("colorful") 1995. 175 minutes. Hindi with English subtitles.
Written, produced and directed by Ram Gopal Verma. Cinematography: W. B. Rao.
Lyrics: Mehboob. Music: A. R. Rahman.
Ram Gopal Verma began his career in the Telugu film industry, but achieved national
success with this, his second Hindi-language film, in large part due to the strength
of Aamir Khan's convincing performance as a streetsmart hustler, reveling in the
rusticated-yet-urbanized argot of his class. An easygoing romantic comedy, it
is also a film about film-making Bombay-style; indeed, about the making of an
imaginary film called "Rangeela," which premieres in the final reel
and, prophetically, proves to be a hit. The fact that it is sometimes unclear,
especially in song sequences, which of the two films we are watching, merely adds
to the appealing unreality of the concoction. Not surprisingly, RANGEELA is also
something of a salute to Bollywood's hometown and its film-saturated culture,
and displays some of Verma's talent for shooting urban locations and types that
he would later deploy so masterfully in the darker and more accomplished SATYA
Mini (Urmila Matondkar) is a wide-eyed ingenue shaking her booty in a filmi chorus
line while dreaming of being cast as a heroine. Her madcap father communicates
almost entirely through filmsong lyrics, and her neighbor and pal, the fast-talking
orphan Munnu (Khan), makes his living as a scalper, peddling tickets to masala
hits like "Mr. Bond," starring action-hero Raj Kamal (Jackie Shroff).
Allusions to other films, Indian and American, abound, and there are some charming
vignettes and sight gags: the film-within-a-film's tormented director Steven Kapoor
(Gulshan Grover), who worships Spielberg and yearns to be in Hollywood, where
(he fancies) directors get Respect; his niggardly Punjabi producer P. C. (Avtar
Gill), who will go back to farming in Ludhiana if "Rangeela" flops;
even a cameo by cinematographer Rao as himself. Mini's big break comes when ditzy
starlet Gulbadan (shepherded by her atomic powered stage mother) unexpectedly
ditches the picture to marry her chauffeur. Gulbadan had balked at the film's
"MTV-style" choreography, but Mini has no such hangups. When Kamal spots
her frenetically working out on a deserted beach (these seem to abound in her
section of Bombay), he immediately orders a screentest, but only Munnu's patient
coaching enables her to overcome her subsequent camera fright. The results are
predictable: not only is a star born, but the suave older hero falls under the
spell of his new discovery, even as the poor-but-inarticulate boy next door struggles
to express his love for her.
Eight song sequences juxtapose stark streetscapes and their jiving denizens (in
one, a chorus line of fatigue-clad commandos waving AK-47s) with surf-drenched
Goan coastline and elemental Thar sand dunes. In its second half, the film risks
becoming a series of thinly-linked music videos (though, generically speaking,
this is a bit like complaining that "Rigoletto" has too many arias);
these prolonged lovescenes display Mini and Kamal in statuesque mithuna poses
and ever-changing erogenous costumes straight off the covers of supermarket romances.
But at the climax, and following the acclaimed premiere of Kapoor's colorful opus,
the plot's one burning question resurfaces: will Mili choose the rich, hunky superstar
with soulful eyes and swashbuckling wardrobe, or the baby-faced, unemployed street
kid with Brando-esque cap, fishnet T-shirt, and perpetual five o'clock shadow?
It is -- like both versions of "Rangeela" -- a pleasant no-brainer.
(The DVD from Digital Entertainment Incorporated includes good quality English
subtitles, including translated song lyrics.)