This is the last Sridevi daily review. Not the last review, I am sure I will continue watching her movies, but the last special review. As I said in my earlier post, I don’t want to feel that I am dragging this out, that her death is over-shadowing her life, and so it’s time to move back to a regular blog schedule. But first, ChaalBaaz!
I knew going in that this was a remake of Seeta Aur Geeta but with Sridevi instead of Hema Malini. And that’s what I expected, the exact same movie with only the heroine changed. And it wasn’t that at all!
This is really a different movie, as different from Seeta Aur Geeta as it was from Ram Aur Shyam. Because, yes, Sridevi is different from Hema. But also the late 80s were different from the early 70s. And Sunny Deol is not Sanjeev Kumar and Rajinikanth is not Dharmendra. And Pankaj Parashar is definitely not Ramesh Sippy.
Seeta Aur Geeta is a wonderful children’s movie. It’s enjoyable for adults, yes, but I have to kind of turn off the grown up part of my brain to enjoy it. The villains are caricatures with silly make-up, the heroine goes roller skating on her first date, and works in a street circus. Climbs up on a lamp, swings from trees, fights with a sword. She is everything I would have wanted to be when I was 6 years old, and her life has all the excitement and stories that I would have enjoyed and understood at that age. But Sridevi in ChaalBaaz plays a heroine I would want to be at 16.
In ChaalBaaz, the villains are truly villainous. Not just “boo-hiss!” villains, but nasty and brutal and with a cruelty that is all too believable. The first date is getting drunk together at a bar. Our heroine is a sexy dancer and strippers. Her special skills are dirty fighting techniques and being sexy. Everything is slightly grittier, sexier, and just plain stronger.
But still fun! This isn’t a dark and gritty movie, this is a light and gritty movie. True love triumphs, bad guys are punished, there are some glorious fight scenes, and so on and so on. And the cast is magnificent!
It’s not just Sridevi (although she is the headliner) but also young Sunny Deol, Rajinikanth, Anupam Kher, and Rohini Hattangadi. They all have a kind of rawness onscreen, a willingness to go a little bit too far in order to entertain, which is marvelously refreshing. And all without taking the drama too far, without making us feel like they have lost their ability to smile.
This is the world you would want to escape to when you are 16 because it has all the best bits of the adult world, the fun sexiness, the satisfying fight scenes, the alcohol, without the sad dark overwhelming parts. Relationships are straight-forward and easy to understand. Being “poor” just means scamming for money, not going to bed hungry. Or even worrying about money, money is just a thing to wave around, it doesn’t mean much. The only things that matter are the relationships, and even they don’t matter a whole lot.
This entire film plot is predicated on the idea that one man’s meat is another man’s poison, if you traded places with someone else you might discover all their problems seemed small while they found all yours easy. That’s the most hopeful and fun thing about it, thinking that if only you had someone to come in with fresh eyes, everything in your life that seemed impossible is actually simple. And that, the most important part, that they did keep from Seeta Aur Geeta.
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The basic plot of Ram Aur Shyam, Seeta Aur Geeta, and ChaalBaaz is a brilliant twist on “prince and pauper”. Identical twins are born to a wealthy couple. One twin is taken away and raised by a poor woman, growing up carefree and brave and spunky. And the other is raised in a mansion but, after the death of her parents, is abused mentally and physically by her horrible relatives until all her confidence is gone. Then, as adults, they are mistaken for each other and trade places. The poor twin is happy to stay in the mansion and easily dominates the evil relatives into respecting her/him. The rich twin is happy to have escaped the abuse and found the poor twin’s friends and family who love him/her.
What’s clever about this is that the lesson is that the poor person is actually better off. Money can’t bring happiness. Or, rather, money can’t guarantee happiness. You would think that the twin raised by its biological family with loads of money would be better off than the twin who was kidnapped and raised in poverty by strangers. But what makes the difference is their internal personalities, and the people who are around them. The poor twin is raised by a kidnapper, but a kidnapper who loves him/her. And in a world that they feel like they can control, where they have grown up strong and confident and brave no matter what occurs. The purpose of this plot is for the poor twin to rescue the rich twin, set their world right. Not for the poor twin to receive their rightful inheritance.
And then there’s the romance part of it! Another clever thing. In a sort of backwards way, these plots are a confirmation that a man and woman CAN just be friends. Because before the switch, the poor twin has a friendly caring relationship with a neighbor boy. With lots of fighting and no romance. It is only after the switch that something changes and they fall in love. Another nice thing is that the lesson isn’t “change yourself so he will love you” but rather “stay yourself and find a guy who loves that even if it means you end up accidentally taking the identity of your secret twin”.
So, all of that is the same no matter which version you are watching. Here’s what’s different about this one! First, like I said, Sridevi is a straight up sex dancer item girl. There’s no bones made about it, Rajinikanth is her friend and agent/pimp, he picks up out of towners in his cab and talks up the super sexy dancer he knows. Sridevi is also a cheerful grifter, talking the men she owes money to into forgiving her debts and giving her money by pretending to be dying. And she has no guilt! For any of this! She is what she is and that’s all.
What’s also different is that the other Sridevi isn’t exactly a boring “good girl”. She also loves to dance, can’t stop dancing when she hears music. And Sridevi manages to give to the performance a special touch of something that shows she wants to fight back, she has spirit inside her, if only she could overcome her fear long enough to let it loose.
Biggest difference between Seeta Aur Geeta and this one is the change to the Sanjeev Kumar/Dharmendra character and romance. In the Hema Malini version, Sanjeev is a charming suave doctor. The softer slower person to balance Hema’s impulsive energy. But in this version, Dharmendra and Sridevi are two peas in a pod. He may be a rich boy who was engaged to her as a child (well, the other Sridevi), but he is also just as lowclass and wild as she is. He drinks, he fights, he hangs out in lowclass bars. It’s not a match between a lowclass girl and upperclass boy, it’s a match between two peas in a pod.
It’s the other match that is the different one. Shy sweet Sridevi and rowdy drinker Rajinikanth. But then end up meeting in the middle. Sweet Sridevi finds her confidence and spunk in imitation of him, and he softens and becomes a more decent man thanks to her.
(Strangely, Rajinikanth’s nutty exorcism actually helps! At least in giving her some backbone as she realizes that things could be worse and she might as well dance it out)
Rounding out our cast of couples are Anupam Kher and Rohini Hattangadi. And once again, a perfect match! Anupam is the evil relative who took over Sridevi’s trust. And Rohini is the evil woman he brought in to help her. They work together to steal Sridevi’s money, but they don’t trust each other. They may (possibly) be sleeping together, but they still don’t trust each other. It’s a complicated dark sick relationship, very different from the straight forward married uncle and aunt and spoiled cousin dynamic in the 70s version.
The abuse is also very different. Anupam’s whipping and hitting of Sridevi isn’t cartoonishly evil, it’s disturbingly evil. And of course Shakti Kapoor is there too, at first as a humorous new relative, and then as a potential rapist. Until, finally, the thing which made me go “this movie is too scary for children!”, Shakti cuts off Sridevi’s dog’s head and puts it in her bed. NOOOOOOO! It’s just so EVIL.
But, to balance it, we have a real feeling that this Sridevi, the “good” one, is being rescued. The “bad” Sridevi doesn’t just stay in that house because it is a nice house, but because she senses there is something evil there that she must defeat. And later, she feels sincere guilt and concern for the woman whose identity she has taken. And finally, she gets to meet her sister and declare her determination to rescue and avenge her. “Bad” Sridevi is our strong hero, and “good” Sridevi is the one she will rescue.
Oh, and to balance the sick sexual stuff going on with the “evil” ones, we have a very healthy sexual relationship between Sridevi and Sunny Deol. They meet, they drink together, they dance together, Sunny happily goes home wearing her little hat. They meet again, Sunny pretends an injury to have an excuse to stay at the mansion with her, Sridevi cheerfully goes along with it. And then, when he won’t make a movie, takes the initiative and goes into his room in the middle of the night. They are in love, they are enjoying each other, there is nothing wrong with that.
(I am sure the fantasy song represents them chastely cuddling all night)
The only guilt Sridevi feels is when she begins to think that she may have taken Sunny Deol from her doppelganger. It’s not guilt over having sex with him, or enjoying sex with him, just over taking that healthy enjoyment away from another woman. And that’s also the only thing she doesn’t want to give up.
Really this is a remarkably romantic movie! Sexy “bad” Sridevi has no problem thinking about giving up the big house and the money or anything else, but she can’t imagine giving up Sunny Deol. “Good” Sridevi is terrified when she runs away and ends up in “bad” Sridevi’s life, but she also instinctively turns towards Rajinikanth for safety. And she finds total happiness when he asks her to marry him.
The biggest conflict, in the end, isn’t between Anupam and the Sridevis, but rather between Sridevi and Rajinikanth and Sunny Deol. Sunny sees the other Sridevi with Rajinikanth and is heartbroken and breaks it off with Sridevi. She is heartbroken as well and ready to do anything to get him back. Rajinikanth, meanwhile, sees the “bad” Sridevi and thinks it is his new “good” Sridevi and tries to do anything she wants to cheer her up, while also being disturbed because he senses she isn’t the woman he fell in love with any more. The romantic complications being resolved feels like the real ending, the final fight scene (complete with Rajinikanth chasing on a bicycle!) is just an epilogue.
Oh, and then there is the real epilogue, the reveal that both couples got married, got pregnant, and both Sridevis had twins. Much better than the wife/bedroom mix-up in the 1970s version!