One of the finest song picturizations I have ever seen is the magnificent "Choli ke peeche," the scandalously sexy number that outraged Indian religious conservatives and cemented Madhuri Dixit's place as the the queen of Bollywood in the 1990s. The picturization is a brightly-colored eyeful of T&A topped by Madhuri's winning smile. The song itself is packed with double- and single-entendres. "Choli ke peeche kya hai?" asks its refrain - "What's behind your blouse?" The answer, delivered with a delicious faux-demureness, is "Behind my blouse is my heart, and I'll give it to my love." Yeah, right - as soon as you're done shaking it for a bunch of drunken bandits.
It's a great song, and Madhuri is good enough to eat in one of her most energetic and flirtatious performances. Unfortunately, the rest of the film that spawned this legendary number, Khalnayak ("Villain") is not quite up to the standard of brilliance set by its most famous and memorable song.
Ballu (Sanjay Dutt) is a terrorist and a murderer. Early on he is captured by Police Inspector Ram (Jackie Shroff), but Ballu engineers his escape, leaving a frustrated Ram looking foolish and desperate to bring the villain to justice. Ram's girlfriend Ganga (Madhuri), a prison guard, volunteers to go undercover to infiltrate Ballu's gang and lead them into Ram's custody. She soon finds herself drawn to the charismatic villain, and finds her loyalty to law enforcement, and to Ram, severely tested.
The film's premise offers and opportunity for some tight psychological drama, and in occasional moments there are tantalizing glimpses of that potential. Indeed, the film's first half is quite compelling. Some of the scenes between Madhuri and Sanjay are quite memorable; Madhuri is particularly impressive, capturing the bold nervousness of a young idealistic woman in way over her head, and Sanjay movingly (if sweatily) conveys Ballu's internal struggle between his angry, violent nature and his tenderness toward Ganga.
Khalnayak suffers, though, from the formulaic requirements of being a masala film of its time. In trying to be all things at once, the film jumps abruptly between the milieus of psychological drama, action thriller, romance, and comedy, and the result is a herky-jerky feeling, in which the viewer is unable to settle into the story before it shifts gears again. Another side-effect of the masala bug is interminable, very violent fight scenes that had me reaching for the remote. Finally, the film bumps completely off the rails in its third hour, where Ganga more or less drops out of the story and what is left is a quite ridiculous study of Ballu's apparent Oedipus complex, leading up to a throroughly improbable and disappointing ending.
The best thing about Khalnayak (apart from "Choli ke peeche") is Madhuri, by a country mile. She demonstrates her ability to rise above weak material, showing a sensitivity in her acting that many of her roles in fluff films never took advantage of. Madhuri's Ganga presages her tour-de-force performance in the excellent, weighty Mrityudand a few years later. Sanjay deserves some credit, too, for his tense portrayal of the anti-hero Ballu. He navigates cliche-ridden waters without falling into them himself - he is not a soulless villain, but neither is he a loveable rogue with a heart of gold.
I place this film in my "Great naach-gaana" category with great reluctance. There are some terrible, terrible stinkers in this film's soundtrack. The first song in the film was so painful on both the ears and the eyes that it became the first song I have ever fast-forwarded through in a Bollywood film. And the film's final song, Ballu's triumphant declaration of his villainy, is mere time-wasting filler, leaving the viewer squirming in impatient anticipation of the film's climax and end. But "Choli ke peeche" is worth five times the price of the DVD, and there are some other very lovely songs as well, like "Aaja sajan aaja," in which Ganga faces the confusing struggle between her love for Ram and her desire for Ballu.