Review Himmatwala: Ajay Devgn manages to get it in a couple of moments

Himmatwala
Cast: Ajay Devgn, Tamannah, Paresh Rawal, Mahesh Manjrekar, Zarina Wahab

Director: Sajid Khan

The Indian Express rating: * ˝

At the end of two excruciating hours, the questions I had carried into the theatre remained unanswered. Why remake Himmatwala, which wasn't exactly scintillating cinema in the first place? What were the studios, producers, directors and stars thinking? And last, but not, as they say, the least, when, oh when will Bollywood's blind love affair with the 80s masala movies get over?

The Himmatwala of 1983, itself a remake of a Telugu blockbuster, was a comic actioner typical of its era. Villages with their 'bechara gaonwalas' and evil thakurs were leaving Bollywood's landscape, but slowly. So Jeetendra and Sridevi did jhatkas on beaches filled with techni-coloured matkas. One classic scene had the nicely- filled out Sri in a one-piece swimming costume squealing loudly in a pond with her sahelis. In other places, Sridevi wore tight 'pedal-pushers' (remember those?). And Jeetu in his high-waisted trousers and white shoes matched steps with Sri, and rescued his 'dukhiyari' 'ma' and long-suffering 'behen' and the put-upon villagers from their sad fate.

The new Himmatwala, with practically the same plot, and a lot of the same lines and situations, gives us Ajay Devgn and Tamannah as the brave Ravi and his lady love Rekha, Mahesh Manjrekar as the cruel 'sarpanch' and Paresh Rawal as his sidekick ( those with long memories will remember Amjad Khan and Kadar Khan in these roles). Instead of Waheeda Rehman, we get Zarina Wahab as the sobbing mother. And a film that is hard to sit through, not because it is all actively ghastly, but because it is so deathly listless. When I was not cringing, I was dozing.

Just like in the older movie, this one begins with Ravi ( Devgn) returning to his village after a long absence to find his mother ( Wahab) and sister in a sorry state. Even those who haven't seen the original, will know how this will pan out : the hero, who is called 'himmatwala' by himself and by others every two minutes lest we forget, will bash up the baddies and sort things out. He will go up bare-handed against twenty men and fight a tiger, and roar and snarl when he is not prancing and clowning. Devgn is all right when he dead pans, but shaking a leg is still not his thing. And seriously, a song that uses little kids to kick people on the butt? Or, 'bum pe laat' as it so delicately puts it? And showing a young woman being slapped and whipped and humiliated with great enthusiasm, with the 'doli' and 'arthi' dialogue thrown in?

I expected Himmatwala to be predictable, not only because I have faint memories of the older film, but because it follows such a template. I also expected it to be annoying, and it doesn't disappoint on both scores. But I didn't think it would be so dull. There's a spot when Devgn, blood dripping from his hand, tells his leading lady: 'yeh 1983 hai yaar, dupatta phaado aur baandh do'. We smile at this line. Because it is a smart send-up of the films we used to love despite themselves. If this Himmatwala had adopted that tone and kept it flowing through the film, it would have been something to watch. Devgn manages to get it in a couple of moments, but only in a couple.

In the rest, it needs all your courage. Hai himmat?

shubhra.gupta@expressindia.com

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