Director: Yash Chopra
Music: Shiv Hari
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