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The good thing about commercialisation is that even nationalism can be marketed, either wrapped in seductive ghagra-clad packages or slapped across grand and lavish canvases. Both approaches are used in Subhash Ghai's latest film, Pardes.
The story goes that Kishori Lal (Amrish Puri) goes to America with ten dollars in his pocket and somehow manages to stuff in about a billion more. For his son, Rajiv (Apoorva Agnihotri), he wants a bride from back home -- clean, virginal, the Indian works. He picks the daughter of his childhood friend (Alok Nath), Ganga (Mahima Chowdhary). Kishori Lal gives relative-turned-foster son Arjun (Shah Rukh Khan) the task of making Rajiv marry the Indian shrinking violet.
Rajiv manages to miff the maiden when would-be Cupid, Arjun, is struck by his own arrow.
Intermission. The theatre darkens again and while the audience crunches its way through the popcorn, Arjun wins the woman, who is by now disillusioned with Rajiv, who is degenerating into a whiny wretch.
Ghai has aimed the film at the big NRI market, which sprung to attention after the success of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Hum Aapke Hain Kaun! besides the major domestic audience.
There are many similarities between DDLJ and Pardes. The actors playing the hero and the pater familias are the same. The elders call the shots in both films. The protagonists long in a similar manner for home and country and depict the West as immoral, dead and pointless. This is where the likeness ends.
In Pardes, Mahima Chowdhary plays a village girl who never doubts her husband will be picked for her, despite being educated (BA in English literature).
The suave Apoorva (whose character appears to share Ghai's passion for hats) had grey shades in the first half which turn a dark black by the end.
Films of this genre preachily dwells on tradition, culture and the need for conformity, casting the fate of the protagonists in the hands of their elders, who, of course, settle for the popular choice and leave audiences with the satisfied feeling that's all's well with the world. In cinematic terms, its called a hit.
So kabadi is compared to a swayamvara where our heroes have to match up with the local hoodlums. The leading lady is called Ganga, as Madhuri Dixit was called in Ghai's Ram Lakhan and Khalnayak, with all the attendant overtones of purity.
Rajiv, the American wolf, makes the rare point when he asks, "Is Indian society all about segregating men and women before marriage? Yet, the minute they marry they create one of the most populated nations on this planet."
The film-maker then remembers he has to make Rajiv look bad, and sets about industriously painting him with thick coats of black. So Rajiv is made to continue his tirade against India long enough to make any audience wish he'd put a lid on it. Ganga shuts him up, cracking him on the jaw. That was the cultured Indian retort.
In Pardes Ghai introduces two newcomers, the busty Mahima Chowdhary, who is appealing in the lighter scenes, even holding her own against the seasoned Khan in a couple of emotional scenes.
Apoorva Agnihotri plays the part of the sophisticated ABCD (American-born confused desi) with elan. Shah Rukh has given a slightly subdued performance, never trying to overshadow the two newcomers.
While the first half deals with preconceived notions of India in a light vein, the second half, set in America, takes the existing cliches about the West and puts them on a pedestal. Thus giving ample scope to the dialogue writer to indulge in pro-India rhetoric, strewing lines like 'I love my India' through the film.
With Pardes, Ghai is in familiar territory and uses jingoism to draw the crowds. The film is set at the Red Fort, Fatehpur Sikri, Hardwar, with some shots of the Taj Mahal thrown in for good measure. Every trick is used to show off Ghai's latest discovery, Mahima.
The music of Pardes cries out for Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Ghai's earlier choice. Nadeem-Shravan fails to measure up to Anand Bakshi's lyrics. Maybe A R Rahman, who is composing the core for Ghai's next venture Shikhar, will do better.
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