I asked for requests for Hindi films to write about, and someone suggested Hulchul. So, yay! I have an excuse to write about Hulchul! One of my favorite films, and definitely my favorite Hindi Priyadarshan movie. I understand it is a remake of a Malayalam film, but I suspect even after I watch that, I will still like the Hindi version better. Because what I like about it isn’t just the plot and direction, but how that interacts with the casting.
First, most importantly, Hulchul is the last film of Amrish Puri! I remember when he died, I was in college, and one girl saw it on rediff.com, and then slowly spread the word through the dorms. It was such a shock! He’d been playing old evil guys for decades, but we never thought of him as like old-old. Plus, no matter how many evil roles he took, you always think of him as Balraj Singh from DDLJ. Who wasn’t the greatest father in the world, sure, but he had his reasons and he ultimately made the right choice.
Which is why Hulchul is such a great last role for him! Because he gets to be both the villain and the revered father, combining his two most famous kinds of characters. And he ends by rejecting the hatred and rules of the past in his final scene on film. Tearing down the sign that restricts access to power.
And he gets to work with a cast that combines the future and recent past and distant past of Indian film all in one place, with Amrish serving as pater familias. You’ve got Vinod’s son, calling back to one of his most famous early roles as the villain against Vinod in Qurbaani, Kareena Kapoor, calling back to her uncle’s Prithvi Theaters where Amrish got his start, Jackie Shroff calling back to his famous villain role opposite him in Hero when he had reached the age of being the name villain who helped the new heroes become famous in their first movies, Sunil Shetty who had worked with him many times before in the 90s once Amrish Puri became the required villain in everything, and Parash Rawal, who would take up his mantle as a notable character actor, moving between industries and genres. It sounds fated when I write it out like that. But really, it is more that by the 2000s any large cast of actors is going to have a series of significant connections to Amrish Puri. Because he had worked so hard and so long and so much, that he touched everybody.
(Speaking of famous villains passing the torch, that’s Gabbar Singh on the drums!)
It’s a great role for Amrish Puri, but everybody has a really interesting role in this! Maybe because it is a remake? Because they took established characters instead of crafting them with certain stars in mind from the beginning? So the Hindi actors are able to play characters similar to what they have played before, but slightly different.
Going down the list, there’s Jackie Shroff, of course. He usually just plays “Jackie Shroff”. Cool dude, the ladies love him, sometimes he’s evil (Happy New Year), usually he’s wise (Brothers), and back in the day he was tortured and sensitive (Hero, Rangeela, and so on). But this time, he gets to play something a little different. Kind of slow and naive. And sweet. Still very dignified, and very powerful. But not quite as cool and all knowing as he is usual.
And then there’s Sunil Shetty. Oh Sunil Shetty! Why did I get a crush on you because of “Chai Chappa Chai” even though I haven’t even seen Hu Tu Tu? Anyway, instead of his usual action hero type, he gets to play the man of peace, the wise one who sees through illusions. His strong and immobile kind of attitude that usually means he will fight through all his enemies and get vengeance for his wife/mother/girlfriend/sister/brother/father this time means that he comes off as less quick to anger, more steadfast in his determinations, than the rest of his family.
Paresh Rawal just plays Paresh Rawal, of course. But he does it very well, as always. And at least he gets to be “Paresh Rawal who knows his way around a fight”, which is definitely different!
And Arshad Warsi! An up and coming all around character actor! He isn’t quite Parash or Amrish yet, but he has definitely dug out a little corner for himself. And this was one of his early movies where he showed the way he can add texture to a picture in his own special way.
And then there’s Kareena and Akshaye. I think this may be my favorite Kareena performance! No, that’s not quite right, more like the Kareena performance that I feel like elevates the character the most. Geet from Jab We Met is always going to be amazing, no matter who plays her, but Anjali here could work or not depending on the actress. And Kareena really makes her work. She feels solid the whole time, if that makes sense? Not flighty or weak, but always there, a presence in the room and in her own life. From the beginning, when she has her marriage ruined, through to the end, when she accepts the decisions of Akshaye regarding their marriage.
And Akshaye, so cool! So confident! It’s the same kind of performance he gives in Aaja Nachle (another one of my favorites from him!), but in that film it is because he is barely onscreen, just a sort of special guest character who never has to grow or show flaws or make a mistake. In this one, he makes mistakes and he changes his attitudes, but he is basically a cocky smart aleck start to finish. But again, with a kind of solid core. That’s why I like him and Kareena together so much in this. They both know what they want and have no doubts about going for it.
And then there’s the story itself, which is fine, but what makes me love it is the little touches in how it is acted and directed. Like, right at the beginning, Kareena is leaving campus to get married. She and Akshay are from rival feuding families and, apparently, have never spoken or interacted on campus because of the problems back home. But, when she is getting in the car to go, they exchange little glances at each other. And he seems to care a little more than you would think about her being married. And be a little happier than you might expect over her engagement falling apart when she returns.
Yes, he does a huge horrible scary dance number making fun of her when she comes back to campus. But there were those little looks earlier! Maybe the huge dance number is in the spirit of pulling the hair of the girl you like, rather than just part of the feud.
And when Kareena goes to her grandmother and her grandmother suggests the revenge plan of making Akshaye fall in love with her, there is this moment of hesitation, that almost maybe feels like she has feelings for him already and/or suspects he has feelings for her. Plus, there’s the way she really throws herself into the game, despite not seeming to be a particularly vengeful or flirtatious character before this. It looks like she is either a little extra eager to/comfortable with flirting with Akshaye in particular. Or, somehow his song and dance really cut her to the quick in a way that the breakdown of the marriage itself did not.
And then there’s their actual romance which, again, I love! It sounds stupid when you write it out, that they pretended to be in love with each other to gain an advantage, and then she broke it off for the sake of peace and he realized he really was in love with her. Like, what? But they way it is done, it all feels so natural! Just little moments of enjoying each other and being together after their song together, and her reaction when Sunil Shetty warns her that she is playing with fire, not fear or guilt but sort of reasoned concern. And his straightforward (and swooningly romantic!) way of going to her and saying it as an accepted thing that of course he loves her, and she loves him, and they will need to work this out.
And then we go back to the village, and things feel very Priyadarshan at this point! The so-sad-you-have-to-laugh-so-you-don’t-cry flavor. We get the backstory of the feud, that Akshaye’s mother was killed shortly after he was born when she was caught in the crossfire of a marriage dispute with Kareena’s family. I always thought that it was that Kareena’s mother had been promised to her father, but was in love with Jackie Shroff and ran off to marry him, and then the whole fight at their wedding ended in her being taken back and forceably married to Kareena’s Dad, and Jackie, Akshay, and Paresh’s Mom being killed (also, is there a 4th brother? I feel like there is a 4th brother. But that he doesn’t have much to do). And then Kareena was born, her mother died, and the feud has continued. But according to wikipedia, that’s not it at all! There’s a whole different explanation! Maybe it was more complicated in the Malayalam original but the simplified it for the Hindi? Either way, it is a super depressing backstory!!!
And yet, the film continues on its happy and lighthearted way. Although there are a few more moments of darkness, they are black comedy more than anything. Paresh Rawal’s wife threatening to drown the children always gets a laugh out of me!
And it still throws in romance bits, the big swoony bit when Akshaye orders Kareena to run to him, the “missing you” song (which is one of my favorite songs just on its own! This movie also has a really good soundtrack), and of course the ending.
The action bits are great too. The opening with the brothers going wild on the village woman, and the fight later (after my all time favorite item song) when the villagers attach Paresh and Akshaye and their brothers leap in to defend them despite their internal issues. And of course the ending, which is both exciting and hilarious at the same time!
And I love it that the evil mastermind is an old woman! Again, it’s Amrish Puri’s last movie, so it’s nice that his character isn’t The Worst. If the backstory is what I always thought it was, then Jackie Shroff was in love with Kareena’s mother and wanted to marry her-Good! And Amrish Puri and the rest of his family supported him-Good! And Kareena’s evil crazy grandmother broke up the wedding so Amrish fought back-Good! And now it’s been years and years of fighting with her and trying to limit her evil power in the village-A Little Extreme, But Still Generally Good!
I also love that this makes the whole thing a solveable problem. Yes, it is a feud that has been going on for decades and all that, but solving it is as simple as convincing one old woman to not be crazy. Or at least, convincing her family to stop listening to her, because she is CRAZY!!! It wasn’t a “well, violence and feuds will continue forever and there isn’t really anything we can do about it so why even try?” kind of ending. Which I find both depressing, and infuriating! Because that kind of thinking just leads people to accept these situations instead of working to change them. Oh! That’s what Shahrukh says in Swades! When he gets so mad at everyone just accepting the constant outages instead of trying to make it better!
But really, for me, it’s all about how the romance is handled. So cute! And so simple and serious. Never really any misunderstandings. Even when they think they are tricking each other, they really aren’t. And at the end of it, when Akshaye admits that he wants to marry her, but is willing to give it up for his father’s honor, she understands without having to say anything.
I do wish they had just a few minutes more at the end to sort of resolve things, but I can write that off to Amrish Puri dying in the middle of filming. But besides the abbreviated ending, it really is the perfect movie!