Are we caught in a time warp of bad 90s films or was Pradeep Sarkar’s Laaga Chunari Mein Daag really that bad? During the film I almost had to pinch myself to make sure I’m sitting in the year 2007 rather than 1990. If there was ever such a thing as regressive cinema, Yash Raj’s latest fits the shoes perfectly. But is regressive necessarily bad?
It’s hard to figure out how the film could have gone wrong. Good performers? Check. Promising director? Check. Decent music? Check. Substantial budget? Check. Storyline? Oh wait, that must be it. We have visited, re-visited and re-re-visited the life of a prostitute throughout the history of Indian cinema, and here comes another tale of the plight of a woman forced into selling herself for survival.
We’re introduced to the Sahay sisters as they tell us ‘hum toh aise hain, bhaiyaa!’ loud and clear. Seemingly exuberant and vibrant, we are suddenly taken behind the scenes into their household where we learn that all is not well. While their father (Anupam Kher) sits at home and complains, their dedicated mother Sabitri (Jaya Bachchan) is forced to find ways to make ends meet. Eldest daughter Badki (Rani Mukerji) has to turn her back on school to help around the house while her younger and bratty sister Chutki (Konkona Sen Sharma) continues studying. To top it all off, Mr. Sahay’s brother and his brawny son are threatening to take the family house away. Overhearing her father express his regret about having two daughters rather than sons, Badki decides to take things into her own fragile, innocent hands.
On a whim, she moves to nitty-gritty Bombay and temporarily finds a place to stay while looking for a job. But who’s going to hire a girl who doesn’t have an education and can’t even speak English? The closest Badki comes to bagging a job is when a man asks for sexual favours in return. Reluctant at first, her helplessness and father’s illness forces her to stain her flawless chunari for the first time in her life. After brimming on the brink of depression, Badki’s friend convinces her to take advantage of these men and become a high-paid escort (which is totally ridiculous!). And so begins Badki’s tumultuous journey to salvage the welfare of her family. Like everything else, this too comes at a cost. In this case, it’s Badki who loses herself for her family. Soon enough, sister Chutki comes to Bombay to find a job and Badki’s profession is gravely threatened.
Pradeep Sarkar’s chunari definitely suffers a daag with his second outing. It isn’t all that bad, but from the director that brought us Parineeta, one expected better. He fails to bring out his vision of a woman bearing the burden of an entire family effectively. Kaushik Das’s editing needed to be far crisper as the film drags in portions. More so than the director or editor, Rekha Nigam’s cheesy dialogues and ratty screenplay is the largest downfall. It’s time writers woke up and realised that audiences do have a brain of some sort and if we see the same film 100 times, we will get bored! That’s the largest problem with Laaga Chunari Mein Daag. It’s unbelievably predictable! You can almost immediately guess the entire route of the story because it’s so overdone.
The film isn’t totally hopeless. One can still see that Sarkar has a flair for emotional scenes and simplicity. He’s hampered by the regular Yash Raj formula of glamour which takes away from the effect. Cinematography is outstanding and Sushil Rajpal captures specifically the locales of Benaras exquisitely. Shantanu Moitra’s tunes are also enjoyable. ‘Hum To Aise Hain’ and ‘Kachchi Kaliyaan’ look the best on screen, but all are able. His ‘Ehi Thaiyaa Moti’ was cut short and probably for a good reason as the masses wouldn’t appreciate it much.
There are a few scenes that really move you and stay with you after the film leaves. The emotional scene when Chutki learns of Badki’s profession is probably the most poignant and heart-wrenching scene of the entire film. All scenes between Konkona and Kunal, though unnecessary to some extent, are enjoyable and make you smile. Also, the transition from a traditional girl from Benaras to a high-society escort is nicely done.
At the same time, you can expect some extremely cheesy moments too. The entire climax of the film seems way too predictable and forced. Though Rani and Abhishek share brilliant chemistry, their love story seems uncalled for. Maybe if it was given more scope it would have been more intriguing. The climax is a huge downfall and is melodramatic yet rushed. Definitely doesn’t satisfy the appetite!
The performances are wonderful for the most part, but each and every character suffers from pitiful, one-dimensional characterization. Rani Mukerji is enchanting once again. Yes, she does the whole crying bit all over again, but she’s good at it. If it wasn’t for her bright smile and expressive eyes, Badki would not have been as effective. Konkona Sen Sharma breezes through the role of a childish, immature yet intelligent woman. She lights up the screen each time she appears and steals your heart once again. It’s really hard for her to go wrong considering what a great actress she is in the first place. Jaya Bachchan gets the worst characterization of all, falling into the stereotypical “mother-in-distress” expressions. She’s not bad, but her character is just so weak to begin with that she doesn’t stand out. In fact, in some parts, the audience began to laugh at Sabitri Sahay which is hardly a good sign. Anupam Kher hams all the way and really could have done better. His role could have been deep and far more complex, but instead it’s irritating. Kunal Kapoor is hardly there but he’s still quite charming and has sparkling chemistry with Konkona. Abhishek Bachchan really shouldn’t have been put on the posters of the film as he’s there for about 15-20 minutes maximum. His role requires nothing special. Hema Malini looks gorgeous during her ‘mujra’ sequence but it isn’t as magical as one would expect it to be. It mostly involves tedious close-ups of her face rather than actual dancing.
Laaga Chunari Mein Daag is not full of minuses and is actually entertaining and a good time-pass. Just don’t go in with too many expectations and you might come out enjoying it! The problem is that it’s old wine in a new bottle and is so predictable that you want to scream. Some people don’t mind predictability and are just looking to pass three hours. In that case, go for it.
With many daag’s and not as many bright spots, Laaga Chunari Mein Daag is disappointing. Pradeep Sarkar can do so much better!
It’s basically a three-hour long soap opera. A bad one? Not necessarily. So if you like spending your time hooked to TV soaps with stereotypical character and plots, you won’t mind Laaga Chunari Mein Daag one bit. On the other hand, if you’re looking for socially relevant and insightful films then I suggest you go look elsewhere. This chunari is not for you!