Planet Bollywood
Producer: Mukta Arts
Director: Subhash Ghai
Starring: Sanjay Dutt, Madhuri Dixit, Jackie Shroff, Raakhee, Ramya, Pramod Muthu.
Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
Genre: Action
Recommended Audience: General
Approximate Running Time: 190 mins
Reviewed by: Shahid Khan  - Rating: 7.0 / 10
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Public Rating Average: 5.04 / 10 (rated by 417 viewers)
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There were a lot of controversies that seemed to surround Subhash Ghai’s “Khalnayak”. The popular pairing of Anil Kapoor and Jackie Shroff that featured in the director’s previous films, “Karma” and “Ram Lakhan” was abandoned and Ghai, instead, chose Sanjay Dutt to essay a role that normally would have been done by Anil Kapoor. Saawan Kumar’s thriller, “Khalnaika”, also coincided with the release of “Khalnayak” and Subhash Ghai accused the director of cashing in on the popularity of his potboiler. And then onto other serious controversies such as the highly publicized court case against the “Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai” number for vulgarity, the rumor mills working overtime regarding Madhuri Dixit’s romance with Sanjay Dutt (whether real or not) and Sanjay’s arrest by the police for links to terrorism.

Such controversies often threaten to overshadow the film itself and are credited by the box office pundits for being the major reasons for its huge success at the box office. “Khalnayak” has an age-old plot that would be familiar to those who regularly watch Hindi cinema. It belongs to the genre of films where two male characters are from opposite lanes of life and their ideals clash.

In the early 1990’s, Raakhee tended to play mothers whose sons died or landed themselves in serious trouble. It got to the point where if actors realized that Raakhee was going to be their screen mother, they would panic and ask the directors if their characters were going to be killed off. Admittedly, the role of the disadvantaged mother is something that Raakhee has often shined in though the act got boring in the late 1990’s, after which she took a brief break from the industry. Here, she plays Aarti, a woman who has been abandoned by her son, Balu Balram (Sanjay Dutt) after he killed his father. After killing several political leaders, Balu is captured by the police and brought to jail where he is questioned by the chief police inspector, Ram Kumar (Jackie Shroff) about his gang and who he works for.

Balu Balram works for a James Bond villain wannabe, Roshi Mahanta who comes complete with a white cat and a telephone (so that when he is bored doing nothing but just sitting on his chair and giving people scary glances, he can give nuisance phone calls to everyone). Enter Ganga (Madhuri Dixit) who is Ram’s beloved. Well, of course, their names do go together so they are made for each other. “Main Ram ki Ganga hoon” and all that. It would be odd if Ram fell in love with a Susie or Ganga fell in love with a Robert. Not long after, Balu makes his escape from prison wearing a police uniform. Ghai should have gone the whole hog and copied the prison escape scene in “The Wind and the Willows” where the Frog escapes prison dressed up as a washer-woman. Imagine, Sanjay dressed up as a washer-woman, that would have been a sight to behold! To make up for this though, we are subjected to seeing him in drag in the later part of the film. Ram’s career is at stake and Ganga helps him by locating Balu herself and becoming his traveling companion. She is bored by her job as a prison warden and I suspect that she uses this opportunity to go on a holiday. After all, nothing that she does is actually helpful for Ram. The potboiler goes onto its way to the climax with revelations that Ram and Balu were close friends in their childhood, the reunion of Balu and his mother and the obliteration of the villain that James Bond could not be bothered to kill.

In any other film, the heroine would not have much to do with a plot like this. So immense is the star-power of Madhuri Dixit that Subhash Ghai actually carved out a solid role for her in this macho tale of a bad boy and his shenanigans. Forget the holes in her character’s motivations (Why does Ganga not inform Ram earlier where Balu is? Where does Ganga get her clothes from when she goes through so many costume changes in the songs with Balu?), she gives some real competition to Sanjay Dutt. The audiences ran in their droves to witness some of the Madhuri Dixit screen magnetism. In every scene, she holds you captive with her stunning beauty, demanding screen presence, expressive acting and excellent dancing skills. Saroj Khan’s dance choreography is entertaining to watch, particularly in “Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai”. Madhuri’s entrance is a riot with a prison inmate asking her, “Kaisi aurat hai tu? (What kind of a woman are you?)” and she responds by slapping her and saying, “Aisi aurat hoon main! (This is the kind of woman I am!)”. Sanjay Dutt is in his element in the title role expressing fury, resentment and sadness. His interactions with other performers crackles with chemistry be it Madhuri, Jackie or Raakhee. While Jackie Shroff has plenty of screen footage, you cannot help but think he is almost sidelined by his co-stars. But then he did get to play the title roles in “Hero” and “Ram Lakhan” and now this was someone else’s turn, hah! His performance here is the usual stern stuff but nothing out of the ordinary.

Laxmikant-Pyarelal was Subhash Ghai’s favorite music team until their careers came to a natural end. They have given his films memorable tunes right from “Karz” to “Hero” to “Meri Jung” to “Karma” to “Ram Lakhan” to “Saudagar” and this flick. “Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai” got all the attention and some of it is justified but it was also unfair as it ignored the other good tunes in the album. Alka Yagnik dominates with her sweet voice in numbers such as “Palki Pe Hoke Sawaar Chali Re”, “Aaja Sajan Aaja” and “Der Se Aana Jaldi Jaana”. Kavita Krishnamurthy’s “Nayak Nahin, Khalnayak Hai Tu” is hummable enough but that is ruined by the ridiculous picturisation on Ramya who plays Sophie, the love interest of the title character. Ramya wears this weird metal or silver outfit, I don’t know how she managed to fit into it, the poor thing.

As you have probably gauged already, there are some holes in the story (nothing more than what is usual in a Bollywood masala) but there are also some other flaws too. Mainly it is the climax, which seems to be almost non-existent. The film builds up the tension and it carries on building and once it is about to gain momentum, the finale is over quite quickly and we are facing the closing credits already. The director has acknowledged this mistake himself and he wishes that if he could turn back the clock, he would go back and spend more time on the ending of the film. Instead, Ghai was eager to wrap up production. There should also have been a tighter rein on the editing especially in the flashback portion of the film where the plot begins to meander a little. Despite these flaws, “Khalnayak” is a solid entertainer. With sterling performances, catchy music and some very good direction, this is a film that has that repeat viewing factor.

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