Aankhen (2002)    1 Stars

“A dangerous game is about to begin!

Aankhen (2002)

Director: Vipul Amrutlal Shah

Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, Sushmita Sen

Synopsis: Vijay Singh Rajput is a quirky manager of Vilasrao Jefferson Bank. He is extremely strict at work and believes in pushing his workers to the limit.




Perhaps it’s just over-familiarity with Hollywood movies on my part, but there’s something quite refreshing about the infectious enthusiasm of Bollywood’s attempts to emulate — and surpass — the movie capital’s product. For all their far-fetched plots and musical interludes, the impression that, at heart, the Indian’s just want to tell a fast-moving and gripping story, is inescapable. It’s a little like Hollywood’s escapist fare of the 1930s, when its audience was in the grip of the depression and went to the movies for a brief respite from life’s harsh realities; for all its lush glamour and godlike stars, it was the story that mattered — and that’s the way it seems to be in India today.

Aankhen is a heist movie with the kind of daft storyline that would probably end up as shredded bedding for some Hollywood movie executive’s kids guinea pigs; the plot has more holes than the villain’s beard has white hairs and, at a bum-numbing 165 minutes, it is a good forty-five minutes too long, and seems to take forever to wrap up. But I still liked it.

Amitabh ‘Big B’ Bachchan is a Bollywood superstar of more than thirty years standing who, after a rocky patch in the 1990s when he went into politics and became embroiled in some Swedish Bofors Gun scandal, made a comeback as the presenter of India’s version of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ which, in many ways, is almost — but not quite — as bizarre as the plot of this movie. Big B plays Vijay Singh Rajput, tempestuous manager of the Vilasrao Jefferson bank. Rajput is a harsh taskmaster with more than a few anger management issues that need resolving. Upon catching a witless teller palming a note from a stack he is issuing to a regular customer, Rajput throws the scoundrel through the teller’s window — which surely would be reinforced, but no matter — and chases him through the city streets before beating him to a rather soggy pulp. Naturally, Rajput loses his job — although, despite having carried out his assault of the teller in front of a couple of hundred witnesses, he doesn’t seem to face any police charges — and, equally naturally, he swears to get his revenge by robbing the bank ‘by hook or by crook’.

To suggest that Rajput’s method of taking revenge is novel is something of an understatement. Having determined, via some PC game in which he is the main character, that he can’t rob the bank alone, he hits upon the idea – while watching a bunch of kids climbing onto each other’s shoulders to reach something high above them – of employing blind men to carry out the heist for him.

No, honestly, he does.

Not only that, he kidnaps one of the kids, who is the little brother of Neha (Sushmita Sen) the woman teacher who coached them into forming a human tower, in order to force her to train the blind men to avoid obstacles, etc., and feign 20/20 vision while carrying out the robbery. Yep, these blind dudes are going to pass themselves off as being able-eyed.

Anyway, once the basic premise has been set up — and we’re already about an hour into the picture by now — we have a lengthy sequence during which Neha trains the three candidates, Vishwas (Akshay Kumar), a man with a sixth sense, Arjun (Arjun Rampal), a rather non-descript character who develops a crush on his teacher, and Ilias (Paresh Rawal), a beggar who supplies both the comic moments and tragic elements of the story. The trio undergo vigorous training that lasts more than forty days before they are finally ready to carry out the heist for real…

Believe me, it’s as nutty as it sounds — and for the most part, it takes itself perfectly seriously, which somehow makes it all the more fun to watch.

Big B makes a splendid villain, and possesses a wonderfully menacing voice. While the plot twists he is required to respond to are quite frequently ludicrous, he manages to remain completely believable throughout, making it all the more surprising that this is his first villainous role in over thirty years. Sushmita Sen also gives a terrific performance in a role that offers limited opportunities, and she excels in her one big scene. Unfortunately the characters of the three blind men are uneven. Ilias is too much of a caricature at times, while both Vishwas’s and Arjun’s roles are under-developed, as is the growing relationship between Arjun and Neha. Finally, we are swamped by a deluge of plot twists in the last ten minutes that are perhaps a little too much to take. Nevertheless, Aankhen provides some priceless entertainment — it might not be of the kind the makers intended, but it will keep you watching all the same.