Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

January 11, 2008

Theatre of the absurd

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:17 pm

January 11, 2008

Cast: Ajay Devgan, Vidya Balan, Pankaj Kapur

Director: Rajkumar Santoshi

Much like his signature films Ghayal and Damini, the theme of Rajkumar Santoshi’s latest Halla Bol is also essentially one man’s clash with a corrupt system.

In Halla Bol Ajay Devgan plays Sameer Khan, a shallow Bollywood superstar who’s forced to question who he really is when he witnesses a gruesome murder first hand, and realises the culprits will get off scot-free because nobody — including himself — will testify.

A scathing comment on society’s apathy and indifference towards other people’s problems, Halla Bol tends to be too simplistic, too idealistic and in the end too preachy to really make much of an impression.

The film’s unarguably well-intended and has its heart in the right place, but it’s nothing like any of Santoshi’s best films because it’s got a severely flawed screenplay, and a narrative that’s straight out of the eighties.

Once a master storyteller whose screenplays served as guidebooks for aspiring screenwriters, it is ironically Santoshi’s script for Halla Bol that’s the root cause of all the problems here. The film’s first half is too long and yet when you leave the hall for a breather during interval, you can’t help feeling like the story’s barely unfolded.

Santoshi takes way too long to establish Ajay Devgan’s character, going into elaborate scenes to convey what we’ve understood in the first ten minutes already. Worse than that, the director takes too many cinematic liberties to get out of tricky screenplay situations, and as a result the film comes off looking way too contrived.

How do you explain that scene in which the protagonist’s mentor, Pankaj Kapur, turns up suddenly in a truck, no less, to save the fellow from being crushed by the villain’s henchmen under the wheels of another truck?

It’s an implausible scene and doesn’t fit in this film, in fact it’s a scene straight out of the Transformers movie. It’s ridiculous how we’re expected to believe that a girl who sold a kidney to afford legal fees for fighting the case against her sister’s murderers, would suddenly do a volte face in court, even under maximum pressure.

In all fairness, Halla Bol does have its share of dramatic moments that’ll instantly remind you of the Santoshi we’re all familiar with – that scene in which Vidya Balan, playing Devgan’s wife gives the media a fitting reply when her husband’s badgered with uncomfortable questions.

Or then that scene in which Ajay Devgan relieves himself on the floor of the corrupt politician’s home — these are clap-traps, and Santoshi knows exactly how and when to use them.

In the end, despite its best intentions, Halla Bol fails to drive its point home, and it’s a pity because the film boasts such a brave performance by Ajay Devgan. I say brave because the actor sticks his neck out and takes on a character that few leading stars would have the courage to play.

Ten, perhaps twelve years ago Halla Bol may have connected with an audience raised on a staple diet of melodramatic films, but today, it’s just a blast from the past. So I’m going with two out of five and an average rating for all this hullaballo over Halla Bol.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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