Another Salman classic! Baaghi, a movie he wrote himself. And featuring another really really good performance from him.
I was watching this thing thinking “okay, saw that in Sadak, saw that, saw that.” And then I looked up the years, and Baaghi was first! Sadak gets the mentions as this really cool deep love story, but it’s just doing what Baaghi did already. Okay, so Sadak is doing it better (because Mahesh Bhatt > Deepak Shivdasani), but still, Baaghi did it first!
A while ago, I was talking about how Demi Moore’s “Indian” movie was supposed to be a big deal because it dealt with human trafficking, but that is obviously silly because there are so many other Indian films that deal with human trafficking. But they deal with it as it is experienced by the victims and their loved ones, not through the lens of some kind of social crusader.
(Do you remember the set up for this? Ranbir is helping a bunch of earnest documentarians, and none of the sex workers want to talk to them, but then Ranbir starts flirting and joking and treating them as people, and everyone loosens up)
Which is what Baaghi does! It looks at sex slavery through the lens of an innocent girl who got sucked into it, and the boy who falls in love with her. No one involved is completely “pure” and no one involved is completely “corrupted.” Well, that’s not quite right, our heroine is pure, and our villain is corrupt, but everyone else exists on a continuum. Even our hero is mostly good, but he did originally meet our heroine when visiting a brothel, so he’s not 100% blameless.
This is a much better message, to me, than the crusading rescuer kind of films. No one is going to identify themselves as the villain in those films, and be inspired to reform. And no one is going to think they can live up to the example set by the hero and try to save anyone.
But Baaghi is saying that anyone can be a hero, just be open to seeing someone as a human person and caring for them. And that anyone can reform, the madam and the pimp are part of a larger system and it isn’t just black and white. Well, except for Shakti Kapoor. He’s just eeeeeeeeeeevil and he always is! (except in Hum Saath Saath Hain. I kept waiting for him to reveal his dark side in that, and no! He’s truly just a good guy!)
(So odd seeing him being a happy wedding guest, instead of the evil uncle forcing the marriage to happen against the bride’s will!)
Baaghi is also just a really nice movie. It’s from back when Salman was a little baby superstar, and he had this amazing rawness and sincerity onscreen. I mean, he still does sometimes today, but it’s not as brilliant and sort of uncontrolled as it was back in the day. It makes his young romances especially powerful, because you really feel the passionate highs and lows, and instant connection, that teenage romances can have.
That’s the big, I don’t want to say “hook” exactly, but catalyst maybe, for this film. Because Salman is so young, too young to really think about anything or be able to stop his emotions from running forward, he falls in love with a very inappropriate person. And because she is so young, she isn’t able to resist him, or even think that she should. And the fact is, in their careless thoughtless youth, they are actually seeing the world more clearly than the more mature people around them, who have been blinded by accepting “how things are.”
Normally when a romantic young couple says “You just don’t understand!!!”, I kind of roll my eyes, because either the couple is being ridiculously dramatic, or the parents (or whoever else it is that is forbidding their union) are being ridiculously evil. But Baaghi managed to come up with a situation in which I can kind of see both sides.
On the one hand, your son rescuing a girl from a brothel and bringing her home, announcing this is his to-be-wife, is really something that you need a few minutes to process. And Salman doesn’t exactly give them a long time to get used to the idea before storming out.
But on the other hand, it’s also wrong to throw a girl away and mark her as damaged goods because she was kidnapped and forced into sex slavery. And in the clear-eyed youthful side of things, that fact should be so obvious, that there is no need to slow down and think about society or anything else before charging forward to what is so obviously the correct solution.
That’s what I like about the message of this film, it’s not people sitting down and arguing out the facts of the case and the right and wrong of the morals, it’s saying that the right thing is also the natural thing, the thing that you instinctively want to do. And the “bad” people have to constantly kill their natural urges in order to keep doing their villainy. Humanity doesn’t tend towards evil, it tends towards good. Again, excepting Shakti Kapoor (by the way, it is super strange watching this thinking about his real life casting couch scandal).
I mentioned that I still prefer Sadak by a narrow margin, I think that is because Sadak went a little further in looking at how these natural instincts can break through, even past a bad beginning. In Baaghi, they are ultimately good, the heroine was tricked into prostitution, our hero is a young college boy with a bright future who only drives a taxi at night to raise money. But in Sadak, her uncle knowingly sold her into prostitution, and our hero really is a taxi driver. They are more flowers growing among weeds, then flowers momentarily plucked and placed among the weeds before returning to their own kind. Also, as I said, better director. I mean, this film is fine, workmanlike, acceptable. But Sadak has flashes of real brilliance in it.
(Plus, while Sadak has the same virgin prostitute heroine and innocent hero, the second hero and heroine are a prostitute and her former client, no prevarications)
Mostly though, I like this film for how straightforward the last half of it is, especially the ending sequence. Which means I have to get into SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
Right, Salman is a young college boy, son of an army officer. He is growing increasingly estranged from his father, as he doesn’t want to join the army after graduation, but he also hasn’t quite built up the courage to tell him. This is a seemingly pointless backstory, but it helps establish the baseline that Salman is looking for a purpose in life, he knows what he doesn’t want, but not yet what he does want.
As he travels to join his family and start college, he glimpses a girl sitting in the window of a bus. They look at each other and have a moment of instant connection. It’s a very nice visual metaphor for the rest of the film, two young people on two very different tracks who meet randomly in the middle.
Salman joins the college and has the usual college hijinks (including being forced to run around in a bikini, images that I am shocked don’t pop up on the internet more often!). But the college hijinks are important, for showing that Salman is slowly fighting towards finding his own place and his own community outside of being his father’s son. And as part of this, his friends encourage him to come with them on an adventure into the red light district.
Going to the red light district is not treated as a huge sin they are doing, or something dramatically rebellious. But it’s also not an everyday event. They are a little nervous and a little excited, and it is clear (at least, to me) that they aren’t actually planning to pay for services at a brothel, they are just excited about the idea of visiting one and seeing what it is like. The film could have chosen to go another way, to make Salman be tricked or drugged or come up with some other elaborate blameless way for him to get there. But I like it better this way, acknowledging that red light districts are a fact of life, and college boys are curious about them, and that’s all it can take for this “good boy” to suddenly end up somewhere he shouldn’t be.
And all it takes for him to fall hopelessly in love with Nagma is to see her, tearstained and bruised on the floor of a room, and bring her a glass of water. He doesn’t need a big explanation that of course she is an innocent victim who didn’t choose sex work, or to see her as a vision of beauty, he just needs to be a young man seeing a young girl, and liking her. And vice versa as well, she just needs to see a young man who is kind to her, and that’s all.
In Pakeezah, there is this HUGE deal over Meena Kumari giving up her heritage of prostitution and allowing herself to feel something and etc. etc. And similarly, this HUGE deal of a young man from a good family being so noble he can look past her family. It’s a classic brilliant movie of course. And it’s talking about a different time and a different place. But it’s also another story of a prostitute (even if she hasn’t yet “sold her virginity”) and a young man of good family falling in love. And it’s told with all of this agonizing back and forth over if she feels good enough for him, and if he can ever see her that way, and so on and so on.
(See how she runs at the end, when the train whistle reminds her of her true love?)
But in Baaghi, they are just young human people who fall in love and never even realize there are consequences, let alone think about them. They both leap in feet first right away, despite her being a prisoner in a brothel and him being a college student with no plans or prospects. And rather than the world teaching them to be more serious, they teach the world to be more hopeful.
(Look at them, just having a sweet first date, not caring that he had to raise the money to pay the Madam to be allowed to take her out)
One of my favorite characters is the brothel madam, Asha Sachdev. She starts out seeming like any other Madam, lounging around and trying to talk sense into her girls. But slowly, you see her tenderness, her real concern over Nagma’s broken heart and her wish that the young people could be happy. She’s just as trapped as Nagma, and just trying to do what little good she can in the position she has. And in the end, when she decides to “rebel” just as much as the young people, she dies for her kindness.
Oh right, that’s the title “Baaghi: A Rebel for Love”. It’s kind of a boring title if you think of it as applying to Salman. Or even Salman and Nagma. Because isn’t every other Indian romance about the hero and heroine rebelling because they fall in love? But it’s a really interesting title if you think of it as applying to everyone else.
There’s Asha Sachdev, who eventually rebels against Shakti Kapoor’s dictates because she grows to care for Nagma, and believe in her love story with Salman. There’s the Pimp (who I can’t find the name of the actor) who starts out completely evil, ready to “break in” Nagma to the life of a prostitute. But then we learn he was raised by Shakti Kapoor and has no one else, and more importantly is only doing these things to help take care of his sister. And when she is raped and kills herself, the Pimp turns into a rebel too, for the love of his sister. And finally even Salman’s very proper father Kiran Kumar turns into a rebel, for the love of his son, when he learns that Salman and Nagma are fighting it out against Shakti in the red light district.