Watching Pukar was, for me, a little bit like watching a "pretty good" Hollywood drama from the early 90s or so. The acting was better than decent, there was an all star-cast, and the story unfolded at a reasonable pace. That's not a bad thing, and apparently worked to its advantage; the film walked away with two national film awards and a boatload of other nominations, including Best Actor for Anil Kapoor (right on!) and Best Actress for Madhuri Dixit (yeah!).
It was strange; On the one hand, I found the story of Major Jaidev Rajvansh, a well-respected and admired officer of the Indian army who is horribly betrayed by somebody closest to him, incredibly absorbing and well-portrayed by a strong all-star cast. On the other, I found Pukar sort of dull. Where was the color? Where was the creativity in the song picturizations? My inner masala child desperately wanted to know.
Anil Kapoor, looking dashing in an army suit (quite the change from the Micheal Jackson white-sock look he sported in the last film I saw him in, Mann), plays Jai, an Army officer on a short return visit to his hometown. Madhuri Dixit is Anjali, Jai's childhood friend who also happens to be in love with him, something that is clear to everyone but Jai himself. Or is it? In the beginning of the film, its hard to determine whether Jai is simply ignorant to Anjali's feelings or if he just doesn't give a care.
Either way, the whole town(including Jai's parents) seems to share the same opinion-- Anjali's so gorgeous and such a natural on the dance floor, there's no way she's not going to snag him, right? I mean, it's have to be MISS INDIA walking through the door for Jai to turn his head the other way...
Which, of course, is exactly what happens. Jai meets Pooja(Namrata Shirodkar), a.k.a. the current Miss India, and is instantly hooked. He spends most of his time trying to convince her and her parents, who are adamantly against Princess Pooja marrying an army officer, that the two should be married. The rest of his time is spent dodging Anjali whenever possible, unless she is needed for moral support (or lunch--grrr!).
After an embarrassing encounter between Jai, Pooja, and herself, Anjali is approached by a crooked man who works for a sinister terrorist named Abhrush (played by Danny Denzongpa, scarrry looking!!). In desperation, Anjali strikes a deal with said crooked man and sells her soul to the devil, so to speak, in one of the most messed up betrayals I've ever seen.
But man, it was so satisfying to watch. Things horribly backfire--no spoilers here, I'm sure you could guess that they would, and I've only just taken you into the real story--but its the characters and how their lives are affected by this one event that makes Pukar interesting. As you can see, Jai's far from a likable character in the first half of the film. Which ends up really working to the film's advantage--at first, you're like, yeah, stick it to him, Anjali! But then the second half rolls around and you get to thinking. Poor Jai. Poor unfortunate, circumstantially abused Jai (Did they really have to rip his army uniform to shreds--WHILE HE WAS STILL WEARING IT?!?)!
This is a prime example of another one of the film's strengths--the characters were so human! You loved them, you hated them, you forgave them. Even Pooja showed us Miss India could be one heartless witch!
But, ahh, did I mention how refreshing it was to see Madhuri in a role that gave her not only more to do than dazzle and dance, but also required her actions to be a pivotal piece in the plot?! I was elated! Yes, I know Mads is brimming with awesomeness, and she has to little but flash a smile and float across the dancefloor to show she's the whole package, but...she can also really act!! Note to directors---Use her!! (A moot point, it seems, since she's sort of "retired", and I realize I haven't seen enough of her films to solidify this opinion, but I love her so much to let her talent pass me by without mentioning it).
This was my first Anil/Madhuri film, and I realize, given the story, that it may not have been the most popular choice to start with. Because they were already an established pair in Bollywood, I'm guessing that most of Pukar's initial audiences were invested in Jai and Anjali ending up together from the very beginning. But not me--they had to really sell it to me. Which they did, thanks to their commanding screen presences and oodles of talent (there's a very heated argument/exchange/revelation between the two of them in the second half that literally gave me goose bumps, it was so emotionally charged).
The supporting cast was strong, including Om Puri, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, and Farida Jalal (as maa--yes!!). Most characters were given enough screen time to establish their presence in the film, but there should have been wayy more of Jai's parents, especially given the powerful encounter that follows this screenshot:
But alas, onto the negatives, of which were significant enough to mention. As I said above, there just wasn't enough creativity from a visual aspect. A dash of color or masala madness would have done the trick; After all, music was by A.R. Rahman! Yet most of the good songs seemed wasted against ho-drum deserts and waterfalls (which I normally love, as long as the settings and outfits change during the song picturizations, barely done here). The exception, of course, is "Kay Sera Sera" (Que Sera Sera?), a tune whose brilliance was done justice by Madhuri's vibrant facial expressions and graceful dance moves (along with a cameo by Prabhu Deva).
Since I expected to dislike this film (after I heard someone call it Puke-kar, lol, and you know who you are ;)), I was happily surprised to find it, for the most part, watchable, if a bit bland. Next up in Anil/Mads territory? Beta, a film I know next to nothing about and bought on a whim. Any other recommendations? I'll take 'em!