I can't believe I finally found this movie. I'd been dying to see it shortly after I started watching films and tried buying it several times online but it was always back ordered. So, my last trip into the city I finally found a copy. It was all I could do to not put it on the second I got home. I have to say that I liked it the first time, but it wasn't until I watched it the second (while I was crazily taking hundreds of screencaps) that I realized just how much I liked it. Obviously steeped in fantasy, on the surface it looks like the story of a ghost's love for a human and the path he takes to gain and keep her. Look deeper and it's a story of feminine solitude and redemption. Lachchi’s situation, having to choose between the husband who’s left her and the ghost who’s sought her out is the main vein of the film, and, though the film does star Shah Rukh and features a handful of male players, it is at the core, fascinatingly female centric.

The movie opens with female narration, Lachchi's family and friends bustling around her getting her ready for her upcoming nuptials. Break into the wonderfully colorful, beautifully danced and 100% female Aadhi Rat Jab. In fact most of the songs are predominantly female, with woman responsible for most of the dance steps (including one very crazy and difficult sequence during the celebration of the well). We also see a subplot featuring the amazing Juhi Chalwa as the wife who has to deal with a life of loneliness due to the absence of her betrothed. But it is Rani who demands the highest regard. She is nothing less than magnificent in this fairy-tale role that is tinged with the very real-life complications of an extramarital relationship. She wails when the ghost declares that this relationship will proceed only if she wants it to, and I thought her tears were due to her dilemma, being torn between moral transgression and marital bliss. But she reveals that she’s overwhelmed because no one’s ever asked for her opinion or permission before.

That isn't to say that I didn't absolutely adore Shah Rukh in what is my absolute favorite double role of his. What woman wouldn't want to have his ghost woo her? He's insanely romantic, sensitive and continues to consistently put her first - practically the perfect man. Though driven by money, his portrayal of the practical Kishanlal was also very genuine. One of the things I loved about the portrayal of this love triangle was that, even though he left her alone of his own accord, the writers don't make Kishanlal a typical Hindi-style villain. His only crime is his own desire to make his father happy, even if it means leaving. And even though I loved the relationship between Lachchi and the ghost, the romance of it all left me heartbroken, for in every love triangle there must be a loser. This was indeed a love triangle, and in SRK's portrayal of the distant husband, the love and need for his wife was very evident, especially in the scene where you see Kishanlal sitting on the floor clutching the cloth his wife walked on when they first arrived home. Could there have been anything more tragic than the thought that this poor man is alone with his dreams for 4 years, while his wife and her lover are happy and content, basking in family approval at the same time. One final word, when the two characters came together, Shah Rukh was spot on. There was a definite discernible distinction between the two characters, the overly confident ghost and the worried and confused husband, and his execution was flawless.

The film also boasts huge names in supporting cast roles. Anupam Kher, Suneil Shetty and Amitabh Bachchan all are featured in small roles. Well, don't blink or you'll miss Suneil, but Anupam Kher is good as Kishanlal's greedy father. Amitabh's role is, in itself, a paheli. I suppose there had to be some way to tell the ghost from the man, but his appearance as the strange herder was too convenient. I had hoped that he would have turned out to be part of the equation - maybe a ghost himself - but he was just a weird old man who had a neat little tidy solution to the riddle. I also have to mention the addition of Naseeruddin and Ratna Pathak Shah as the ghostly puppets. Their additional narration was indeed comical.

Of course, even with all these splendid performances, credit must go to director Amol Palekar, who does an excellent job of keeping his actors in check. He has done an excellent job incorporating what I can only assume is an authentic Rajasthani feel and, from the very first frames, we are bathed in color and song. Every theatrical aspect contributes to the overall feel of the movie - the cinematography is outstanding, the costumes are to die for and the music is beautiful.

Music Director M M Kreem and lyricist Gulzar have given us one of the most wonderfully classic sounding soundtracks I think I've heard to date. While the music has a more folksy flavor to it, what I really love is how the lyrics and the vocalists take centre stage. Of course we have Sonu Nigam featured prominently, but he's also joined by a myriad of absolutely stunning female vocalists. I simply can not get enough of Dhire Jalna sung by Sonu and the wonderful Shreya Ghosal and I'm not surprised that both won best playback awards for it. I wish I'd know about it when I had done my Sonu list - I think it would have ranked among my top 3. As for the rest of the songs, they are all amazing. This is one movie where the music not only adds to the beauty of the film but also confidently stands alone. My favorite soundtrack as a whole for sure!

Final thoughts: Paheli is a beautifully told tale rich with folklore and a very fine example of narrative from the word go. It really is no wonder that this film was India's choice to enter into the Oscars nomination ring. While it didn't end up receiving a nomination, it still remains one of the most engaging, authentically Indian films I've seen (with no traces of Hollywood skeletons I might add).

And just because I took a hundred screencaps and Shah Rukh and Rani's chemistry rivals even that of Kajol...

12 Response to "Paheli"

  1. bollywooddeewana says:
    November 5, 2009 at 2:07 PM

    I'm yet to see this, its long been on my rental list, perhaps its time i bump it up, i think i actually prefer the SRK/Rani chemistry to that of SRK/Kajol, especially in this one song from Chalte Chalte which i've added below

  2. shell says:
    November 5, 2009 at 3:10 PM

    You need to seriously bump it up. It's really a terrific movie...could one day be a golden oldie?!

    I need to rewatch Chalte Chalte - I think it was the 3rd Shah Rukh film I ever saw. However, I love all the songs from that one and I nearly fell off my chair during Tauba Tumhare Yeh Ishare (thanks for the quick link). My God but the man looks good in white or a towel or nothing!). Alright, I need to go watch this RIGHT NOW!!!!

  3. Magpie Ima says:
    November 7, 2009 at 7:54 PM

    Nice review of very possibly my all time favorite Bollywood movie. I love the puppet dance scene at the end.

  4. shell says:
    November 7, 2009 at 11:32 PM

    Thanks! I know, it's a perfect ending isn't it. Plus the song is absolutely terrific!

  5. Anonymous Says:
    November 8, 2009 at 4:39 PM

    i am glad you finally got to watch this. I have been recommending this movie to you for some time for the very reasons you have liked.

    An excellent review of a truly excellent film

  6. shell says:
    November 8, 2009 at 8:52 PM

    Anon - Yes, I am so glad I got to finally see it too. I'd been looking for it everytime I headed into a movie store and finally found it! Thanks for the compliment on the review.

  7. Bhargav Saikia says:
    November 9, 2009 at 11:18 AM

    Paheli is a beautiful film. I think one of the most well shot films in Bollywood ever. And great music too! Why don't these films work at the box-office!!? Not good.

  8. shell says:
    November 9, 2009 at 3:28 PM

    It was surprising to hear that it didn't do well and I agree that it's about as beautiful a film as I have ever seen, but I guess you never can tell what's going to work or not (though this film had every single element I look for in a film).

  9. Jules says:
    November 12, 2009 at 7:39 PM

    Mm-mm-mmmmmm... I really very much enjoyed this one too.. any movie which features SRK in tandem has got to be outstanding anyway. This could be given to me for Christmas (hint-hint) and I'd love it even though I've already seen it.

  10. shell says:
    November 13, 2009 at 7:36 AM

    I think I'm ranking it as one of my fav Shah Rukh films. Also, I'll keep that in mind, but it took me a year to find my copy!!!!

  11. yves says:
    November 25, 2009 at 2:45 PM

    Hi shellie,
    Just passing through, I pounced on Paheli because I too have a soft spot for Rani, and you're right, the chemistry between her and SRK is perhaps even better than with Kajol! Have you seen Chalte chalte? Veer-zaara I'm sure you must have. But both are a living proof of that special bond!

  12. shell says:
    November 26, 2009 at 7:27 AM

    Hi yves. Yes I saw Chalte Chalte but it was very early into my bollywood watching. I think it needs a rewatch and soon. I remember loving it though (and I saw Shah Rukh and Rani together much before him and Kajol so I thought they made a perfect pair, however, I also think that he and Kajol are wonderful). Veer-Zaara is a beautifully heartbreaking movie. Thanks for coming by!