"Tumhe Lajja Nahi Aati Hai?" “Lajja?! Yeh Lajja Hai! Yeh Lajja Hai! Why is it that women are treated like robots? Are they robots? Why is it that you go to a temple and pray to Durga, Kali and Saraswati yet when you go home you treat your Durga’s, Kali’s and Saraswati’s so maliciously?”
These questions are intensely personified in Raj Kumar Santoshi’s Lajja, but as we are presented with four intense and dramatic tales, the overall presentation of this cultural misogyny is not flawless.
Manisha, the first of the Sita incarnations- Vaidehi, embarks on a touching journey after her husband Raghu (Jackie Shroff) has completely thrown away their feeble marriage. After a number of unpleasant situations, including Urmila’s sensuous and exhilarating dance number, Vaidehi realizes that she has no purpose in life as the wife of Raghu, and hence goes on her way with her unborn child. As her journey begins so do the journey through the dark age of harsh realities in society. Vaidehi, however, is not simply leaving her home; she’s really ‘on the run’. Raghu is earlier involved in a car accident, which renders him impotent. Vaidehi’s worth in his eyes substantially increases when he learns she is carrying his one and only child. Raghu then sends his two partners in crime, Frances and Faqru (Razzak Khan and Johnny Lever) to hunt her down. Their entrance in the movie without a doubt lightens up the already tense mood, but their comedic scenes do get over done and redundant.
Vaidehi escapes the hit men leading her to the chor of all chors Anil Kapoor. Vaidehi realizes her stay with Kapoor is short lived and continues on her way, which leads her to a young and poor Sita, Maithili (Mahima). She bumps into Kapoor again, whose identity fluctuates through out the film. He, in reality, has no identity or screen name for that matter. Together Vaidehi and Kapoor attempt at breaking the darkness that Kalyug has brought into Maithili’s life. In the midst of this is a beautiful and excellent choreographed dance number courtesy Sonali Bendre.
Mahima’s acting is good as she shows that she is one of the up and coming in Bollywood. Let’s hope to see more of this form of Mahima in the future (hopefully her upcoming release Yeh Teraa Ghar Yeh Meraa Ghar will allow us to do just that). Anil is competent as well, but his role isn’t meaty, and doesn’t require much. Anil works with it and still comes out with a smile on his face. Jackie’s overall performance too, was simply well done. Nothing much to write home about. In the first segment though, the length of the film becomes an issue. The attempts at comedy are too overdone, very lengthy and may get boring. The drunken family members of the bridal party are actually given more screen time than the talented actors, namely, Farida Jalal and Rohini Hattangadi, and it affects the presentation of the film. In Santoshi’s defense, the audience was somewhat pleased with the goings on, and that may have been his intention. However, we all know that pleasing the audience with comedy can become a major problem when creating a good film.
On the run again Raghu does find Vaidehi, but Vaidehi does manage to escape. Here she meets Janki (Madhuri Dixit). Arguably, the best Sita of them of all. Janki is an unwed mother-to-be whose relief lies in a bottle of rum and dancing. Janki’s life partner Manish (Sameer Soni) returns Madhuri’s loving emotions, but his affection is limited. After the malicious influence of Purushottam (Tinnu Anand), Manish decides that Janki and their unborn child are not worthy of him and chooses to end their relationship. It is this scene where Janki becomes the infuriated and hurt Sita that lies within every hurt woman, and it is that scene where Madhuri shows what an excellent actress she is! Torn, Janki chooses to challenge Ram during their play of the Ramayan and asks him to take the test of the agnipariksha. It is, however, Janki that has to pay for this challenge. Madhuri as Janki can’t be spoken enough of! Her gripping and natural performance is without a doubt up to par with her role in Pukar. The Ramayan scene will have you gripped; and, her confrontation with the world of hypocrites who decide to revolt against her will make you hold on to your heart. Her on screen presence with Manisha was a delight as well. Of the pairs, Janki and Vaidehi are the most pleasant, (an ironic word for such a film), of them all. Their dance to Badi Mushkil was a delight to watch. In light of their once estranged relationship, their chemistry and rapport is incredible!
Her final destination in her shameful journey is the most disturbing of them all. The opposite can be said for Ramdulari (Rekha)’s entrance! Ramdulari was much more than a Sita to the village she lived in, she was more of the Goddess Durga, the one everyone turned to, and the person who gladly helped them. Rekha’s English accent was comedic enough and her deeds against the less educated who choose to kill their unwanted daughters were undoubtedly applaud worthy. Before Vaidehi actually encounters Ramdulari, she encounters the most un-needed character of the film Bulwa (Ajay Devgan). Bulwa is your run of the mill “Superman” character that un-does (or attempts to) all the wrong done in the village. Ajay’s portrayal is excellent, and definitely the best he has given in recent times and in fact, of the male stars, his performance is the only one that stands out, BUT his character ruined the realistic feel of the film. After all, in the true story that Santoshi has based Ramdulari’s segment on, there was no Bulwa, and in reality there probably never will be.
Ramdulari’s trouble (and strength) comes up when her son falls in love with Gajendra Babu (Danny Denzongpa)’s daughter. Gajendra Babu is the head of the village Ramdulari lives in and hence is of a higher caste, (the system that he runs the village with), than her. Ramdulari manages to educate Vaidehi before she meets a sad fate, the over publicized rape. The semi-finale of the film is the most disturbing, yet, without a doubt excellently executed. The actual rape is invincible (the family can go to watch this one) yet Ramdulari’s scream’s alone and her cries before the incident will leave you regretting the time you did minimal wrong to anyone/thing. Ramdulari’s cries dig deep into you, as does the look on her face. Her hops and skips away from the village men, like prey attempting to run away from their predator make you feel her pain. Though the actual scene is not unsuitable for kids, the overall scene may leave them disturbed. Kids and adults alike will remember that scene long; long after the film is over. Rekha’s portrayal is superb, but she has proved her worth over and over again and there is no need to speak of her skills.
The conclusion is another flawed segment which somewhat takes away from Santoshi’s presentation. This of course, is after Vaidehi’s gripping speech regarding the "lajja" in our society. After this, Vaidehi’s final decision will leave many feeling satisfied and at the same time will leave others shocked at the complete and utter fault in her decision. The last five minutes too represent an entire different scenario. No explanations though, go watch the film.
About awards? Sure it is Madhuri’s performance that stands out, yet, Manisha is the winner in this film. Haven’t seen her like this since Dil Se, and the maturity she displays from then to now is shocking. If by some chance Madhuri does get nominated with Manisha, it would be a hard thing to choose from. Manisha is back, and better than ever.
Music wise, it was obvious that Raj Kumar Santoshi knew what he was doing when he released the soundtrack. The mediocrity in the soundtrack has no affect on the film; in fact music plays a minimal role. Lata Mangeshkar’s “Kaun Dagar, Kaun Shaher” is well interspersed throughout the film. I found it pointless to include the two versions of the “Kalyug Ki Sita” on the soundtrack and not use them in the film. They would have worked and possibly clicked much better on screen and they definitely had appropriate places to work with.
The Hollywood-Bollywood trend continues, even with this film, as the background score by Ilyaraja is really American, and it works! At times it seems out of place, but at others, it is truly a distinguishable positive effect on the movie. The time Santoshi and him have put in surely shows. Cinematography and locations from New York to Uttar Pradesh are a sight for the eyes, especially in Badi Mushkil.
Many a times, when a film is so intensely hyped, so heavenly burdened with such a powerful subject and an equally powerful star cast, the film could either be superb or a major disappointment. Tracking back to Santoshi’s accredited record, Lajja doesn’t really supercede any of them, specifically his last release Pukar (hence the 8.25 rating), but definitely falls in mid-way between the above-mentioned fates. When Santoshi wasn´t trying to please the masses with overdone comedy and an un-needed hero and villains, (perhaps the only way Santoshi saw it fit for the movie to succeed at the Box Office?), he did project realistic portrayals of the harsh world we live in. Are you wondering if you should go watch the film? The answer is, without a doubt! Just be prepared, because it’s not exactly perfect.