Director: Raja Nawathe
Cast: Nargis, Raj Kapoor, Vijayalaxmi
Synopsis: Love letters bind Raj and Chandra, but tragedy awaits them after Raj is diagnosed with TB.
WARNING! This review contains SPOILERS!
Aah is another of those bloated Bollywood epics so beloved by its Hindi audience but which will have any western viewer fidgeting in his seat long before the movie reaches its 150th minute conclusion. Of course, it’s filled out with a dozen or more songs, none of which actually progress the story one iota, so those less patient viewers can hit the fast-forward button and reduce the running time to something like a more bottom-friendly hour-and-a-half.
The story — as with most Bollywood pics — is both familiar and simple. Raj Kapoor (Aag) plays Raj, son of a millionaire, who falls for Neelu (Nargis), the sister of the woman to whom he is betrothed. Neither sister has actually met Raj, and Neelu has secretly been masquerading as her sister when writing the letters to Raj which cause him to fall for her. Once this confusion is sorted out and it looks as though Raj and Neelu will live happily ever after, poor old Raj contracts TB and is told he will soon be singing his last love song. Raj then determines to make Neelu hate him before he dies so that she won’t miss him when he’s dead. As you do.
This is one of those daft movies in which everybody takes the stupidest option open to them in order to put into effect the sequence of misunderstandings that propel the story forward. Actually, propel is a pretty lousy adjective to use to describe the pace of this film: this film crawls along like a one-legged centipede; each scene lasts about three times as long as it should, entire conversations are effectively repeated in consecutive scenes, and there are a plethora of unnecessary scenes.
It is also a curiously uneven film, almost two different movies in one. The first hour plays like a Hindi remake of The Shop Around the Corner, with both Raj and Neelu despising in real life the person they love on paper, and is played mostly as broad comedy. This part of the movie works OK, and is actually quite entertaining, but as soon as Raj contracts TB — and he gets it quick, believe me: he’s struck down over the course of a visit to Neelu one evening, and before you know it he’s being whipped off to a sanatorium for a course of life-or-death treatment — the film assumes a much darker tone which is quite out of synch with the earlier picture.
The film — like Raj — goes downhill fast (although not fast enough) after this development: all logic goes out of the window, and all sense of pace is forgotten. The particular type of TB Raj contracts seems to be one of those part-time illnesses that pretty much comes and goes as it pleases: one minute he is coughing into his pillow, the next he’s frolicking in a river, then he’s back at death’s door again. And, when you think about it, Raj is a bit of a rat, choosing to toy with a couple of women’s emotions rather than tell his beloved the truth and allow her to make up her own mind about what she wants to do. But, of course, this is India, where a woman’s place is firmly marked out; and where true love never runs smoothly — and where lovers never kiss.
The ending to this movie is unusually downbeat and ambiguous. Does the supposedly doomed Raj actually die, or is he just enjoying a snooze in his wife’s arms? Who knows? Not Raj’s doctor friend, that’s for sure: he told the sick man he was a goner halfway through the film, then changed his mind at the end and told him that the love of his life may be able to bring about a recovery. Now that’s what you call putting pressure on a woman.
(Reviewed 1st January 2007)