Boring? An SRK film? Before I get lynched for that, let me assure you that if you fall into the category of fans who root for SRK no matter what, then you will enjoy Paheli. The same goes for fans of Rani Mukherjee. But if you're just expecting your money's worth of good entertainment, then you, like me, will very likely end up being disappointed.
Paheli's plot is inspired by "Duvidha", a work of fiction by Vijaydan Detha. The premise, although uncommon, is simple – a newly-married Lachchi (Rani), eager to discover true love in her husband Kishen (SRK), and is utterly dismayed to learn that he is leaving to build a business in Jamnagar and will return only after five years.
Meanwhile, a ghost (also SRK) in love with the innocent Lachchi learns of her husband’s departure, and comes to her household in his guise. He reveals to Lachchi that he is, in fact, an imposter, and asks her to choose between him and her husband. Charmed by his honesty, and flattered at being given the right to make her own decision – a privilege she has never enjoyed – she decides to welcome him into her lonely life.
Fast-forwarding through a few unnecessary songs and a very predictable camel race, we find Lachchi pregnant. News of this reaches even distant Jamnagar, where the real Kishen has been laboring away at his ginti (record books) for four years. Shocked to hear that his wife has one baking in the oven while he has been engendering wealth and not children, he takes the first camel back to his village, only to be castigated as an imposter.
The village elders, unable to settle the question of identity, decide to seek the wisdom of the king. On their way to the royal palace, the caravan meets a goatherd (Amitabh Bachchan) who offers to distinguish between the imposters convincingly. Asked to prove his love for Lachchi, the ghost reveals his true identity to all. We won't spoil it for you by disclosing the climax, but we can let on that it is a happy ending.
Peripherals such as acting and aesthetic appeal are the strengths of the movie. The casting is excellent, with no actor seeming uncomfortable in his/her role. SRK and Rani are lively and not overly histrionic.
The sweeping cinematography by Ravi K Chandran gives a larger-than-life quality to the landscapes, color and vibrancy of Rajasthan. This genius has been behind the camera in Black, Dil Chahta Hai and Virasat among many others, so this stunning new offering comes as no surprise.
Ultimately, however, cinema is merely a medium through which a story is told, and if the story is not enticing enough, the audience feels cheated. In Paheli, the peripherals overshadow the plot, which lacks depth and intricacy. In its 2½ hour narrative, the movie remains an utterly simplistic interpretation of the original folktale.
With superb actors in the supporting roles, it is a terrible shame that most of the characters are etched only superficially. Only Juhi Chawla, with her tranquil features and warm, expressive eyes, brings a wealth of emotion into her character of Gajrobai. Many sub-plots, like Gajrobai being deserted by her husband Sunderlal (Sunil Shetty, in a role shorter than one of Mallika Sherawat’s skirts), remain woefully under-exploited.
One leaves the theater feeling that there could have been so many layers added to each incident depicted, so much more meaning infused into even this simple narrative. Somehow, Paheli never graduates from being visually appealing to truly touching the heart. And that is exceedingly unfortunate, because this plot had the potential to be a winner.