It's that time of the year again when Bollywood eases itself out the 'tunnel
vision' brand of filmmaking and decides to come up with something slightly different
(or so they think). This film belongs to Raj Kumar Santoshi's 'Pro-Female' brand.
The moviemaker who depended on a screaming Sunny Deol to lure the masses - think
Ghayal and Damini - here has a sad Manisha Koirala doing all the histrionics,
and the shift in formula fizzles out.
The main theme of Lajja is supposed to be something related to 'atrocities committed against women in India'. A noble theme, no doubt, but somewhere along Sonali Bendre, Urmila and Ajay Devgan, it gets a bit lost about how to convey it. So much so that you need a guide - so hold my hand as I take you through this well-intentioned bit of filmmaking that goes haywire.
Manisha Koirala is in New York married to a womanizing Jackie Shroff (who looks
straight out of Madame Tussaud's). She walks out on him and returns to India.
But her parents want her to go back to her pati, and so you have her running
away from here too and to Nagpur - in a truck carrying oranges (naturally). Here
our Roop Ki Rani meets Choron Ka Raja (literally) Anil Kapoor, and they end up
at Mahima Choudhary's place.
And so the first theme: 'Say no to womanizing husbands'.
Mahima is getting married, but due to some financial difficulties, her dad is
unable to cough up her dowry. So the groom threatens to walk out on her at the
mandap. After a couple of really cute lines, an irritating number by the
even more irritating Sonali Bendre and some spirited acting by Mahima, we learn
that she decides to chuck her wedding because she feels cheated.
The theme of this part: 'Say no to dowry'.
Manisha continues the run from big bad wolf Jackie and now bumps into Madhuri Dixit, a nautankini in a nautanki company. Megawatt Madhuri is pregnant out of wedlock, is rejected by her lover, and due to some highly circumstantial circumstances, gets herself into a soup and is lynched by a crowd that stamps all over her and causes her to lose her baby. Yet, this part of the film is perhaps the best - it is so true to life, your eyes well over. Madhuri really is a splendid actress, and you wonder why she isn't in the lead.
The theme: Has got the Ramayana and a hundred other metaphors. It's easier to
watch the movie for this than to read about it.
And after crossing some hills and dales and getting apprehended by Ajay Devgan, a corny dacoit, Manisha lands in the care of Rekha, a midwife. Here the upper caste lower caste theme is beaten out of shape, and to cut to the chase, poor Rekha is burnt alive at the end of her superb innings.
The theme? Me thakur, you dalit, of course!
And then the movie halts hesitatingly, handing Manisha a microphone at the end so she can screechingly tell the already comatose audience about the various atrocities that women in India face. She also sobs very convincingly before making up with her husband and pushing off to the States and beginning to help underprivileged women. Whewww!!!
To be fair to it, Lajja is a well-intentioned effort, aimed at raising the levels of social consciousness of the cinema-going public. But with so much of eye candy and with Subhash Ghai prodigies being hurled your way every 15 minutes, it gets a bit hard to take it seriously.
Mahima is really cute as a fiery bride, and Madhuri still manages to steal the
show right from under everybody's nose. Rekha has a joie de vivre that
leaps straight off the screen and into the theater. Manisha's main forte is of
course sobbing and being victimized, yet even she impresses, particularly with
her deer-in-the-headlights look.
For the men, Anil Kapoor manages to walk away with his 15 minutes of fame, and
Ajay Devgan is his usual self as the "almost Robin Hood but not quite there" dacoit.
If there was a 'Quasimodo of Bollywood' award, I can will him my vote. Oh well,
to each his ineptitude.
There's nothing very inventive about the way that Lajja has been treated, and
given its clichéd theme, that does it in. You have stereotypes galore looking
you straight in the eye. For instance, all the lead actresses' names - Mythili,
Janaki, Vaidehi and Ram Dulari - are alternate names of Sita, which in itself
is a synonym for suffering in the Indian context, and the most favorite cliché
for feminists in our country.
The tale lacks the intensity and conviction that should be such an integral part of a 'social' film.
It looks more like power-packed females packing a wallop, singing, dancing, getting abducted all the while and still managing to get pregnant. And you get the feeling that the theme of the movie should have been placed as a sub-title in order to remind the audience about it constantly.
If you are watching the movie, then try to be open to the idea that it tries to
talk about issues that otherwise get pushed to the background from the glitter.
And if you aren't watching it, don't think about it.