Baabul – Sasur Ka Saga

By Rohini Mohan
I was really expecting very little when I rented the Baabul DVD.  I knew I was setting myself up for 3 hours of tearful farewells, long winded songs, far fetched scenes, complicated emotions and an anachronistic storyline. Every now and then when scripts are wanting, Hindi movies stray into the area of some neglected social melodrama. Film makers know fully well that we hopelessly forgiving Bollywood audiences will gratefully gobble it all up. Not to mention the whole astrology angle which Bollywood financiers seem to happily substitute for old fashioned mathematics. I can just imagine Ravi Chopra’s thought process; Baghbaan starts with a B, has the big B in it; and Salman and Hema to boot. Same deal with Babul. Throw in a few Saigal style songs and some masala tear jerking, and Voila! Baghbaan super hit, hence Babul super hit….unfailing Bollywood logic. (Case in point, all the K movies made by Karan Johar – talk about preying on the subliminal!)

The theme of widow re-marriage piqued my interest not at all. I did a bit of mental math of pros (Amitabh, Rani, Hema?) Vs cons (Salman, Salman and Salman); John Abraham tilted the scales somewhat favorably so I decided to go for it. As we all know, its all about expectations. Since mine were very nearly at the bottom, I can say without hesitation that I was pleasantly surprised.

Rani was her usual glam, buoyant self. Hema was drop dead gorgeous. John with his dimple was luscious. So the eye- candy part was all taken care of. Amitabh was of course, the catch-all. Even Salman was almost tolerable. And the theme – well it was not bad. To cut to the chase, Baabul is the story of a father who dotes on his son and when he dies, goes out of his way to resettle his daughter-in-law, at the risk of alienating the “elders” in his family. In the first half when you’re watching Rani, the hip daughter of a golf pro, and Salman, the cool America returned dude, gyrating to sexy numbers, you’re waiting for something to happen….anything, it’s so damn aimless. In the second half it kind of picks up, though predictably so. But you’re always wondering how in the world the dusty old theme is compatible with the present day setting.

Prem Rog was released in 1982 a quarter century ago and Water was set in Gandhian times. So the theme gelled in those movies. I think I could count on my fingers the number of eyebrows this theme would raise in today’s India. So a widow re-marries. So what? People would have accepted it in Sholay if Amitabh had lived at the end. And that was 1975.

But I still maintain I was surprised by the movie, and pleasantly so. Because contrary to popular opinion, I don’t think at all that the movie is about widow re-marriage. Sure, that subject is vital to the storyline, but there is a message cached in the final scene. It’s about not letting tradition and religion get the upper hand over truth and common sense. A similar point was made by Seema Biswas’ character in Water. She asks what she should do when tradition dictated by religion conflicts with what she believes is the truth. And later in the movie there is Gandhi’s famous speech about truth being the only religion… All good homilies to help bridge the ever growing generation gap in Urban India today.  And hopefully they will chisel a chink in the armor of those parts of rural India that frighteningly still live in the dark ages. Philosophically speaking, I think movies with a hard hitting social message (Water, the Munna Bhai series, Dor and even Baabul) are all worth a watch. They kind of provide a balance to the KANKs and the Dhooms…but I digress. I can neither praise nor bury Baabul. If you could endure Baghbaan and can stomach some sop and a few mournful melodies, go ahead, watch Baabul. You may even like it…              

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