Parampara! Or, Tradition! (and now I have that Fiddler on the Roof song in my head) Anyway, this was a terrible terrible movie. And it was a Yash Chopra film! He must have run out of either money or interest at some point in the middle, because it is just confused and dull in a way that Yashji doesn’t usually let happen. In fact, I feel fairly comfortable saying this is probably the worst film Yash Chopra ever made.
It may be the worst film, but it has the best title! I love the word “Parampara”. So fun to say! And it’s a great meaning for a title too, I am kind of surprised there hasn’t been a big film before or since with that title. I mean, think about how many films use “Rishtaa”! You would think “Parampara” would be at least as common! It’s certainly a word that comes up in dialogue a lot (which is how I learned it. And Rishtaa. Both from K3G, actually).
After the title, it is all downhill. Usually, in a Yash Chopra movie, nothing makes much sense and relationships may not be terribly clear (I have read debates over whether Amitabh and Shashi are actually brothers in Silsila, for instance, because it’s not really 100% clear), but everything sort of flows over you and makes sense on a deeper emotional level. In this film, there is no level that anything makes sense!
For instance, time. Time is always a bit fuzzy for Yashji films, like in Jab Tak Hain Jaan, how is it ten years later and Shahrukh looks totally different but Kat looks exactly the same? How are clothes/cars/everything exactly the same in the “present day” and “ten years ago”? How long exactly where Shahrukh and Kat together the first time around? Like, a week? Or like, 6 months? But ultimately, none of that really matters for understanding the narrative.
(Is this like one very very long weekend?)
I have issues with Jab Tak, believe me, but they aren’t with the timeline, because all that stuff is ultimately pointless, we just need to know that Kat and Shahrukh have been together long enough to be passionately in love, any period clothing/cars would just have distracted from the characters, and I am so glad when Shahrukh’s bearded old man look appears and we can stop with the unbelievable youth make-up, that I don’t even care about the logic of it.
In Parampara, though, time doesn’t make sense on any level! First, the film covers like 60 years, and yet clothes/cars/houses look the same the entire time. But more importantly, I never really feel like the characters are carrying around the weight of 40 years. Poor Ashwini Bhave is separated from one of her sons for, like, 20 years. But emotionally it feels more like just 20 days “oh, he’s back now? I’ll go see him then!”
And then other things that needed to be lighter had an impact completely out of proportion with their character arch. Anupam Kehr got SO ANGRY all of a sudden! And then he was over it. And then it was back! And then he was over it. And Vinod was just swinging wildly around, from happy to in love to angry to self-sacrificing to angry again and then back to self-sacrificing. So hard to get a read on that guy!
It was just way way too much set-up! If I had been writing this script (and why shouldn’t I have been? I would have done a much better job than the original writers), I would have jumped straight to the 20 years ago stuff, skipped the 40 years ago stuff. And I would have covered the 20 years ago stuff like zip-zip-zip, just hitting the high points. Actually, you know what, I would have done it like the opening to Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, where you get the broad strokes of the the beginning of the family feud, but no confusing details. With this movie, I never really knew what was a confusing detail, and what was an important plot point, because everything got the same amount of screentime! In the end, either they were all important or they were all unimportant, I’m still not sure.
(Aamir’s hair is slightly better in this film, but otherwise Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak is superior in all ways)
For one thing, our entire cast changes at intermission. So, was all that romantic travail and “you’re my friend! you’re my enemy! you’re my friend!” stuff in the first half basically pointless? Couldn’t we just have jumped to the resolution and cut straight into the second half? Especially since our main characters in the second half don’t actually learn all the details of the first half, like, ever. So it’s not like those past actions are affecting the “present” at all, since none of our “present” characters know about them.
But at the same time as all of these pointless details are thrown at us about things that don’t matter, there is this huge leap we are supposed to make in accepting the basic situation right at the start, and if you can’t make that leap (which has no logical support), than the whole rest of the film is nonsense. Just, give us a reason, Yash! Something to hang a motivation on! You can’t just say “and so it was tradition for the gypsies and Thakurs to kill each other” and leave it at that!
Why is it that the “Thakur” in the big house hates the gypsies who always camp on his land, and whenever a dispute comes up, the Thakur and the gypsy chief will shoot at each other and one of them will die? What the heck kind of tradition is this?!?!?!? Why don’t the gypsies just move somewhere else? Where are the police? How old is this tradition anyway? Like, from before guns? What did they used to use? How has no one from either side gone “This is the stupidest idea in the world, I refuse!” in the past however many years? And, most of all, if they are gypsies living in tents, why don’t they just MOVE SOMEWHERE ELSE!
All I’m saying is, take a second pass at the script and you could make it so much more logical! Especially if you got over the excitement of having a “gypsy camp” visual, which you KNOW was the main appeal of the whole “gypsy” idea. Why not make it two leading landowning families in a feud, like normal? Or, if you really wanted the class element, why not make it just a low-caste community nearby? Or religion! You could turn the “gypsies” into Christians or something. Something that wouldn’t make my head hurt trying to figure out how any of this makes any kind of sense.
But all of this is just a symptom of the central problem, that the film never knew what it wanted to say. You’d think that would be easy, right? It should be right there in the title, “Parampara”. But then they kept weaving around changing what they wanted to say about Parampara. Is it that traditions are inescapable? Is it following traditions is noble? Is it that breaking traditions leads to death? Is it that family is more important than tradition?
I think that last point is what Yashji was leaning towards (certainly, it’s the one that resonated most with me and where I was most emotionally caught up in the scenes), but then all the other messages got thrown in too and it got all confused. It’s fine when a movie is about nothing at all (Welcome, say), or when it has a really clear message it wants to convey (Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, It’s All About Loving Your Parents), but this horrible mish-mosh where it keeps starting to have a message, and then veering off into another one, it’s just the worst of all worlds.
You can almost see the moment they would throw away their last draft and start another re-write: “Okay, this relationship dynamic isn’t working, what if I make them hate each other all of a sudden for no reason.” “Okay, now let’s make this guy totally evil, see if that gets me out of the tangle I wrote myself into.” “Okay, now no one else will really see how evil he is for some reason, because then the movie would be over.” “Okay, I’m sick of these characters, I’m going to suddenly jump the plot forward and find a new set.”
It’s a pity, because it’s a waste of a great cast. Aamir really does a lot with the little he is given. Saif is fine, could be much much better, but not bad for his first movie. Sunil Dutt has a certain gravitas and charm, just because he is Sunil Dutt. Anupam Kehr is having the time of his life as the wild gypsy king (not the usual Anupam role). Raveena is sparkling, Neelam is fine (I like her better in Hum Saath Saath Hain). Ashwini Bhave is the one who really impressed me, partly because her character was the only one that made a lick of sense. You would think with a group like that, and a director like Yash Chopra, we would really have something. But, no.
Okay, I can’t go on like this, I MUST address the specific inanities of the plot! So, SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
Picking up where I left off, but with spoilers mixed in now, the casting! I get the initial logic of it “Vinod Khanna playing Aamir and Saif’s father”. This makes total sense, the age gap is about right and all that. But then Vinod dies at the interval, when his sons are still like 4 and 2, so what’s the point? We just spent an hour suspending disbelief that million-year-old Vinod is still a handsome boyish risk taker for no reason! We never get the pay off when he plays his actual age! And Sunil Dutt is all betwixt and between too, somehow both too old to be believable as Vinod’s father in the first half, and yet also too young to be believable as Aamir and Saif’s grandfather. The one I liked best was Ashwini Bhave, because she was consistant! Start to finish, she was in a sari looking about 25, whether she was supposed to be a new bride or an aging mother. Much easier to just accept that and move on, than to try to ignore all the bad wigs and dye jobs on display on the men. Poor Anupam Kehr really suffers, wearing these strange “gypsy garb” outfits in the first half, and then a terrible fake grey hair wig in the second half. Why do this? Why not just have him look like himself in the second half, when he is playing closer to his real age (my same complaint about SRK in Veer-Zaara)?
(WHY DOES HE LOOK LIKE THIS?!?!? He’s only playing 4 years older than his real age!!!)
The pity of it is, I think the casting may have been what lead to the weird weird structure. Yashji had this great cast, so he decided to split it so they each got full focus in their respective halves. Like what Karan did with K3G, except with a lot fewer characters and plot points carried over through the Interval.
So, in the first half, we have dashing “young” Vinod Khanna (lots and lots of sweaters. Why were costume designers in the 80s so convinced sweaters make people look 20 years younger? Is it the same reason they think hats and loose pants fix all problems today?). Vinod returns to his ancestral estate, and somehow learns for the very first time that his family has an ancient habit of periodically killing the gypsies who camp near by. Wouldn’t that be the kind of thing that would have come up in conversation before now? Plus, his reaction isn’t “That’s horrible! I should call the police and the media, and certainly make sure that my father Sunil Dutt never does such a thing again.” No, his reaction is “well, that sucks, I’m going to make friends with the new leader of the gypsy band Anupam Kehr and have sex with his sister, no way this can go bad!”
And then when he is finally ready to defy his father and run off with the gypsy lady, all of a sudden his gypsy friend Anupam (seriously, the whole movie is almost worth it to see Anupam Kehr try to play “dashing rebel”) is against their relationship? Why? Was it a surprise to him that Sunil likes to kill gypsy people? Didn’t Sunil kill Anupam’s father? Did he actually think his sister would be welcomed into that family with open arms? Not to mention, was he blind to his sister and his best friend clearly being in love?
And meanwhile, Sunil is happily arranging Vinod’s marriage to some other person of equal stature! How can he be so blind to what his son is doing all day? Come to think of it, what is Sunil doing all day? Where is their money from anyway? Are they actually working their land? Is that somehow related to why they hate the gypsies?
(Speaking of K3G, I have the same problem there! What does Raichand Industries actually make?)
And then Vinod solves this problem by a dramatic marriage-by-bloody-thumb-in-part to the gypsy girl, and writing a letter explaining everything to the fiancee. Well heck, why didn’t you do that ages ago? And if you were going to do that, why not just bring your new wife home with you and tell your Dad to suck it, instead of leaving her in the gypsy camp?
The only one who actually thinks this thing through is the fiancee, Ashwini, who decides that what makes the most sense is for them to get married anyway, preventing shame on both their families, and for her to acknowledge the gypsy girl as part of their family and, presumably, work on getting her slowly accepted by stupid Sunil so she can live in an actual house instead of a colorful tent.
And then Sunil kills all the gypsies anyway! Why? What did they do to you? Like, ever? In the immediate present or in the distant past that led to this whole “Parampara”? There is some random younger character who seems to really be taking the lead on the slaughter, but I’m not clear if that is Vinod’s brother or cousin or just some hired mercenary who really really likes killing gypsies for some reason. Maybe in an earlier draft of the script it was clear that this young guy was the real evil and Sunil just got talked into it?
Because I don’t understand why they forgive Sunil after all this! Ashwini saves the new baby and brings him back to his father, because she is awesome. But then Vinod declares that the biggest punishment he could give Sunil is to stay in the same house, but never talk to him. What? Isn’t the biggest punishment you could give Sunil CALLING THE POLICE?!?!? Didn’t the man just order the heartless slaughter of dozens of women and children? I mean, from the other side of things, don’t you have the responsibility to protect humanity from this mass murderer? Sure, living in the same house with his son who doesn’t talk to him might be worse for Sunil, but it’s also a huge risk you are taking that he might suddenly decide to kill some other random group for some unknown reason!
(Okay, the “bad father” resolution in Rang De Basanti isn’t perfect either, but at least they made sure he couldn’t hurt anyone else ever again!)
Vinod isn’t talking to Sunil any more, but Ashwini still is and she lets her son spend time with him. I mean, yuck! Why would you want your son raised by a killer? And not a “killer who has learned from his mistakes”, but an unrepentant killer who would be delighted to do it again at a moment’s notice.
Oh, and then Anupam gets out of jail and goes to kill the man who killed his entire family (reasonable, I feel). And Vinod leaps in to defend Sunil? WHY?!?!?!? LET ANUPAM HAVE HIS REVENGE!!! But no, Vinod decides the better option is to go for the duel himself with no bullets in his gun and let Anupam kill him? HOW DOES THIS HELP ANYTHING?!?!? Sure enough, Sunil swears vengeance, Vinod’s older son is thrown out of the house, and life sucks even more.
I can kind of see how this sacrifice would have worked as a legitimately touching moment. If we got more of a sense that Vinod had nothing to live for anyway and just wanted his death to mean something. Or if Anupam seemed likely to kill everyone, not just Sunil (really, who cares if Sunil dies). But as it is, it just makes no sense! Why sacrifice yourself, the one reasonable person with any power in this situation, and leave your wife and sons to live in misery under the thumb of a mass murderer?
What would have been much much better is if we just entered at this point in the film. If Anupam suddenly showed up to kill Sunil just ’cause, and Vinod offered himself to fight the duel on Sunil’s behalf but then removed the bullets in his gun. It would have had the exact same interesting set up in the second half, where one son is raised with the story of his father being heartlessly shot down while the other is raised with the story of his father sacrificing himself for peace. But we wouldn’t have had the super dark massacre scene and confusing love triangle before.
I would say, keep the half-brother thing between Aamir and Saif, but make Aamir’s mom someone completely unrelated to this whole thing who Vinod fell in love with and Sunil didn’t like and then she died in childbirth and Vinod married again and Sunil preferred this wife. Have Sunil throw Aamir out of the house because he is a jerk (Sunil is a jerk, not Aamir), and then Anupam adopt Aamir because he is nice and feels guilty for killing his father, not because of this whole crazy “Aamir is Anupam’s nephew but also Sunil’s grandson and Ashwini’s stepson and Saif’s brother” and so on and so on. Heck, it could be even more meaningful! Making Aamir choose between his adopted family who always loved him and his biological family who rejected him!
(Like Baghban! But the kid picking the parents, instead of the parents picking the kid. And with more violence. Although, personally, I wouldn’t have minded if Baghban had ended with a massive gun fight in which all the jerky children were killed)
If it was set up like this, then we could focus on the main message and plot of the second half, which is just so much simpler than the first! Aamir and Saif meet in college, fight, become friends, and then discover when Aamir goes home with Saif over break that they are actually brothers, and also sworn enemies. That’s cool! That’s interesting! That’s stressful!
And that’s where you get the really strong “is tradition more important than family?” message. They are brothers, and even before they knew they were brothers, they already loved each other. Now, is it more important to keep up this senseless tradition of going to a particular place and shooting each other, or to spend time with your newly discovered brother? That’s an interesting question for a film to tear into!
But we don’t get to, because suddenly we veer back over to Sunil Dutt and Vinod Khanna, who I had completely forgotten about by this point in the film. And it turns into a story of how Sunil had never gotten over his son’s death and that’s why he is this bitter angry man. But, wait, I thought he was already a bitter angry man? Why did he kill all those people in the first half before his son was dead?
Again, this would work so much better if they had cut the first half! Imagine the delicious poetic irony of Vinod letting himself die to bring about peace by calming Anupam, and instead causing his father to take up the feud as soon as Anupam drops it! But no, Anupam was already pretty calm, and Sunil was already a psychopath, so why would Vinod ever think dying at the hands of Anupam would bring about peace?
And then the end-end resolution is that Sunil sees his son suddenly in both Aamir and Saif just as they are about to kill each other, so he throws himself into the middle and dies as both their bullets hit him. Huh? How could he move that fast? Is he secretly Superman, “faster than a speeding bullet”? Also, are we supposed to be touched by his sacrifice? The man is just cleaning up the mess he made himself! Plus, one super old guy dies and we are supposed to be sad, but all those random gypsies died 20 years ago and we haven’t heard about it since? And most of all, the “special effect” of having Vinod show up at the end wearing Saif/Aamir’s clothes looked incredibly stupid.
It’s just a baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad movie, is what I am saying. A bad bad movie. Really, no redeeming features. Well, I guess this one song was cute. But otherwise, baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad.