I already reposted everything already in the archives, for at least the next few days I will also put up new reviews. Sorry, mostly Hindi, they are just more easily available, and/or I have already watched them and can review without needing to set aside time to watch. (all Sridevi reviews here)
This is such a wonderful movie. And there really isn’t anything else like it. It’s more than a Sridevi movie, it’s a superhero movie, an Amrish Puri movie, a Shekhar Kapur movie, a Salim-Javed movie, a kids movie, a romantic movie, and an everything at once movie. Every element on its own is perfect, and then it fits together perfectly. In a totally original way.
I’ll start with Salim-Javed. This is their last film together. They are, of course, the greatest scriptwriters in the history of Indian film. They had split up in 1982 and gone their separate ways, but this script had been written earlier and was finally made in 1987, giving us a miracle of one last Salim-Javed touch of brilliance.
In their earlier films, Salim-Javed had been on set off and on, helping directors and actors correctly craft their vision. This film was the exception. Similar to their first film, Haathi Mere Saathi, they did not have full control. And like Haathi Mere Saathi, something magical resulted. The strong underlying story was there, but on top of it was added the director’s vision, the concepts of the characters from the actors, and the special magic dust of the 1980s extremism. That is, the open to anything attitude of the industry in the 1980s since no particular formula seemed a guaranteed success.
And then there’s Shekhar Kapur! Such an odd director. Masoom, a sensitive realistic film about an illegitimate little boy, was his first movie. And then 4 years later, this, a very unrealistic film with no real world problems at all. Followed by Bandit Queen, a dark hard film based on a true story. And then Elizabeth, the massive Oscar nominated Western historical film. And another western one, The Four Feathers. And finally, Elizabeth: The Golden Age.
(I want a version of Elizabeth in which Cate Blanchett randomly does this song number)
The first two are sort of connected, both of them stories based on around children. And then Mr. India to Bandit Queen I can draw a connection because they both have such strong female characters. Bandit Queen to Elizabeth, both Queens. The Four Feathers, a massive historic epic like Elizabeth. You can draw some vague connections. But there is no real over-arching theme.
The only theme, really, is a complete commitment to the appropriate vision for this particular story. If it is a small human drama, he will cast no stars and make sure the house, the clothes, everything is done on a human level. If it is a massive story about a great Queen, he will spare no expense in bringing it to the screen in an appropriate level. And if it is this movie, a somewhat silly superhero film, he will fully embrace the silliness. Shekhar took Salim-Javed’s script, found the best possible way to present it, and then brought everyone else together to perfectly embody his vision.
Amrish Puri, Anil Kapoor, and Sridevi are central to the success of this film. And they are all perfectly cast. Amrish, the rising villain actor, fully committed to his megalomaniacal supervillain, his “Mogambo Khush Hua” was justifiably famous and his most identifiable line. Anil Kapoor was a different kind of hero. A superhero, yes, but one who wanted to live happily in his house with his orphans. Who was happiest when he was playing a children’s game on the beach with his kids, not beating up bad guys. Who in fact hardly ever beat up bad guys, his “superpower” was not an aggressive one. And with Anil Kapoor, we can believe this. He doesn’t seem like a “coward”, or a cheat, or any of those things. Just a guy who is doing the best he can and loves children.
And then there’s Sridevi. With any other actress, her character would be impossible. An ambitious reporter who hates children, hates Anil Kapoor, and longs for the “Mr. India” superhero. But with Sridevi, there is more to it. She is delightfully human. We love her for her faults and cheer on and believe in her virtues.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
In broad outlines, the plot is actually fairly simple. Anil Kapoor is a musician who lives in a house on the beach with the many many orphans he has adopted. He inherits from his scientist father a watch which can turn him invisible. Only he and the oldest orphan know of this. At the same time, they are rapidly running out of money to pay the grocery bills, so they rent out the upstairs room to Sridevi, aggressive female reporter, after lying to her that there are no children in the house. She makes them give back the rent money and plans to move out. But then sees the children hungry as there is no more food in the house, and softens, and goes out to buy food and surprise them.
Meanwhile, evil Mogambo in his underground hide out is planning to take over the world. Sridevi, intrepid reporter, sneaks into one of his parties in disguise and Anil Kapoor as Mr. India rescues her. She falls in love with Mr. India and sings his praises to her landlord friend Anil Kapoor who just smiles and enjoys the misunderstanding. Both Mr. India and Sridevi continue to investigate Mogambo, who finally figures out that there is a connection to Anil and Mr. India and plants bombs disguised as children’s toys at his house, and his youngest orphan, a tiny little girl, picks one up and is killed. Anil is furious and inconsolable, everyone is upset. Mogambo has them kidnapped and brought to his hide out to try to force them to reveal the identity of “Mr. India” not realizing that it is in fact Anil who he has kidnapped. Anil and Sridevi and the children escape using Anil’s powers of invisibility and defeat Mogambo. HAPPY ENDING.
For most of this film, the heroics are not done by the title character, but rather by Sridevi. She is the one who first identifies the villain, she is the one rushing in to danger, she is the one going undercover, she is even the one declaring her love first. And meanwhile, Anil stands by in maidenly shyness and demureness, letting life happen to him.
But Sridevi does all of this without giving up her innate femininity. She is not “playing” a man, she is a woman, emotional and happy and flirtatious and all the rest of it. Just a woman who also doesn’t like children and wants to succeed in her job. And has a full and happy romantic life and normal healthy desires.
In the same way, Anil has not lost his innate manliness. He loves his kids, he prefers to stand by and let Sridevi woo him instead of taking the lead, and his super power is more defensive than offensive. But that doesn’t mean he can’t get angry, and that doesn’t mean he can’t defend his family. Just, in his own way.
And both of them play it with the right amount of lightness. This is, primarily, a children’s film. And so their romance, their investigations, the whole thing is handled in a way a child could understand. Not talking down to them, but keeping things simple and straightforward. There are good people and bad people, love is love with no misunderstandings or shadings to it, a happy day is playing on the beach and a bad day is being trapped in an evil lair.
It’s done in a way child can understand, but also a way an adult can enjoy. It’s not that there are “hidden” adult jokes in it, no extra layers to it, it is just that the essential content and story are so simple and yet so enjoyable! Neither Sridevi nor Anil are phoning it in, are treating their simple plot in a simple way, but with full energy and interest and commitment. And the same is true for everyone else involved in the film. The costumes, the sets, the special effects, it is all just a delight, you can tell they had fun working on them and were committed to doing them well.
And that’s why it is so unusual, and so long lasting. A film with a unique vision, a children’s story made by serious adults, and with full commitment on everyone involved to that vision. And with a perfect combination of talents, writers to director to stars.
The thing is, this is the rare movie that Sridevi was in which isn’t a “Sridevi movie”. She is wonderful in it, as wonderful as always, but she is within a movie so wonderful that she can’t really dominate it the way she usually does. It’s a Sridevi movie, but also a Shekhar Kapur movie, an Amrish Puri movie, an Anil Kapoor movie. It’s Mr. India, it’s everything!