Sunday, July 20, 2008

The "Arrgh!" factor: Chandni

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.

Warning--spoilers follow.

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:

Lalit is perceptive, attentive and kind; best of all, he's an adult. He's experienced the pain of loss (in a flashback we see his lover Devika (Juhi Chawla, looking very Sridevi-esque) die suddenly--really suddenly, since we'd had no clue she was ill--in his arms), and it hasn't turned him into a petulant, self-pitying mess. He gradually allows himself to fall in love with Chandni, and his mother (Waheeda Rehman) couldn't approve more.

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 unknowingly 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.

Update 25 February 2018: This morning I awoke to the news that Sridevi had passed away late the previous night. I've written a brief appreciation, with links to several posts about her films.

Update 2 May 2020: On April 30 the death of Rishi Kapoor was announced by his family; our thoughts are with them at this sad time.

Update 4 July 2020: Choreographer Saroj Khan, who created the dances in this film (including "Mere Haathon Mein") and Lamhe, passed away yesterday. Please see "In Memoriam: Saroj Khan" for an appreciation of her life and work.


  1. A great review Pessimisissimo - thats exactly how I feel about Chandni! How could she prefer Rishi to Vinod??!!! No right-thinking woman with eyes in her head could do that - ergo the poor woman must be demented. And you've established that Rishi's character was not completely sane either - so perhaps it was a perfect romance!

    And thanks for mentioning my comment.

  2. Bollyviewer, I haven't yet seen Bobby (1973), the film that made Rishi a romantic leading man. So perhaps he possesses charms that aren't apparent in this role. But I agree: Vinod vs. Rishi? It's no contest.

  3. I could not agree more with you. I just flailed my arms and about and cried "Nahiiiiiin" but to no avail.

    This happens all too often when VK is in a film. He always loses the girl, against all parameters of reason and common sense (not to mention taste). I love your description of Rishi and his sweaters :-)

  4. Poor Rishi- he reminds me of a life-sized dark haired cherub, in a Dr Huxtable sweater that doesnt begin to hide his stomach, as it was probably designed to do :)

    But Sridevi and Vinod make up for it entirely! I am getting the urge to go back and see all of Sri's movies- I think she pretty much rocks everything she has ever done.

  5. Memsaab, maybe that's why Vinod has such a melancholy air throughout Chandni--he knows that once again he's not going to end up with the girl, and instead it'll be the guy with the ugly sweaters. That's enough to make anyone depressed.

    Shweta, I agree with you about Sridevi. I know there are some Sridevi haters out there, but I'm having a hard time understanding why. She's terrific in both Lamhe and Chandni (even if she does make the wrong choice at the end).

  6. I guess Sri choosing Vinod would have been an expected ending and thats why Yash Chopra made her choose Rishi. But I still agree it would have been a better choice. And yes, Sridevi rocks in almost all her films. Please watch:

    SADMA: Where she plays an autistic girl with such ease n tenderness

    MR INDIA: An all-time classic, Sridevi's comic timing is at its best here and so is her sensuality

    NAGINA: Sri plays a fiery snake-woman...just watch those expressions

    CHAALBAAZ: Sri plays a double role of twin docile and one whacky and excels in both

    KHUDA GAWAH: Sri matches histrionics with the great Amitabh Bachchan and how

    GUMRAH: A heart-wrenching performance of a victim trapped

    LAADLA: Her first negative role...she rocks

    JUDAAI: A housewife sells her hubby for money....Watch it!!!

  7. Argh!!! Indeed. How could a person dump Vinod for Rishi? HOW?


    Still, I love Juhi, Sridevi, Vinod, Rishi AND Anupam, so will be seeing this one. I only feel like an idiot that I didn't watch it when my friend lent it to me back in the day.

  8. Satyarth, many thanks for the Sridevi recommendations--I'll try to track them down.

    PPCC, be forewarned that Anupam and especially Juhi don't have a huge amount of screen time, but both create very sympathetic characters. Chandni is definitely worth watching; just brace yourself for the last five minutes.

  9. I've just seen 'Chandni' and I definitely had the 'Aargh!' moment at the end too. Rohit is such a silly character that it's impossible to understand why Chandni chooses him... ridiculous. I love your comparison of Vinod to Bryan Ferry... very apt.

  10. Daddy's Girl, thanks for your comment. Yes, Vinod and Bryan both definitely have that sexy-without-trying-and-not-only-without-trying-but-because-they're-not-trying thing going. Alas, the imperatives of Yash Chopra's bizarre sense of female "fidelity" (i.e., Chandni should still love the man who has dumped and abandoned her so horribly) win out in the end...

  11. While Sridevi should have reasons *not* to choose Rishi, i am not in favor of Vinod either: he's an oily, forced-melancholic Yash-Chopra-character who doesn't take a lot of pictures of Sridevi. Now is that desirable?

    Movie on the whole definitely livelier than Lamhe, Khabi Khabie and Silsila together.

  12. Hans, you're right that Vinod definitely lacks that mad love, take-pictures-obsessively-and-fling-roses-from-helicopters approach of Rishi. Maybe if Vinod and Rishi were combined into one person...?

    Thanks for your comment!

  13. you nailed it with the 'fidelity' comment, Pessimisissimo :)

    The whole Bharatiya Nari thing. First love - only love. hehe he could actually use this as the line for his next!

  14. Manjusha, if Yash is looking for a tag-line consultant, I think you've just won the job. "First love...only love..." is much better than my version: "Love...never...ends...No matter how many better choices become glaringly apparent in the meantime..."