Dir. N. Chandra
The excellent Asim Burney won the drawing to choose Filmi Geek's 200th review, and his choice was Tezaab ("acid"), the 1988 film that made a star out of Madhuri Dixit. The movie was a huge hit, and folks roughly my age who grew up with Hindi movies no doubt remember it with loving nostalgia.
Shyamlal (Anupam Kher) is a gambling alcoholic, who finances his carefree lifestyle by exploiting the singing and dancing talents of his daughter Mohini (Madhuri Dixit). But his debts catch up with him when the underworld boss Lotiya (Kiran Kumar) kidnaps Mohini. Mohini's friend Jyoti (Suparna Anand) witnesses the kidnapping and sends for her brother Mahesh (Anil Kapoor), who had been Mohini's college classmate and beau, to come rescue her. There is just one problem: Mahesh is now a gangster known as Munna, wanted by the police and banned from the city. Police Inspector Gagan Singh (Suresh Oberoi), who remembers Mahesh from his pre-crime days as a promising young naval cadet, captures him, and after listening to the story of how he became a banished criminal, strikes a deal with him - Inspector Singh will look the other way for 24 hours, to give Munna a chance to save Mohini. In return, Munna must return to his upstanding, law-abiding ways.
So much for summary - the top comment on the YouTube page for Tezaab does a much better job at hitting the highlights:
Epic Dance 0:06:33 Epic Scene 0:30:27 Best "You are under arrest" ever 0:24:37 Best "Hi" ever 0:57:50 Epic Jump 1:14:00 Epic Pose 1:14:12 Epic Laught 1:28:11 Epic Fight 1:45:14 with Epic Win Face 1:45:37 another Epic Dance 1:47:27 THE EPIC SCENE 2:08:50 The Epic Pursuit 2:11:53 Epic Hammer Fight 2:34:30 The Epic Last Fight 2:37:41
What can I add to that? Tezaab is EPIC. And I think the best way to appreciate this movie is to put yourself in the mind of someone to whom it really would be epic - say, an Indian male who was a young adolescent at the time of this movie's release. Tezaab is in no way a movie for me. But there is enough in it for me to understand something of why it was a hit in its time, and why a certain generation - especially that generation's boys - remember it so fondly. Everything about this movie is BIG - big fights, big car chases, big explosions, overwrought drama even by filmi standards, all supported, of course, by a background score full of bombastic fanfares and strategically-timed thunderclaps. It's not hard for me to imagine that a boy of certain age would, at the time, have found Anil Kapoor's Munna the coolest thing EVER, what with his self-sacrificing bravery and the stupendous super-filmi dialogue that rolls effortlessly from beneath his trademark mustache.
When I started up the movie, I was greeted with this:
This may as well say "Carla, you will hate this movie." I am a complete wimp when it comes to movie violence; no matter how fake or stylized it is, I really have no tolerance for it. When I saw Ram Lakhan, I was pleasantly surprised at how rich and interesting it turned out to be. Tezaab, though, is the movie I feared I would get when I sat down with Ram Lakhan - weakly plotted, needlessly violent, and overwhelmingly male. The story is, on the whole, weak and barely coherent - the flashbacks-within-flashbacks narrative structure doesn't make it any easier to follow - and largely an extended excuse for motorcycle chases, explosions, and fistfights.
And there is more "violent" than "love" in this violent love story. Indeed, Tezaab's is one of the lamest, most weakly motivated love stories I've ever seen. Mahesh first meets Mohini when both are fresh-faced college students. He seduces her on a bet, to prove to his idiot friends that he knows the secret to winning a girl. This trope - the idea that all women are identical, and are guaranteed to respond like automata to an expert execution of the right formula - is offensive enough that I can't give it a pass in any movie, of any era. And the nominal love story only gets stupider from there. Mohini discovers Mahesh's ruse and responds with justifiable anger. For some reason this makes him decide he really does love her after all, enough not to just threaten suicide but actually attempt it. Naturally this melts away Mohini's anger, and after his wounds heal they frolic together for a song or two. Later, though, after his exile from Bombay, Mahesh decides that he's no good for Mohini, and abuses her horribly in order to make her hate him. This isn't so much love story as it is incoherent nonsense.
On the plus side, though, it's incoherent nonsense involving Madhuri Dixit, who is blessed with a perfectly radiant smile and the sheer talent to elevate even the most unbearable garbage to near watchability, at least while she is on the screen.
I could look at that all day! Madhuri does a lot with what she's given in Tezaab. Mohini has a few nearly fierce moments as she tries to stand up to her drunken, abusive father. And she has some truly funny moments as well, especially when Mahesh feigns interest in another girl (part of his magic formula, which of course works flawlessly), and Mohini works out her jealousy in a hilarious sequence of frustrated facial expressions.
You can't talk about Madhuri in Tezaab without mentioning her famous number "Ek do teen". This song may have launched a star career, but in the eyes of this firangi Madhuri-lover with the benefit of a quarter-century of hindsight on it, I really have to say that the song is more famous than good. While I can imagine its impact in its day - even on this insipid song with ridiculous choreography, Madhuri is clearly something special - if I want to watch Madhuri today, I have dozens of much, much better songs to choose from.
Also in Tezaab's assets column are a few notable performances from supporting actors. Bolstering the film's underlying message (to the extent it has one) of redemption and moral rectitude are the story arcs of Inspector Singh and Mahesh's loyal friend Baban (Chunky Pandey). Both shine through the bombast and bluster and even offer something approaching subtlety. As Singh, Suresh Oberoi projects a delicate charm and maturity akin to Jackie Shroff's character in Ram Lakhan - his seriousness and upstanding morality is wrought too broadly and stiffly to be believed, but he is perfect as an archetype and a foil for Munna's bitterness. And even his straight-arrow flawlessness has its limits; when they are finally reached at the film's end, it is a satisfying closure for his arc. As for Baban, he is a wonderful surprise, and the most three-dimensional and complex character in the film. He shows tenderness, loyalty, fearlessness, rage, wits, roguishness, and charm. Chunky Pandey does a great job with this interesting character (and even gets a sweet song nearly to himself, "So gaya yeh jahan"). I would watch a whole movie about him - even without Madhuri.
At any rate, while I can't say I really enjoyed watching Tezaab, I didn't really expect to either. (In fairness to it, I liked it much better on second viewing, when I could better follow the nested flashbacks, better appreciate what little subtlety there is, and skip the most unbearable parts.) But I do get a lot from watching movies that were huge commercial hits - if nothing else, they offer a small, imperfect window onto the time and culture that created them and on the people who cherish them. And that window is a big part of the fascination of Hindi movies, for me.