly weds do. Soon Pallavi is in the family way, but likely not from the dancing.
Tragedy strikes though when the young lovers are in a car crash – Siddharth dies and so does Pallavi but not before giving birth – thus the baby girl has a birthday on the same day as her mother’s death. Wait a second – Sridevi is a big star – they can’t kill her half way through the movie can they? Well yes and no. Viren – still very much in love with Pallavi – becomes the guardian to the little girl, Pooja, but keeps her in India with Dai Jaa looking after her. Years pass – Viren visits every year to commemorate Pallavi’s death but makes a point of never coming into contact with Pooja. In London he leads a sterile life with his flamboyant friend by his side – this relationship is a bit odd – is Prem in love with Viren – but it never quite goes there. Some many years later – a little gray in Viren’s temples and a full-grown moustache now in place – he once again goes to India on the anniversary of his beloved’s death and through the incense he raises his head to see . . . Pallavi smiling at him . . . no wait it’s not Pallavi, it’s Pooja who is the spitting image of her mother. And she is totally infatuated with her guardian. Yikes. Though Sridevi was 28 years old at the time, she manages to give Pooja a very youthful, childish and definitely nubile Lolita like character. It’s all she can do not to jump on Viren and give him a lapdance.
Behind her apparent innocence is a woman who knows exactly what she wants in life and goes after it like a formula one driver. She brims with a sexuality that yells out “jailbait” in loud neon letters. So poor Viren is faced with a young woman who wants him and looks exactly like his unrequited love – is this a male fantasy come true or a nightmare - lots of ways to play this game – so what does Viren do – he takes her back to London of course where he will be a proper guardian. Huh-huh. There is a fiancée to worry about but Pooja knows she has what it takes - youth and loads of eye-batting sex appeal. Lots of little great scenes erupt – Pooja confident in her sexuality bloom completely dissing the fiancée – finding a painting of her mother and thinking Viren had painted her and dressing up exactly as her mother was and waiting for Viren is classic horror imagery – and Viren fights and fights this Woody Allen temptation but in the end all men are dogs aren’t we? I have to say I felt fairly uncomfortable with the entire premise of this film and yet by the end you are kind of rooting for old Viren to finally get it on for god’s sake. Of course, Fred Astaire did something similar with Leslie Caron in “Daddy Long Legs” so maybe there is something to this guardianship angle! I should look into it.
Sridevi does a great job here with her two characters – and in particular with the effervescent Pooja who is spilling over with youthful hormones. She won the Filmfare award for Best Actress for this role. Sridevi is far from a classic beauty and it could in truth be argued she is not even a beauty – big googly molten eyes that are matched with her large nose and as for her figure – well she wasn’t nicknamed “Miss Thunder Thighs” for nothing, but in the few films I have seen her in she is so personable, energetic and contagious that she makes herself beautiful before your eyes. Beginning as a child star in south Indian films and then later taking on older roles and continuing to be a star, she eventually moved into Hindi films and became the most popular actress from the late 1980’s until the early 1990’s whereupon she married producer Boney Kapoor and retired with Madhuri Dixit then stepping into her shoes - but she is still held in huge affection by film fans and director Ram Gopal Varma has dedicated a film to her. She is also called the “Hawa Hawai Girl” for a great musical number in “Mr. India” – also with Anil Kapoor.
There are nine songs in the film but most of them didn't click with me - a bit too traditional for my taste, but there were a couple that I quite enjoyed. Out in the desert Viren and Pallavi run into a group of gypsies and a striking woman breaks into a mournful lament (Morni Baga Ma) that builds to a crescendo with Pallavi swinging her ample hips like a wrecking ball on Viren's heart. I seem to always like these gypsy songs such as the one in "Raja Hindustani". The big romantic number is "Kabhi Main Kahun" which has a catchy melody and has Viren and Pooja running and rolling around the English countryside. Then there is the interesting "Beats of Passion" that integrates a slap in the face into the percussion and becomes a nice showcase for Sridevi's dancing as she goes into a modern Flashdance like number.

As a note of interest – the little girl who plays Pooja as a child and looks quite like Sridevi is now an actress as well and won the Best Actress Award for her Telugu debut in "Nuvve Kavali". Her name is Richa Pallard.

My rating for this film: 7.5

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