Sunday, 16 February 2014

Neel Kamal

Directed by: Ram Maheshwari
Starring: Waheeda Rehman, Manoj Kumar, Raaj Kumar, Lalita Pawar, Balraj Sahni, Mehmood, Shashikala
Released: 1968
Verdict: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

Do you remember a scene from Kaagaz Ke Phool when an aspiring actress played by Waheeda Rehman attends a party and styles herself for it according to latest fashion trends? She then bumps into a director, played by Guru Dutt, who discovered her and is in for a nasty surprise when instead of flattery she is scolded by him for ruining her unique charm, which lies in simplicity. I felt like Guru Dutt while watching Neel Kamal. Somehow I felt that the dramatic 60s styling with mad cat eyes and huge hair never suited Waheeda Rehman, arguably one of the most gorgeous women on screen ever. Her beauty has been done justice by black and white film the most, where indeed no trappings of fashion would distract from her soulful face. By no means am I saying she looked bad in this film – after all that may not even be possible and her innate grace is as overwhelming as ever – but somewhere down the line I was not happy with her styling. How could I know that would actually turn out to be one of many voes offered by the film.

Neel Kamal is one of the films that cannot decide what they really are supposed to be about. Is it a horror? A reincarnation mystery? A family drama? There are even (very slight) hints of psychological thriller. From many ways they could the makers pursued the most unfortunate one and went on with weepy saas-bahu melodrama in which ultimately all characters loose their likeability. I would also say they all loose their brains, but most of them have none to loose from the beginning. In fact the supposedly mentally disturbed heroine is, for most part, the only one who has some logic left, while everybody else only have heads so it doesn´t rain into their throats.

The premise sounds intriguing, make no mistake. Once upon a time a sculptor was in love with a Princess, but instead of happiness he found death because of it. His immortal pyaar stalked the palace even as centuries went by and it fell into ruins. And finally, after years, a young woman hears the voiuce of the culptor calling out to her, for even though she is named Sita, she was once the Princess Neel Kamal. But is it all real? Or is Sita mentally disturbed or ill? In any case it lands her into a big pile of poo as the film goes on.

If I decide not to judge the movie for the old-fashioned sexism it stands for (complete with Sita having to undergo a harsh test to prove her innocence to a very undeserving hubster and nasty girls wearing western attire whilst pure heroine would never don anything but a saree) there are still too many things completely wrong about it. First of all – Sita is obviously a sleep-walker. Instead of trying to cure or at least help her condition the only worry her father has is who is going to marry her (and a doctor himself very scientifically supports the idea that the best remedy for sleep-walking is marriage), and when she does marry he doesn´t even make her new family aware of her „disease“, even though it is pretty life-threatening. Sita´s husband keeps randomly changing his mind about his wife according to what he is told the latest. He never bothers to actually ask her. And one look at an old statue combined with some crap about ghosts he deduces in his mind is what actually makes him believe her, instead of a delayed information from her father about her sleep-walking.

I wished the film would focus on Sita and her battling with her disease/visions/past life, but the makers did not find a time for that, wasting too much footage on her nasty sister-in-law played by ever-annoying Shashikala and her husband who looked like from another world altogether, played by Mehmood. Their subplot ranges from heavily awkward to downright embarrassing. Not to mention next to useless to the main story. Completing the mosaic of insane characters, who are concerned with everything BUT the source of what happens to Sita, is the devilish saasu-maa Lalita Pawar, who makes Sita´s life a living hell so it is OK for her to just change her mind at the end cause she don´t wanna live in an empty house yo. And nobody even wants her to say sorry. And since I really wanted Sita to send them all to blazing hell by that point I could only roll my eyes in frustration.

Neel Kamal wastes not only a promising plotline, but also its first class actors. Waheeda Rehman carries it all on her elegant shoulders, but seems as weary as her character while doing so. At least she gets to use her amazing dancing skills in several songs. Manoj Kumar as a confused pati parmeshwar looks handsome and has nothing to work with. Even seeing his plight over doubts he may have as a loving husband would have been interesting, but you know, let´s have a catfight between Shashikala and another random lady over a man neither loves instead. And over-possessive ghost Raaj Kumar, who keeps trying to kill his reincarnated love and just when she says OK decides it´s actually not that important, was quite weak.

Neel Kamal disappointed me on many levels, as a film that could have been exciting and different, but ended up being very „common“ and tiring.

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