Bollyviewer commented on my post on Silsila and Lamhe that every Yash Chopra film has a fatal flaw. After seeing Chandni (Moonlight, 1989), I'm beginning to agree.
Chandni is played by Sridevi, and if she was irresistible in Lamhe (1991) she's even more so here. The movie could have been titled The Many Moods of Sridevi--it's basically a love poem to the actress. The camera captures her impish, playful, tender, grave, sorrowful, and loving glances in close-ups that are simply overwhelming--and this is when they're viewed on a television screen. We see her dancing in both traditional and modern costume, and (this being a Yash Chopra film) in settings as different as the Swiss mountains and the pouring monsoon rains.
Of course, the excuse for this obsession with Sridevi is ostensibly the obsession of Chandni's fiancé, Rohit (Rishi Kapoor), who has plastered the walls of his room with her photographs. Rohit is a giggling, pudgy, childlike guy with the most execrable taste in sweaters imaginable. In every scene he seems to be wearing some new knitted horror (and in the quick-change dance numbers he's shown wearing four or five of them in rapid succession). I'm sorry that I don't have some screencaps, but the image above from the Eros films site gives you some idea. Rishi's sweaters would justify a scathing post all to themselves on Ugly, Ugly, Bollywood Fugly.
Those sweaters should have been a clue: Rohit's judgment is appallingly bad. His idea of a surprise for Chandni is to shower her with rose petals from a hired helicopter. Unfortunately, as the helicopter is landing Rohit manages to fall out, and is left partially paralyzed and wheelchair-bound. Bitter at his fate and supposedly loving Chandni so much he can't bear to see her saddled for a lifetime with an invalid like him, he angrily drives her away.
Chandni flees Rohit and his hateful family (who have always despised her) and goes to Bombay to look for a job. Late for an interview, she flags down a car at random. Of course, the driver is Lalit (Vinod Khanna), the boss of the firm she's applying to. Khanna is very handsome, with a worldliness (and a hint of world-weariness) that suggests Bryan Ferry at his most suavely seductive. When Lalit lounges casually at a bar with cigarette in hand, you practically expect him to start crooning some melancholy Jacques Brel number. Vinod's on the left, Bryan's on the right:
On a business trip to Switzerland, Lalit encounters who else but Rohit, who at the urging of his brother-in-law Ramesh (Anupam Kher) has finally agreed to try rehabilitation at a Swiss clinic. And after a mere four months (the miracles of Swiss medicine!) he's been completely cured of his paralysis. Lalit and Rohit form an instant friendship (shades of the "two friends in love with the same woman" plot of An American in Paris (1951), here).
Rohit decides to surprise Chandni again: he shows up at her door in Bombay in his wheelchair, and then stands up and does a few awkward dance steps (incidentally, seeing Rishi Kapoor trying to keep up with the sinuously graceful Sridevi in the dance numbers is painful). By now you'd think Rohit would have figured out that surprises aren't such a good idea. He declares that he's ready to take Chandni back--only, she breaks the news to him that she's found someone else. (After breaking off their engagement and cutting off all contact for months, what did he think?) When Lalit invites his new friend to meet his fiancée, Rohit realizes that Lalit's the new man in her life.
But instead of doing the honorable thing and leaving town, he agrees to come to Lalit and Chandni's wedding. Having done so, for the sake of his love and his friendship does he stoically swallow his pain? Of course not--he swallows half a bottle of whiskey instead, and is rendered so sloppily insensible that at the wedding he plummets down a huge staircase. Chandni rushes to his unconscious side, crying "Rohit, my Rohit!" (Her Rohit, it turns out, is uninjured.)
Now it's Lalit's turn to be crushed by sudden unwelcome knowledge. But does he go on a self-pitying binge? Does he speak bitter, angry words to his fiancée and friend? And does Chandni come to her senses and realize that Lalit is much better friend, lover and husband material than Rohit has ever been or could be?
No, no...and no. Chandni leaves on her honeymoon, all right--with Lalit's blessing, but with the wrong guy. As we see Chandni standing up in a convertible speeding through the Swiss countryside with Rohit at the wheel (wait--haven't they learned by now that seatbelts are necessary things?), and as the words "Love...never...ends..." are slowly written across the screen, my involuntary response is an inarticulate, strangulated, agonized "Arrgh!"
Update 12 November 2012: Yash Chopra passed away on October 21, 2012 after a sudden illness. In memory of this legendary figure, I've written a post on Six favorite songs from Yash Chopra films.