Malaal movie review: Sanjay Leela Bhansali launches his niece and Jaaved Jaaferi's son in a dreary film
While Meezaan Jafri shows some spark in Malaal while dancing, Sharmin Segal does not have even that going for her.
Language: Hindi with some Marathi
This morning as I settled into my seat to watch Malaal, I could not help but notice that there were just three other people in the hall with me. I always wonder why producers with cash — in this particular instance, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and T-Series — make films and then choose not to market them. If it is worth making and releasing, is it not worth letting the public know that it is out there, and then leave it to us to embrace or reject it?
Now that I have watched this one — "survived it" would be a more accurate description of the dreary experience — I can imagine why the promotions have been such a whimper. If you made a mistake, would you tomtom it to the world? Why it was released at all of course is a big question.
Malaal is Blockbuster Bhansali's launch vehicle for his niece Sharmin Segal — daughter of his sister Bela Segal, a director and accomplished editor in her own right — and actor-dancer Jaaved Jaaferi's son Meezaan Jafri. In normal circumstances I would try to tell you a bit about the film and the kids' work in it before announcing their pedigree. But let us be frank here: like Salman Khan's 'discoveries' Athiya Shetty (daughter of Suniel Shetty) and Sooraj Pancholi (son of Aditya Pancholi and Zarina Wahab), there is no way these youngsters would have been allowed a foot in the door of insular, incestuous, extremely challenging Bollywood if it were not for their weighty surnames.
This is not to say a person's genes should be held against them. Of course not. Bhansali himself did, after all, gift us Sonam Kapoor and Ranbir Kapoor 12 years back, and those two bright debutants from Saawariya have gone on to earn the right to be known as much more than just, respectively, the daughter of Anil Kapoor and the great grandson of Prithviraj Kapoor, grandson of Raj, son of Rishi and Neetu. Khan too recently backed Nitin Kakkar's Notebook, which unveiled Nutan's granddaughter Pranutan Bahl and a leading man called Zaheer Iqbal who, as far as we know now, has no industry lineage, and both have a natural romance with the camera that is worth exploring further even if their maiden venture came a cropper at the box office. Young Ms Segal and Mr Jafri may one day earn the right to be known as works in progress, but with Malaal they have only become the latest shining examples of nepotism in Bollywood.
Meezaan Jafri plays Shiva More, a hoodlum owing allegiance to a politician who resents the north Indian presence in Maharashtra. Shiva plays along with the neta's beliefs, avoids his college like the plague and causes much heartburn to his parents until a new girl moves into his chawl. Astha Tripathi catches his eye from Day 1, and yes, you read the surname right. Obviously after some tension between them and an ideological verbal sparring match, they both fall in love.
There is an atom of an idea there, a potentially interesting reworking of the by-now-tiresome feuding families/communities formula, that could perhaps have been expanded into a good film. In a world where cracks are increasingly developing in families and friendships over the "did you vote for Trump / Modi / Marine Le Pen?" question, it might have been intriguing too to see if love can blossom across party divides. Malaal fails to notice either possibility, and once Shiva turns over a new leaf, completely forgets its political beginning.
It then turns into an inexorably dull retelling of the clichéd conviction so many people hold in real life: that a good woman can reform even the worst of men. Every hurdle in their path thereafter feels like an additional paragraph written without much thought or imagination because the class teacher said the essay should be a minimum of 1,000 words. And oh heavens, that silly tragic twist in the closing minutes - the only purpose it served was to ignite a flame of hope that the film might soon end.
Malaal is a remake of the Tamil hit 7G Rainbow Colony (2004). K Selvaraghavan, the writer-director of the original, has been duly credited here for the story. Director Mangesh Hadawale and Bhansali himself share the honours for the adapted Hindi screenplay. Bhansali has also given this film its music, which is one of its few positives but that too not to an earth-shattering degree.
There is one element in Malaal that is worth mentioning. Towards the beginning, when a smattering of Marathi is spoken in Astha's presence, no subtitles are provided, I suppose because we are expected to receive them the way a non-Marathi might and glean the meaning from the speakers' tone and gestures - if you make the effort (unfortunately, too many non-Marathi residents of Mumbai do not) it is actually not that hard. Later though, when there is a full-fledged Marathi conversation between two important characters, Hindi subtitles are embedded in the print out of consideration for the film's primary audience, that is, Hindi speakers.
Meezaan Jafri is a nice-looking man, but barely moves the muscles on his face in Malaal. Was he instructed to deadpan his way through it, or is he not capable of anything else? No idea. What I liked: though he does, as is mandatory these days, lift his shirt to reveal a trim, worked-out torso, he does not resemble one of those assembly-line male debutants being rolled out by the Hindi film industry in the past decade with intimidatingly bulging muscles, perfect but soulless dance moves and perfectly made up faces. The choreography of Malaal too does not feel show offy and unreal, but is the sort that regular folk with reasonable talent might pull off.
At least Jafri shows some spark — just a bit — while dancing. Sharmin Segal does not have even that going for her. She is so tepid that her walk and posture are as inexpressive as her face - I did not realise such a thing was possible, but today I know it is.
The use of heavy rain as a backdrop to a love making scene works far better than the love making itself - these two have zero electricity between them. There is more thunder and lightning in a scene featuring the song 'Aila Re', while dancing to which a skimpily clad young woman - not Astha - grabs a large fistful of Shiva's belt buckle, prompting him to thrust his crotch towards her, making it look exactly like what you are thinking.
"Malaal", I have learnt from the website of the Rekhta Foundation that aims to promote Urdu literature, means regret, grief, sorrow. The title comes from a line delivered by Shiva - he wants to have no regrets in his relationship with Astha. I am googling the Urdu words for "no choice", because that and my farz (duty) are what compelled me to sit through this boring film even after two out of those three people sharing the hall with me at the start had walked out.
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