Saturday, September 22, 2007


Saajan (1991) features two of my favorite Bollywood actors, Sanjay Dutt and Madhuri Dixit, and one of my least favorite, Salman Khan. The plot is relatively straightforward, at least for Bollywood: Aman is a crippled orphan befriended in childhood by Akash and taken in by his family. When the two boys become young men, Aman (Sanjay) has become responsible and thoughtful, and writes poetry under the pen-name Sagar; Akash (Salman) has become a frivolous playboy. Madhuri is Pooja, a bookseller who is Sagar's biggest fan. Aman, ashamed of his inability to defend Pooja one night when they're accosted by a gang, decides to make her believe that the young, rich, handsome and musclebound Akash is Sagar.

Yes, it's the Cyrano de Bergerac story, with the twist that Aman is Akash's adopted brother, and feels that he bears an unpayable obligation to Akash's family. Choosing Sanjay--an actor with brooding, soulful eyes and the smoldering physical presence of the young Robert Mitchum--to play the disabled poet Aman was a bold idea. Unfortunately the other two major casting choices are either completely predictable or befuddling. Salman is cast utterly to type as the playboy Akash. But if you're typecasting, why would you give the superb dancer Madhuri Dixit a major role as their mutual love interest, and then give her just one dance number? And the choreography for that one number is mediocre--although that's actually an improvement over the rest of the songs, for which the choreography is nonexistent. The music by Nadeem-Shravan and Amar Halidpur-Faiz Anwar is enjoyable, if not incredibly memorable on a first hearing (I did notice that the soundtrack was ranked number 28 in the all-time top 40 soundtracks in a recent BBC poll, so perhaps it grows on you), and Lawrence D'Souza's direction isn't particularly subtle. Still, I'd say it's worth seeing for Sanjay and Madhuri.

Two years later Sanjay and Madhuri would be reunited in the delirious Khal Nayak (1993), a film that gave both actors more room to deploy their considerable talents and appeal. In that film Sanjay plays a gangster's lieutenant and Madhuri a police agent who becomes his moll in order to send information to her police contact (and boyfriend) Jackie Shroff. Several of the dance numbers from the film have become classics, including the racy "Choli Ke Peeche" ("What's underneath my blouse?"), the wildly surreal "Palki Pe Hoke Sawar" and the Las-Vegas-on-acid title song. Madhuri and Sanjay's onscreen chemistry in Khal Nayak is electric, perhaps aided by their rumored offscreen affair. The obvious emotional connection between them renders the conceit of the film--that their onscreen relationship remains chaste, despite the fact that Madhuri is travelling alone with Sanjay's gang for months--utterly ludicrous. Nonetheless, the film is highly entertaining, mainly for Madhuri's superb dancing and the catchy music by Laxmikant and Pyarelal. (I'd recommend fast-forwarding through the frequent fight scenes that alternate with the dance numbers, though.)

Salman and Madhuri would later be reunited in what is inexplicably the most successful Bollywood film ever, Hum Aapke Hain Koun...! (1994). It's the glossy, big-budget family drama that Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001) was apparently trying to supplant. HAHK has at least one bizarrely great dance number, "Didi Tera Devar Diwana" ("Sister, your brother-in-law is crazy"), which involves voyeurism, female cross-dressing, and shoe-stealing. Otherwise, the film succeeds (at least, as far as it does succeed, which with me isn't very far) mainly on the appeal of its all-star cast. That cast does include Anupam Kher, who is another Exotic and Irrational favorite.

If you're interested in seeing a young Sanjay Dutt, Saajan and Khal Nayak offer him in strikingly different roles; if you're interested in seeing a young Madhuri Dixit, in Saajan her talents are mainly wasted, while in Khal Nayak she's at her most ravishing (and the dances are entertainingly over-the-top). As for Salman, I have to confess that his appeal completely escapes me.


  1. I like your approach of looking at the people in a lackluster film and seeing what they do together in other settings. HAHK is a big mystery to me, too; I saw it very early on in my Bollywood-watching and wonder if having more context would make me enjoy it more. But every time I think about renting it again, I remember how much I didn't like it and how there are so many other things to see that I'm genuinely excited about.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Beth. Let me weigh in on the question of renting HAHK again: I'd advise against it. I don't think you would enjoy it any more on a second viewing. It's overlong, Salman is particularly obnoxious in this role, and even by Bollywood standards it's pretty saccharine.

  3. I've been reading through your entire blog and leaving random comments when I couldnt help it- sorry! I remember watching Saajan a long time ago- and though I am a confimred Salman fan (why? I dont know! :D) I have to admit he is super silly here.

  4. Shweta, seeing Chori Chori Chupke Chupke helped me realize why people like Salman. Alas. he's rarely so understated and sympathetic, and in Saajan I just find myself irritated by him. Still, chacon à son goût.

  5. If you dislike Salman Khan, you might like Dabangg. There he finally has accepted his niche in Bollywood after 2 decades of playing unconvincingly earnest characters. It is full of nudge nudge wink wink inside B'wood humor. Only a Bollywood hero could spend 2 decades doing utter crap and finally make a career out of spoofing it!

  6. Anonymous, my dislike of Salman is not only for his inexpressive acting and stiff dancing, but for his alleged violence against women. If he's developing a sense of humor about himself, that's all to the good, but he still has a long way to go before I'd actually want to make an effort to see one of his films.

    Many thanks, though, for stopping by and for your comment!



  7. I loathe Salman and love HAHK. It was perfect for pumping milk for my babies- pretty, distracting, and utterly suspense free. If only there an endless stream of violence and shopping free movies with lots of dancing in sorta traditional-ish Indian clothes, I would never find myself starting and quitting so many ugh Indian movies.