SUCH A GOOD MOVIE!!!! If you like that kind of thing. If I say that the finale has a woman giving birth in a burning house in the middle of a gunfight, does that make you happy or sad? What if I tell you that they all escape the burning house into a burning car in which there is a high speed chase and explosion while she is STILL giving birth? And it ends at a brothel where prostitutes serve as helpful midwives? Is your response “that is so illogical it makes me angry” or “that is so illogical it makes me happy”?
This is the best of the 90s. In every way. The plot has a lot of plot in it, Tabu does an item song, Karisma’s eyebrows are natural, Salman is stunningly beautiful, Sunny takes off his shirt, and the villains are Evil Global Capitalists. Oh, and Jonny Lever is a goodhearted eunuch and actually funny. Also, the two female characters both have loads of sexual agency and are never punished for it.
This is a completely insane movie, with a plot that twists and turns scene by scene. But, on the other hand, it is also remarkably consistent in terms of morals. Doing things for money is bad, doing things because you care about people is good. A woman falling in love is good, a woman being punished for being in love is bad. Even the characters make sense! Yes, their actions are over the top and they all tend to speak out their explicit motivations and feelings directly to the camera, but little stuff like Karisma and Salman both being motherless and Tabu and Jonny’s relationship all kind of works to explain their actions.
It’s also a throwback to the Hindi film industry that used to exist in the 90s. The director Raj Kumwar was never super famous, or an “auteur” with a particular style, but he made good solid movies and several of them were hits. Back in the day you could be just a good solid director, keep your head down and keep working. Instead of all this pressure to make each film new and different and a hit. Good songs too, by top composers at the time Nadeem-Shravan. And a major cast, Sunny and Salman and Tabu and Karisma, plus Jonny Lever and Dalip Tahil and Alok Nath and Amrish Puri. Everyone was working long days for small money, they didn’t have to take time out for promotions and interviews and red carpet appearances and all that other nonsense, and they could just make a lot of solid strong movies.
Strong, solid, filling movies. You know that feeling when you watch a film and there is so much plot, and so many characters, and so many songs, and it’s just so long, and when it is over you feel like you have had the Thanksgiving dinner equivalent of a cinematic experience? This is one of those movies. Versus the current films which feel like the low fat diet salad experience of movie going.
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Such a great crazy plot! Sunny is “bad” and kills people for Amrish Puri. Alok Nath and his daughter Karisma witness one of his murders and Sunny comes to their house to kill Alok. But then sees Karisma and falls in love at first sight and just walks away. He starts stalking Karisma and she is scared and hates him and files a police report. The police arrest and torture him, and Tabu the prostitute who is in love with him bails him out along with her friend Jonny Lever the Eunuch. Karisma finally confronts him at a temple and declares that he is a horrible person and she hates him, and he goes away. He feels bad about himself and tries to be better by turning his back on violence and adopting a Small Child. Later he sees Karisma being harassed on a bus and beats up her harasses. Karisma starts wondering about him and befriends Small Child and asks questions and learns that Sunny was beaten by the police and still loves her, that he is trying to be a good guy, and that he has decided to stop stalking her since she told him off. She goes to him and offers to be his friend and help him be a better person. As they spend time together, she starts to fall in love and finally confesses her love and swears she will always be true. And then Salman arrives. Wealthy, nice, old friend of the family and son of Dalip Tahil. The fathers agreed years ago that their children would be married, Salman and Karisma are good friends and like each other, what could go wrong? Karisma finally tells Alok that she is in love, with the guy who tried to kill him. Alok is upset and has a heart attack. To make her dying father happy, Karisma agrees to marry Salman. And tells Sunny off and declares she doesn’t love him when he comes to the house. Sunny at first plans to kill Salman and take Karisma, but then sees them together and realizes Karisma would be upset at Salman’s death and so lets them marry. INTERVAL
In the second half, Karisma is still sad at first but tries to hide it from Salman because he is so in love, and explains that he was lonely and sad since his mother died years ago and dreamed of the day he would marry Karisma and have someone who loved him and for him to love again. And then they have sex and Sex Fixes Everything. Karisma is now all about her husband and having sex with him and super super super happy. They return to India, Sunny tracks them down and comes to kill Salman but sees Karisma dressed as a married woman and changes his mind. Salman is made head of his father’s company, and then told that their company is actually Evil and his father is working with his Evil uncle Amrish Puri to bring Evil things into India (smuggling? drugs? guns? it’s unclear, but it is Evil). Karisma, now pregnant, overhears the conversation and threatens Salman that she will kill herself (and the fetus) if he does Bad Things. Salman of course declares he won’t do Bad Things and walks out of the mansion with Karisma to go live in a hut. Sunny is hired by Amrish to kill Salman, but stops when he sees Karisma and realizes they love each other and instead declares he will protect them. Sunny saves Salman’s life and when Karisma thanks him, Salman overhears and learns of their love affair. He declares Sunny is a friend for life and that Karisma is awesome for turning her back on her love in order to marry him and they will name their baby after Sunny. Final fight scene, the Bad People set fire to Karisma and Salman’s house, which starts Karisma going into labor, as Sunny and Salman get involved in a gun battle while also trying to help her escape the burning house. They take off in a burning car for a big car chase that ends in the red light district, where Tabu rushes out to take Karisma into the brothel to help her give birth and Sunny and Salman continue the gun battle outside, ending with Sunny leaping in front of Salman to save his life and dying. Final shot of the film, Karisma wakes up after labor and asks “where’s Sunny?” To which Salman says “Sunny is here” and holds out their baby, indicating that Sunny’s spirit has been reborn in their child. HAPPY ENDING.
I hadn’t watched this movie in several years and I kind of figured I had exaggerated it’s quality in my mind. I had NOT!!!! Let’s start with Karisma’s emotional journey. Her love for Sunny makes total sense, he is hot and muscle-y and saves her from harassers, and is trying to be a better person for her, and he also never actually sexually attacks her. He kills someone in front of her and later attacks her father, but he does not lay a hand on Karisma or even threaten to lay a hand on her. This isn’t a love story of “he forced me to love him”, this is a love story of “hot dangerous bad boy who swears he will be healed by my love”. What woman can resist that?
But on the other hand, is it actually a good idea to marry the hot dangerous bad boy who swears he will be healed by my love? NO! That is a terrible idea! Have your passionate bad-idea relationship, and then grow up and marry someone better for you. Which is what Karisma does. Largely because her father forces her, but in this one case that forcing is actually kind of good parenting?
Alok isn’t against Sunny because he is “poor” or just because it is a love match, but because Sunny is a hired killer who killed a man in front of him! This is a terrible choice for your daughter. And on the other hand, Salman isn’t his choice because he is rich or anything like that. Salman and Karisma know each other well and have fun together, Salman is sweetly caring and in love with her, and also Salman is a stable educated and so on kind of person. Alok is totally right that Karisma will have a better life married to Salman, and also that she will be able to forget Sunny (no matter how dramatic she is now about her whole “first love”).
And how does Karisma forget Sunny? SEX! Sex is awesome! And it makes any kind of hand holding eye gazing teenage love story go back into perspective as the shallow infatuation it was. I love it when Indian movies get sex right. It doesn’t mean everything in the world, but it does mean something, and it can change things in an almost magical way. Karisma and Salman here, Raakhee and Shashi in Kabhi Kabhi, Madhoo and Arvind in Roja, there’s lots of movies that make it clear that the awkward arranged marriage couple is immediately closer and happier once that first night has happened. Because sex is fun, and sex makes you comfortable with each other, and real actual sex makes you go “huh. That thing I thought was True Love was actually hormones and me wanting sex, and now that I have had actual sex, I don’t care about that person any more”.
Of course it only works like that if you and your sex partner also like and care about each other enough to make the sex good. And again, this movie hits it just right. Salman and Karisma already know each other well, we see them joking together and stuff. And then on the honeymoon Salman really opens up and talks about his dead mother and feeling lonely and stuff, and introduces Karisma to his friends, and takes her out on fun outings, and they get to know each other on a whole new level. And THEN they have sex. That’s a choice the director made, he could have done like Kabhi Kabhi and taken it straight to the bedroom as though one night fixes everything. But instead he made sure we saw that Salman and Karisma had days and days and days together being progressively happier and closer before the sex happened.
By the time they return to India and Karisma is confronted with Sunny, her reaction is pure fear and desire for her husband. And I can believe that! Just because a woman swore to love a man forever and ever doesn’t mean she can’t change her mind. Sunny was her past, now she loves Salman and Sunny has turned weird and scary. She comes back around on him because he proves he is still a good person at heart and protects her husband. She doesn’t fall back in love, she finds a way to like him in a new way because women can do that too, have a setting between love and hate. What makes this whole emotional journey really awesome is that, by the end of the film, both Sunny and Salman understand and respect her choices. Salman learns she was in love with Sunny before marriage and appreciates her post-marriage love even more now that he knows she had overcome feelings for someone else. Sunny understands that she loves Salman now and still loves her as a person for how strong she is and how strong her love is.
Karisma’s no judgement emotional journey is my favorite part, but there is so much else that is good. Let’s talk morality, for instance. First, there is a belief that everyone is redeemable. Sunny is a killer, but seeing Karisma’s reaction to him makes him re-evaluate his life and change and grow. And then regress and grow again. Salman is a nice man who has never faced conflict, but when he learns his father is doing wrong, he immediately reacts with horror and rejects him entirely. He grows from a somewhat sheltered youth to someone willing to burn down warehouses if it is the right thing to do. Salman is redeemed for enjoying wealth at the price of abusing the poor. And then the reverse, the true evil comes from those who are offered the chance to do the right thing and reject it over and over again. Salman’s father Dalip Tahil knows what he is doing is wrong and yet he keeps doing it. Amrish Puri doesn’t just know it is wrong, he glories in being wrong. That is why they must die. On the other hand, Sunny’s sins are really really bad. It wouldn’t be right for him to just get Karisma and be happy. It is right that he dies in an attempt to undo the wrong he has done in the past. But also right that Salman and Karisma choose to remember the good instead of the bad.
Heck, let’s talk Tabu and Jonny! Jonny is a Eunuch and a loyal friend. This isn’t the usual abusive brothel relationship. Tabu doesn’t like her profession and isn’t happy, but she also isn’t beating herself up for being “immoral”, and the people around her aren’t forcing her into it any more than pure circumstances are forcing her. And she’s a good person! A good dignified person whose tragic love story with Sunny is treated as seriously as all the other stories.
Plus the costumes are great, plus the heroines wear almost no make-up and look amazing on camera, far more interesting than the washed out brushed down look now. Along those same lines, Sunny proudly reveals his massive natural hairy body, no gym muscles or waxing allowed. And there are 7 separate songs, each with a full length video including costume changes and dancing. And there are multiple crazy action sequences with explosions. Oh, and Amrish Puri has a weird hair wig thing happening!
Truly, if you like 90s Hindi cinema, this is the best of everything.