Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Koyla or Mute Stable Boys FTW!

If you haven't guessed already by the "K" title of this movie, it is a film by Rakesh Roshan. I have given Rakesh Roshan a bad rap in the past but I may have to give him the benefit of the doubt in the future after this most recent viewing of Koyla. I have found new depths to the movie that I didn't notice before and he does always entertain.

What bothers me most about Rakesh Roshan is that he borrows (and that's putting it nicely) so heavily from other films' plots and his movies are the kind that you feel guilty enjoying because they unabashedly cater to the lowest common denominator. In Koi Mil Gaya it was the painfully obvious similarities to E.T. and also the 1968 American film Charly. In Krrish he even copied himself which I will point out later in this review. In Koyla he did it again copying the Kevin Costner film Revenge plus a little bit of Rambo and just a dash of Forrest Gump. The effects are bad, the wardrobe and the hair is unforgiveable and he has stolen plots but what he also has is an action/romance/drama packed film that will keep you interested from beginning to end. What surprised me into reconsidering my inherent ambivalence towards his films are the Hindu symbols running through Koyla and the little touches here and there that reinforce them. Really cool stuff! (I have explained in more detail at the bottom of this review)

Koyla is the story of Raja Saab played by Amrish Puri who rules as a tyrant over the local villages and workers in his coal mines. (For those of you who have seen the movie before, Raja says "bloody fool" exactly 13 times. I counted just for you!) He has a crazy brother, Brijwa, who runs amok raping, pillaging, beating. He has a mute stable boy/slave (yes, he's called a slave) named Shankar played by Shah Rukh Khan (dil squish!). He also has a secretary, Bindiya, who sleeps with him for power and money when he can get it up, which it turns is not very often despite ingesting copious amounts of herbs which are a homemade version of Viagra. His inability to perform in the bedroom is blamed on the available woman not being desirable enough or so the local snake oil salesman tells him. He is advised to get himself a new woman who will stir his desire. Unfortunately for Gauri, played by Madhuri Dixit, it's about this time that Raja sees her for the first time and becomes obssessed with having her. Add to the mix Gauri's absentee brother and unscrupulous Auntie and Uncle and it's disaster for Gauri.

There is, of course, a love story at the heart of Koyla as well as a tale of evil deeds and vengeance. Shankar and Gauri's love story is quite beautiful. What makes it so is the way the two characters begin to evolve upon meeting each other and grow into their relationship and each other(despite the mad Rambo-like jungle chase they are involved in much of the time).

When we first see Shankar he is literally running with hunting dogs, he is compared in conversation to a loyal dog and he presents Raja's hunting prize to him on his knees, head down, giddy in his master's praise as a dog would. When Gauri enters the picture and Shankar realizes how she has been deceived and mistreated, he begins to look at Raja differently. It's as if Gauri awakens the compassionate human being in him. He begins to stand up for Bindiya and Gauri, eventually breaking away from Raja. He goes from slave to protector of innocents to man fighting for and winning the right to self-determination.

Just as Gauri awakens the compassionate human in Shankar, he awakens the woman in her. When we first see Gauri she is a mischievious woman-child still running around tormenting priests at the temple and spending her days with the village children. Once she finds herself married to the old, lecherous Raja she goes through a crisis, at the pinnacle of which she meets Shankar. When she realizes that she and Shankar are essentially in the same situation, both prisoners to Raja, she softens toward him and together, they care for each other and grow as people. As much as possible, in the situations she finds herself in, she is not a victim. She fights when she can and rebels when she can.

By the end of the film, both Shankar and Gauri have become strong people in charge of their own lives and able to punish those who robbed them of their choices before. They have also become a formidable team working together to achieve their goals and assert their personhood.

I also have to give kudos to the filmmakers for the way the relationship between Gauri and Bindiya is treated. So many times in life and in movies, women are each other's worst enemies. In Koyla, however, they do not pit the two against each other. Although Bindiya would have every motivation to resent Gauri, she does not. She becomes Gauri's protector and Gauri becomes hers. I definitely applaud the solidarity in that relationship as opposed to the easier and more titillating route of cat fighting and scheming the filmakers could have taken.

The main thing that Koyla has going for it in my opinion is of course Shah Rukh Khan. Even with one of the worst mullets in hair history (Where oh where was Dilshad?) the man is amazing to watch. He is nothing short of entrancing onscreen. In this role he is especially fascinating because he is mute for at least 2 hours so that all communication is done with body language and eyes. When he's a slave, before he begins to evolve, his posture is often curled in as if to look smaller and avoid notice or as someone constantly in fear of being whipped like an abused animal. His eyes convey an innocence and vulnerability that immediately inspire your compassion and protective instincts.

There is a scene where Gauri comes to his hut to tend his wounds. This scene will break your heart! His eyes somehow convey every slap, every whipping, every emotional scar and indignity that he has ever suffered without once shedding a tear. Throughout the film he conveys torment, confusion, love, anger, joy and sadness all with his eyes. I can't say enough about his performance. I can't imagine another actor pulling it off. Much has been said about Shah Rukh Khan's eyes and I have to agree. They have an eloquence that I have rarely, if ever, seen before.

I believe Madhuri Dixit is at the height of her beauty in this movie. Her dancing is wonderful. She is a great actress and she does a great job in Koyla. She is equally believable as the childish Gauri at the beginning through her transition to powerful, mature woman at the end. She is exquisite in the item number Sanson Ki Mala Pe Simroon Main Pee Ka Naam where she dances under the statue of Shiva. This is one of my favorite item numbers of all time. A terrific scene from beginning to end that should not be missed. This scene marks a very important transition in the movie and the characters which I will discuss in the religious symbols section at the end.

Finally, Amrish Puri as the lecherous old goat Raja Saab and Salim Ghouse as his lunatic, animalistic brother Brijwa are two of the creepiest villains in filmi history. Yes, they're campy and over the top but I defy you to not get the shivers at the thought of having Raja Saab turn his lustful gaze on you or at the prospect of being anywhere near Brijwa.

This film has a lot of problems, I'm not gonna lie. I rarely find Johnny Lever as funny as he is supposed to be but he's not horrible in the quiet scenes where he's just being Shankar's friend. His father is annoying throughout and none of the comedy in the film worked for me. When Shankar suddenly turns into Rambo in the jungle it's a bit silly but then you have a sweet scene where he brings Gauri food that kinda makes up for it. There's also a scene where he starts running and splints break off his legs a la Forrest Gump that will have you rolling your eyes. There is a lot of improbable stuff that happens during the "jungle time" as I like to call it but I truly believe that the relationships and evolution of characters in the film more than make up for it. And, hey, I grew up watching Rambo movies with my dad and I loved them, so what can I say?

That pretty much sums up my feelings about Koyla. It's not fully original, some parts are totally campy, over the top and just plain bad. However, the surprisingly smart and heartfelt evolution of the two main characters and their relationship plus the riveting performance by Shah Rukh Khan and the beauty and talent of Madhuri Dixit more than make up for the shortcomings. This is truly one of my favorite Shah Rukh films and, in my opinion, Rakesh Roshan's best film.

Religious symbols in Koyla-
I will be the first to admit that I am way out of my depth talking about Hindu religious symbols. I had a hunch while watching and did some research and the mind boggles at the amount of information I came up with. That being said, I think knowing that these symbols are there enrich the movie-watching experience and show that Rakesh Roshan is smarter than I gave him credit for previously. So, here's what I got and I encourage you to keep it in mind as you watch and see what else you can find.

Gauri is a young, innocent girl in the beginning of the film and is a representation of the goddess Gauri who represents purity and austerity. She is the Kanya (young, unmarried) Parvati who had undergone severe penance in order to get Lord Shiva as her husband. Unmarried girls pray to Gauri for a virtuous husband. The goddess Gauri is the peaceful, innocent aspect of the goddess Durga. Durga fought and killed Mahishasura and his army. This demon represents the egotistical propensity that brute strength is all that is needed to acquire selfish desires. You can see how Gauri in the movie follows the same evolution as her goddess namesake as she evolves into a strong woman who fights the evil of Raja Saab at Shankar's side. Raja Saab also uses his brute strength to obtain his wealth and Gauri and anything else he desires. Durga is the Mother Goddess. She is Mother Nature and Shiva is the Father of the Universe.

One of Shiva's many manifestations is as Shankara, giver of joy. So, Shankar in the beginning of the film is Shankara the peaceful, gentle manifestation of Shiva. But, we are given a clue to his forthcoming evolution in the first scene when Bindiya comments that "he is not a man but a storm." Rudra, another manifestation of Shiva, is the god of the roaring storm and is usually portrayed in accordance with the element he represents as a fierce, destructive deity. Rudra is also viewed as the protector of humanity against its enemies just as Shankar protests Gauri and Bindiya and eventually all those under Raja Saab's tyranny. Just as Shiva and Durga are consorts, so Gauri and Shankar are meant to be together.

Rudra is associated with the color red as is the goddess Gauri so watch for red in the movie. Durga is known for her mudras or small, precise hand movements, so pay attention to the way Gauri uses her hands when she dances. Also watch in the scene where Gauri goes to Shankar's hut to tend his wounds and she fixes his shrine which was disturbed in a fight. The shrine is dedicated to Shiva and Durga and we are shown Shankar's and Gauri's reflections in the glass of the pictures. This is pretty obvious foreshadowing that they are not going to be helpless for long. Finally, pay close attention to the Sanson Ki Mala Pe Simroon Main Pee Ka Naam item number mentioned above as it's my opinion that this scene is where the shift occurs from their peaceful manifestations of the gods to their destructive avatars. The intensity of the dance, the events that spur Gauri to dance and Shankar to play the drums (drums associated with Shiva) and the scene taking place under an enormous statue of Shiva kinda clue us in as well.

Before I close, I mentioned in the beginning that Rakesh Roshan has copied himself in Krrish and he does so from this film. I believe Shankar is an early incarnation of Krrish. Allow me to demonstrate: Krrish has superhuman powers including outrunning horses. Shankar has superhuman powers including outrunning dogs. Krrish is a simple, rustic raised in nature. Shankar too is a rustic character obviously quite close to nature as we see in the jungle scenes. Krrish wears horrible, homespun clothes using strange scarf as belt and Shankar also wears awful homespun clothes using rope as belt. Both go on quests to win the women they love and seek vengeance for their families. I rest my case.


Ness said...

Hmmm....I really did not enjoy Koyla when I watched it but your review has encouraged me to maybe one day attempt a rewatch. It's just that Amrish Puri is SO horrible in this film I'm not sure I can handle it!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful! I'm so glad you pointed out all the Bindiya stuff. I remember loving that it was such a gurl power film in the unification of Gauri and Bindiya. I also still remember Bindiya saying, "He's is not a man but a storm," while wearing acid wash jeans as I recollect. Thanks for adding all the religious symbolism to your review.

All the best!

Anarchivist said...

I love "Koyla," so thanks for giving me much to think about. And by the way, I really appreciate your counting all the "Bloody Fools"!

Pitu said...

Faboo review Christy!! I admit this is one SRK-Mads film I just cannot watch. I simply abhor Amrish Puri and he is just horrible in this one. Add to that the ludicrous plot, terrible mullet and clothes of SRK and well.. there's not much to love :) But it's definitely a film all SRK-Mads fans should see at least once.

As for the self-copying: don't know if you are aware but Rakesh Roshan always hires his brother Rajesh Roshan as music composer. And the tune of the song 'Tanhayee Tanhayee Dono Ko Paas Le Aayi' is from an old Rakesh starrer called 'Khatta Meetha'. That music is a recurrent theme in Khatta Meetha. Gorgeous tune so I am glad that it was worked into a song :D

Sadly for us SRK-Mads fans, they just haven't done great movies together. I love 'Dil to pagal hai' and to some extent 'Devdas'. But that's it. They've done several crap films together ('Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam', 'Gajgamini' and I have to say 'Koyla') :-(

Kudos and well done on the religious symbolism!

Christy said...

Thanks for the comments guys!
Let me just say that I do not gurantee everyone will like this on first watch or rewatch. I know it's campy and totally over the top. But, as I said, I am a lover of Rambo movies and Conan the Barbarian and other cheesy action movies so take my advice on movies as you will.
I still have to hand it to Rakesh for the relatively progressive treatment of women in the film and placement of religious symbols.

And Pitu, I did know about Rajesh. I call him the Frank Stallone of Bollywood. Frank Stallone hasn't much of a career beyond doing songs in his brother Sylvester's movies. Nepotism ain't just for Bollywood anymore.

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

I think ur review is the best thing about this movie, yet. You have given it respect that was definitely missing :) Seriously, super well written