Sunday, November 11, 2007

Chori Chori

Chori Chori (2003) is one of those movies that seems better while you're watching it than it does in retrospect. It's the story of Khushi ("Happiness"--subtle, no?), played by Rani Mukherjee, who trades on her abundant charm to run various small-time cons on her boss and landlord (and who can blame her?). Just as her luck is running out she meets the architect Ranvir (Ajay Devgan), whose girlfriend Pooja (Sonali Bendre) has just issued him a resounding vote of no confidence. Ranvir has gotten stuck--in building his dream house for his future life with his girlfriend (which is looking less and less likely), and in his job, which involves churning out efficient designs for factories instead of the beautifully designed homes of his imagination.

Khushi dynamites Ranvir's emotional logjams. She starts making the aloof Pooja jealous, tells Ranvir's boss about his dreams (and as a result, engineers his promotion to partner in his firm), and helps Ranvir to finish the house. She also wins over his family, so that they become invested in the idea of her marriage to Ranvir. What they don't know is that Khushi is on salary--Ranvir is paying her to stick around so that Pooja, faced with a rival, will stop taking him so much for granted.

Chori Chori's failings are those of many Bollywood films. Just when it seems that the movie is heading for the denouement, it treads water for another 20 minutes and an additional musical number. The acting is uneven. Rani is terrific, but Ajay Devgan's emotional range stretches from slightly pained to slightly exasperated, and Sonali Bendre doesn't have a whole lot to do but look jealous, beautiful, and too thin. There are a couple of subplots that are abruptly truncated (probably because the movie was running long) and there's an entirely predictable final scene at the marriage altar.

So Chori Chori depends almost wholly on the charisma of the star at its center; fortunately, that star is Rani. Her performance carries the film, and allows a sympathetic viewer to ignore several glaring plot implausibilities. She looks great, manages to be both cynically mercenary and appealingly soft-hearted at the same time, and has several excellent dance numbers (one of which is about a third as long as it should be). The music is compelling, and several of the dance numbers shade into amusing fantasy sequences. The extended marriage scene at the end, with Ranvir's family reassuring Khushi of their love and support, while she refuses to come out of her room because their love for her (and her own for Ranvir) has made her unwilling to go through with a fake marriage, rates with me as some kind of classic.

And despite the limitations of Ajay and Sonali's characters, I think the film does illustrate three truths. First, that a fresh perspective is sometimes all it takes to resolve seemingly insoluble difficulties in our lives; second, that the appearance of a rival will renew our flagging romantic interest--whether that's wise or not; and third, that for good or ill we can become what we pretend to be, even when we're not entirely aware that it's happening.

So my advice is to enjoy the film for Rani's delightful performance, for the stunningly beautiful mountain landscapes of Shimla, and for some keenly observed scenes and well-staged dance numbers. And don't think about it too hard afterwards.

Update 11/15/07: MemsaabStory has written a beautifully nuanced appreciation of Chori Chori, which is much more generous (in all senses) than my post. Read it to find out why she's right and I'm too critical. Thanks to Beth Loves Bollywood for alerting me to her review.

6 comments:

  1. I bought Chori Chori at a nehaflix sale, watched it, and promptly forgot about it. All I remember is that Ajay's shirts are fairly nonexistent in some scenes. Did you know that this is http://memsaabstory.wordpress.com/'s favorite Bollywood movie? She just wrote about it as well. But with both of you talking about its finer points, I'm inspired to re-watch. I can always use more Rani in my life.

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  2. Ajay's shirts nonexistent? In several scenes he wears T-shirts tight enough to leave little to the imagination, but I wouldn't exactly call them non-existent. He looks good in them, too--he'd clearly been spending time at the gym.

    It's funny that you talk about forgetting Chori Chori--we rented it again because we'd forgotten entirely that we'd already seen it. And I have to say it isn't as immediately memorable as some of Rani's other films. But I was actually more impressed by it on a second viewing than I was the first time through. Especially the idea that when we pretend to be something, we can gradually become it. Be careful what you wish for...

    Should you re-watch Chori Chori and not want to post about it on Beth Loves Bollywood, please leave another comment with your reactions.

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  3. Oh you're right! They're tight, not absent. You'd think I would remember, given that I wrote about that (and only that) when I mentioned I had seen the movie.

    I'm very interested in this idea of becoming what you pretend to be. I'll definitely give it another try.

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  4. I think you sell yourself short in your comments on my blog (about your review)! I do think this is a movie that gets better the more you see it (as Beth points out, it is my favorite movie of all time, in any genre)---I'm on my 3rd DVD, having worn out the first two :-) You are right, it is Rani's film all the way, but I think she gets great support from all the cast and I like the way Ajay's more tightly-strung, repressed character counterpoints her exuberancy. And the first song where she sings and dances at her friend's wedding IS waaaay too short! Rani's dancing is generally underrated, in my opinion.

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  5. Aargh... I found 'Chori Chori' tremendously boring, and every thoughtful review I read makes me wonder what I missed...

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  6. Daddy's Girl, I agree that there's a certain inevitability to Chori Chori's plot, and I too found myself getting a bit impatient after the third or fourth reversal that prevented Rani and Ajay from recognizing what every viewer guesses in the first ten minutes of the movie.

    But in compensation, there's Rani's wonderful performance and many enjoyable scenes and moments. The song where Ajay's family comes to convince her not to leave ("Placate your beloved who's sulking") is sheer delight.

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