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Film Review
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Producer & Director: Ramgopal Varma
*ing: Urmila Matondkar, Aftab Shivdasani, Antara Mali, Neeraj Vohra, Govind Namdev, Dilip Tahil and Smita Jaykar
Music: Sandeep Chowta

Released on : October 15, 1999
Approximate Running Time:  2 hours, 45 minutes


Reviewed by: Mohammad Ali Ikram
ali@indolink.com


out of 

Everyone rejoice.  I declare it official; in the true cinema-connoisseurs' books, Ramgopal Varma now ranks as one of the best ever Indian film directors.  You have got to admit the man has a talent for presenting very cerebral ideas in simple and very entertaining formats.  Sure, the majority of pseuds don't have a clue about the witty brilliance of Satya, Daud and Kaun, but even these folks loved Rangeela.   Mast falls in the latter category of Varma flicks, those which are likely to be appreciated by both the masses and classes.  Taking the true-life stories of legions of Bollywood actress devotees, Varma adds a fairy-tale twist to a great end-of-millenium package.

Did you know that Varma was completely besotted by Sridevi in his younger years?  If not, don't worry cause Mast's Mumbai rickshaw driver is periodically there to recount poor Varma's story of love and disheartenment at his idol's marriage to Boney Kapoor.  (Varma thinks of himself as a cabbie?   Interesting.)  Earlier on though, we meet Kittu (Aftab Shivdasani), a young college-going lad who spends less time in the classroom compared with obsessing over his favourite Bollywood heroine, Mallika (Urmila Matondkar).   At home, Kittu talks to her posters on his bedroom wall, and 24-hours a day, he's day-dreaming about dancing with her, and rescuing her from villains - Ouch!  Déjà vu.  Reminds me of a few years ago in my life.  Of course, I was never that far gone in my obsession.  At least I always did well in school.  (Aren't you happy now Mom and Dad?) 

Kittu's lack of scholarly pursuit throws him in a major family conflict with Daddy dearest (Dilip Tahil) and in a bout of confusion, he ventures off to Mumbai to claim the woman of his dreams.  Needless to say, meeting Mallika cannot be that easy.  Lucky for Kittu, he is our movie's hero and a few reels later, he gets the chance to talk face-to-face with Ms. Drop Dead Gorgeous.  She's a tormented and lonely soul dancing at the whims of her evil Mama (Govind Namdev) and his evil family.  (Cinderella anyone?)  The rest of this entertaining tale shows how Mallika and Kittu help one another realize one another's fondest dreams.

Watching Mast is like watching an ode to (crazy) film fans and a fairy tale all in one.  Of course, Kittu is not the kind of film fan who needs to be institutionalized.  He's just a young chap a bit too dedicated to his favourite actress.  Ramgopal Varma knows that film fans want a happy ending and so the use of a Cinderella-like twist is very necessary for the film to work.  Earlier on though, he brings forth images and concepts which are all too eerily real.  How many of us have ever obsessed about a film star at some time or another?  How many of us take our loving families for granted every day?  Come on, admit it.  Most importantly though, how many of you know how unstable and emotionally insecure the lives of most film stars are?  Varma shows us all this and more.  You can take the film at face value as an entertainer, but watch it carefully a few times and you're bound to note its humanity and life lessons.  (Varma's films are such that we often learn valuable lessons even from the fleeting characters.)

Lending able support to Varma's vision are unfaltering technical credits, deeply nuanced characters and performances.  Newcomer Aftab Shivdasani comes across as a bit young and aimless when the movie opens, but as you watch the proceedings, you'll learn that this bit of casting makes perfect sense considering Kittu's immaturity and innocence. 

Urmila Matondkar, looking heavenly and voluptuous, says very little in Kittu's dreams.  But then again, he isn't really dreaming of Mallika, the person; that's Mallika the film heroine in his thoughts.  When he finally meets her, Urmila delivers a fine performance as an emotionally and psychologically frail girl trapped in a woman's body.  (I often wondered how much of Mallika is like Sridevi in real life?  Mallika is not a real character but Urmila and Ramgopal Varma give her many personality traits and physical twitches similar to our former Bollywood Queen.)

Dilip Tahil and the often overlooked, Smita Jaykar are gracefully credible as Kittu's parents as is the unknown actress who plays Kittu's sister.  Neeraj Vohra and his cronies at the U-Turn Hotel are realistic generosity personified, while Govind Namdev demonstrates how even the most evil of film villains can be wounded pussy-cats with their wives. 

Special mention goes to Antara Mali (photographer Jagdish Mali's daughter) who delivers an excellent,  natural rendition of Kittu's selfless buddy cum devotee.  Rare are the instances of seeing a newcomer deliver a flawless performance in his/her first film.  Antara beats even Aftab hollow.   Honest.  (Watch her reaction scenes in the songs and the sides of the screen and you will know exactly what I mean.)

Piyush Shah shows us the majestic visuals of South Africa and Namibia through his camera lens and the choreographry (Farah Khan and others) adds to the perfection of the songs.  (Thank God, there is no aerobicize in this flick.)  It's amusing, novel and enjoyable to have Antara join Aftab in his "Asmaan Kehata Hai Rab Se" dream, while Urmila is all but seducing the audience in the female version of "Main Mast".  Play it again Sandeep Chowta.  Please.

There should be more than words to express our happiness at Bollywood having a prolific and versatile director like Ramgopal Varma.  Yash Chopra used to deliver this kind of variety in his seventies' movies, but since the flop of his classics, Silsila and Lamhe, Chopra has never gone back to the other genres.  (Unusual since Lamhe and Silsila were romances, and not actioners.)  Varma, on the other hand, is never disheartened by the flopping of his masterpieces.  Daud and Raat bombed and Kaun did average business at the turnstiles;  Varma even knocks his films sometimes.   And it is this healthy attitude which helps him deliver such great cinema one film after another.

All I can say is thanks again Mr. Varma.  I cannot wait for your next with Shahrukh and Urmila.  I hear it is supposed to be a family drama.  Any theatres booking advance tickets yet?

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