Some family this!

by vpundir | June 30th, 2007

Dharmendra and his two sons, Ajay (Sunny) and Vijay (Bobby), come together for Apne (“our own people” or “our loved ones”), a movie about a father and his two sons.

The director makes his intentions clear right in the beginning. Baldev Singh Chaudhry, played by Dharmendra, was a prodigous boxer who was falsely accused of doping and banned from the sport. Thus humiliated, the fighter pledges to redeem himself through his son, and the film essentially follows his troubled relationship with his elder son who won’t box and younger one who can’t.

While Baldev is the main protagonist, he is far from being “the hero”, having his own vulnerabilities and flaws, which only make him that much more real. Similarly, the sons Angad and Karan have the best of intentions. It’s just that their visions don’t coincide. But, of course, when it comes to the family, each one rises to the occasion in his own way. This is reminiscent of an era when movies had no villains, just adverse circumstances. Even the rouge betting-fixing ring has not been personified in this movie – a dramatic departure from Bollywood movies in general, and the Deol movies in particular.

The boxing choreography by Chris Anderson (Mad Max, King Kong) is realistic and impactful, quite at par with Rocky Balboa and Million Dollar Baby. It is really a shame then that the boxers, including Aryan Vaid, don’t seem even close to being heavyweight fighters. And it’s not as if Anil Sharma had a dearth of people with suitable physique. Why, he could just have drafted the sardarjee from Baldev’s gymnasium as Gaurav.

This is not a film about boxing, though. It is about a simple family that fights for honor, family, country, and the sport. More importantly, it is about the relationship between a disgraced father and his sons.

This movie does not try to ride the coattails of a popular sport, a la Lagaan. Instead, it picks up a sport shrowded in obscurity in the country, and engages the audience intimately. Also, unlike Lagaan, Apne does not believe in giving a blow-by-blow account of what happens on the path to progress. It provides the highlights as far as the sport is concerned, and focuses on the family drama.

SPOILER ALERT

—– SPOILER STARTS —–

Sunny Deol’s Angad is out-of-shape and unfit for a competitive boxing match, let alone one with a world champion. Interestingly, that’s what keeps it real. Angad pants and puffs profusely while training, and is told by Baldev, “Boxers retire at your age”. In the ring, he is pounded by Luca’s machine-gun punches, and takes numerous jabs and hooks.

But he’s not looking to become a world champion. For him, it’s not about how hard and how frequently he hits Luca; it is about how much punishment he can take and still stay standing to deliver the final blow. I half expected someone to say this, but the treatment has a delightful subtlety quite uncharacteristic of recent Sunny Deol movies.

—– SPOILER ENDS —–

Then again, it’s not really a Sunny Deol movie. This one belongs to Dharmendra, who got Amitabh the break of his career in Sholay. Most people would remember Dharmendra for his “He Man” image and action movies, which is understandable as he is undeniably the original action hero of Bollywood. Moreover, he was the protagonist of the first decent war movie made in India – Haqeeqat.

However, before he was Veeru (Sholay) or Kumar (Shalimar), he was Bipin (Majhli Didi), Rajesh (Baharon ki Manzil) and Jai (Aaya Sawan Jhoom Ke). In fact, he gave The Burning Train and Professor Pyarelal as late as 1977 and 1981 respectively. And who can forget the comedy classic Chupke Chupke, one of the best ever Bollywood comedies, if not the best. If one had any doubts about the histrionic prowess of this method actor, all one needs to do is watch the song “Mere dushman” from Aaye Din Bahar Ke.

Like another accomplished actor, Mithun Chakraborthy, Dharmendra too has done some pretty bad movies, especially late in his career. But in Apne, he proves that stardom may fade, but actors just get better.

Sunny Deol probably has the shortest footage among the three Deols, but he is very effective while on screen. And he doesn’t have to scream at the top of his lungs either. One wishes that someone had found him better hair, though. Brother Bobby, the youngest of the three, looks good and acts well, sensitively depicting the frustration of one crushed under the uncomfortable relationship between his two idols.

Shilpa Shetty and Katrina Kaif don’t have much to do except looking pretty, which they manage to do well. In fact, Shilpa has hardly ever looked as good as she does in the peacock dress in the song “Ankh vich chehra yaar da“. Kirron Kher has a lengthier and more substantial role than the girls, which is great as she’s quite the thespian. Victor Banerjee is as efficient as ever. Divya Dutta has been wasted, which has become the case of every film she is cast in. More’s the pity, because she is one of most underused, underrated, brilliant actresses of her generation.

The music by Himesh Reshamiya is the Archilles’ heel of the film. But then again, one doesn’t expect much from Reshamiya, despite his recent meteoric ascent in the Bollywood music scene. The saving grace, I suppose, is that Sharma has not picturised complete songs except for a couple. The only good one is the title song, sung by Sonu Nigam, who is clearly in his element. Good to have you back, Sonu!

Kabir Lal’s cinematography deserves accolades as it brings out the best of Chandigarh and New York, without taking the focus away from the cast or the story.

While the climax is a bit lengthier than it needed to be, the screenplay by Neeraj Pathak provides the Deols the perfect platform to re-establish their acting credentials. And truly, Anil Sharma could not have chosen a better story to bring the three Deols together on the silver screen for the first time.

In India many, if not most, youngsters still choose careers based on what their parents tell them, rather than on what they themselves want to do. This film should strike a chord with them, even though the young, cineplex crowd tends to stray away from Deol movies. On the other hand, parents should like the movie too, not the least because of parental dilemmas so realistically depicted by an actor from their times.

Bollywood has churned out numerous capers, from Avtaar to Baghban (which, by the way, are reminiscent of Do Raaste), that depict the sacrifices made by parents for ingrate children. Apne takes a different route: it is about how even though everyone is doing their best, sometimes rifts can emerge in relationships. It is about how blood is, after all, thicker than water.

With this desi-at-heart movie, I think Anil Sharma is back with a bang. And so are the Deols.

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