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Kaun

Producer: Mukesh Udeshi
Director:
Ramgopal Varma
*ing
:
Manoj Bajpai, Urmila Matondkar
Music: Sandeep Chowta

Released on : February 26, 1999


Reviewed by: Sunder
sunder@indolink.com


out of 
This review of a "whodunit" movie tries its best to skirt the question of "who" (KAUN), so the viewer is not alluded to answering the question before seeing the movie. To give the movie due credit (and discredit), the director makes the viewer think a little too much to answer the question - Kaun; and think for most of 90-long minutes. And this is perhaps where, the movie fails. It makes you think a little more than you would like to - and I wonder if people really like to think while watching a whodunit potboiler. The movie fails on not just this one yardstick, but a few others too - the plot, the final answer to the "Kaun" question (this is as much as the review will tell), and the vanity in some of the situations.

The movie - if it fails on so many yardsticks - still remains eminently watchable and close, if not comparable to some of the best whodunits Hindi cinema has seen. It may be a shot at Ittefaq (one of the best in this genre) in many ways, be it songlessness, fewness of characters, similarity in plot (girl home alone) and more. But it would feel like a movie made 35 years before in terms of maturity of the narrative, though it may look and sound like one made 35 years after Yash Chopra crafted that wonderful songless movie. Having made this comparison, I must admit here to being an avid admirer of Yash Chopra movies and with reason, I believe.

Despite pulling out these negatives upfront - Kaun does have some huge positivies going for it. Remarkably consistent performances by the few characters who come on screen. Urmila is her usual self - good or bad - as you like it - and has an expression of fear pasted on her face for most of the movie. The rest of the cast (Manoj Bajpai and I won't say if there were any more) is competent. Manoj Bajpai doesn't quite have a role like Bhiku Mhatre (Satya), but does exceedingly well with the sketchy characterization he has in Kaun. And you also experience the wonderful costume design credited to Manish Malhotra. He averages for the many (un)dresses he gave Urmila in Rangeela and Daud, by going in for one simple white home robe here. Given the brevity of the titles (less than 8-10 screens), I am surprised that designing one little outfit got him a full screen of credit. Must be something very amazing about the dress that I couldn't see (pun not unintended). Maybe he designed the white shirt, tie, and grey suit (very designer wear!) for Manoj Bajpai, and also where the dresses should tear out and where the blood stains should add color and design.

Humor apart, it is the visual and sound effects, perhaps the forte of Ramgopal Varma, that really hold the movie together and create any moments of fear that are, and there are quite a few. Mazhar Kamran uses the camera effectively, given that all he can play around with is one house. Thankfully for him, or by his design, the house is quite huge, has stairs that go around, lotsa glass, the fish pond, and a whole many of statues, dark alleys, and the like. Visually appealing - Sandeep Chowta makes sure the sounds are right too. And he uses all the wrong sounds to make the movie sound "right" - lightning and thunder, rains lashing, cats mewing, glasses shattering, doorbell ringing, and the wonderful use of the sounds of silence.

The movie, I thought, had a lot more potential with the way it started. The first few solo acts by Urmila bring out the fear of being home alone on a rainy day, though a little exaggeratedly. At the same time, these very sequences also convey the humor underlying the fear most brilliantly. The silliness of your own fear - when you look back at it, can bring out a smile if not a laugh. With a girl alone at home, telling mother that she will be careful - comes a stranger (Manoj Bajpai) knocking (rather, ringing the bell) at the door. The TV announcement also talks of a mentally deranged killer in the town who finds an excuse to get into a home and kills the lone inhabitant. The girl also fears that someone else has also broken into the house. Ramgopal Varma keep the integrity of the plot exceedingly well - though some situations are quite cliched. He keeps you puzzled if there is a third person, inside or outside the house, and if so, who (the obvious question of Kaun) and why? This is one place where the movie surely succeeds. It also succeeds in bringing out the humor underlying the situations. The performers sure contribute to some humor in the movie (good lines of dialogue), and the humor in the situation itself. The movie would perhaps have made a classic - if it had tried to be a comedy, with a mysterious backdrop rather than the other way around. Now, you really have to look through the mystery to appreciate any comedy or even realism in the situations.

And then, the movie seems to be building up well - when things somehow seem to go awry. The climax in the end, really makes the 90 minute movie feel long and the effort perhaps wasted. But lets not hold the end against the movie - it had its moments, and many of them, until that point. Even the classic Ittefaq had a cliched climax, and atleast this one isn't cliched - though it is a little too far-stretched.

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