Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Saagar - an Unexpected Favourite

A couple of weeks ago I saw Naseeruddin Shah at a TIFF Bell Lightbox event in Toronto and, among other entertaining topics, he talked about his experience shooting Kamal Hassan's Hey Ram!. Naseer complained that the make-up he was required to wear to play Gandhi was so elaborate that he could barely act from behind it. After refusing to wear some parts of the mask, he allegedly even told Kamal to play the role of Gandhi himself, since the actor's personality would not come through anyway because of the prosthetics. This made me laugh a lot because I've been complaining about Kamal's obsession with prosthetics for a long time now: it's distracting to the point where I can't enjoy his acting and it's been getting worse. I'm terrified of Vishwaroopam for that very reason. But anyways, all this to explain what made me decide to hunt down Kamal's older movies, from before all this make-up nonsense even existed. This is how I ended up watching Saagar. And good thing I did because it confirmed why Kamal is considered one of the greats in Indian cinema! I absolutely adored him.

Saagar reminded me a lot of Rangeela (though reminded is the wrong verb since Saagar preceded Rangeela by a good decade), minus the brilliant Pyaar Yeh and minus Jackie Shroff's bikini. You win some you lose some, I suppose. Saagar has a very similar love triangle: childhood friends Raja and Mona live in a fisherman's village where they have everything they need despite being poor. In comes Ravi, the rich heir to the developing fishing business, and falls in love with Mona. Ravi and Raja become friends without realizing that they love the same girl. And the story goes on from here.

Part of the reason why I can't stand older films is because they rely so heavily on silly plot devices to create over the top melodrama. So the whole time while watching Saagar I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. When Raja and Ravi start becoming friends and singing songs together I thought: Oh God, any minute now they'll discover they love the same woman and they'll start competing for her and turn into assholes. Luckily this fabulous song was not ruined by such a follow-up.

When Raja later confesses his love for Mona to Ravi asking for his advice on how to express his feelings, I thought: Here we go, cue in lame scene where one character confesses someone else's love while secretly confessing their own. And I know you know exactly what I mean which is why I won't even bother to clean up that sentence and make it intelligible. Surprisingly, that doesn't happen.

Finally, about halfway through the film, when Raja finds out about Mona and Ravi and he's running heartbroken on the beach I thought this is it, for sure he'll trip on one of those rocks, hit his head and fall into a coma that will prompt a guilty Mona to give up Ravi. And imagine my surprise when that didn't happen either! As it turns out, the entire movie was written with common-sense and, barring the occasional "nahiiiiiiin" and "yeh shaadi nahin ho sakta" scene, the filmi tropes didn't poke their ugly noses into the story in an offensive manner.

What I liked most about Saagar was that all the main characters make their choices based on their own moral compass. Not because of the family honour, not because of the societal pressure and certainly not because of emotional blackmail. Actually, for once, the emotional blackmail goes the other way! Do you have any idea how refreshing it is to see a movie like this coming out of the 80s? I mean, sure it has the required twists and turns later on, and yes, some of them employ some of those pesky tropes, but it is Bollywood after all, not even I would expect it to be completely devoid of melodrama. What's important is that the three main characters keep it real and honest, they speak their minds when needed and don't leave room for misunderstandings and silliness.

Dimple is so gorgeous in this movie, even more so than usual!

For once I never felt the need to yell at the TV or throw shoes at it. Believe me, this is a first for me while watching a movie older than 2001. Well, I did get bored towards the end when all the drama-shrama was happening (and coincidentally, that was also the time when Kamal wasn't around for a good half hour of the film), but hey, it's a small price to pay. Especially when you're bribed with exquisite filmi moments such as this one:

Saagar surprised me in more ways than one. It's also the first movie where Rishi Kapoor was completely out-charisma-ed by his co-stars. Dimple is always a joy to watch, especially when she's looking as glamorous as she does here (despite her "common girl" status, but hey, what's Bollywood without the designer clothes?), but the real star of this movie is Kamal Hassan who steals every scene, every song, every frame. He has these little gestures, this light in his eyes, these little eyerolls, chuckles and smiles, I tell you, I was mesmerized. Of course it helps that he was so easy on the eyes too back in the day.

For crissakes, he even pulls off the all-demin + unbuttoned shirt outfit! How many other actors can do that without looking like complete fools?

I don't think I'll ever subscribe to the belief that old is gold, but if a movie ever came close to swaying me, Saagar was that movie. And it feels right for it to be the first oldie to get a full blogpost around here. I wish more people would talk about it, but maybe it's not melodramatic enough. Oh well, it was just the right amount for me, so if you haven't already seen it, I highly recommend it!

Saagar (1985, Hindi)
Director: Ramesh Sippy
Starring: Dimple Kapadia, Kamal Hassan, Rishi Kapoor
Music: RD Burman


Mukundh B said...

Okay, so adding Saagar to movie list. Haven't seen quite a few of Kamal's older films. This post is another reminder to watch his old movies. I do suggest Sigapu Roja - and I guess you must hav seent the silent one Pesum Padam -

Reg Prosthetics, I disagree. Esp when you consider the American ex CIA agent played by Kamal in Dasavatharam. And, apart from Dasavatharam and a couple of ther movies in which other movie of his did he use prosthetics so heavily? Now, what else is he supposed to do with Gandhi in Hey! Ram? And, it was a minor role. And, frankly I didn't find any problems with his acting in Avai Shanmugi.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dolce,

Are you going to review you Aiyyaa? Please do!


desigrl27 said...

hmm I'm surprised you hadn't seen this yet. I like it a lot. It's super similar to Bobby though (another Rishi + Dimple movie)

Anonymous said...

Good review Dolce! I liked the film a lot as well and the music wasn't bad either. I saw the film this year while I was reviewing the music and like you found Kamal to be the more charismatic actor. I found his Hindi accent a bit annoying though, these are actors, isnt it their job to get the intonation right? Its a good, watchable film despite the melodrama at the end. Here's my take on the film & the music if you are interested..
cheers. suja

Dolce and Namak said...

@ Mukundh - how did we fail to argue about Kamal when we met up, I wonder? :P Either way, I hope Vishwaroop proves me wrong on what I call his obsession, you will let me know, yes? Since you'll be seeing it soon enough and I'll probably have to wait for months for a subtitled DVD.

But taking notes on what other oldies to watch with him, because forgive me but I still prefer him in the old days. :)

@ Sanyogita - Long time no see!!! Where did you disappear to? Haven't seen you on the forum in months (not that I've been terribly active, but still...). And to be honest, I liked Aiyya in parts but not enough to write a review about it. It felt way too disjointed and too many things thrown in that didn't belong. If I had reviewed it I would have been reviewing a short film: all the parts with Rani and Prithviraj. :P

Now Aga Bai on the other hand... I could write a novel on that!! :D

Dolce and Namak said...

@ desigrl - It seemed more Rangeela than Bobby to me, what with Dimple looking all woman-like in this (as opposed to Bobby where she was still a teenager), but I liked this waaaaay more than Bobby. Maybe because Bobby was tragically missing Kamal Hassan? ;)

@ Suja - Agreed, the music was pretty good too. Actually I think I watched the movie because of a song someone posted for me at some point.

But since my Hindi is not exactly stellar, I still reap the benefits of "ignorance is bliss" when it comes to people's accents. So they never bother me as much as they bother native speakers (unless they're really jarring). But in principle I definitely agree with you: accents should be a breeze for actors, trained actors take classes for it in school for crying out loud. (Another reason why Indian actors should just drop the whole "I never took an acting class in my life" bull-shit as if it's a point of pride. Though I don't think that applies to this particular actor, just saying in general.)

shourya said...

hey! why have you stopped posting?

Post a Comment