When I notice the drape and details of Manish Malhotraīs costumes more than the intricacies of the unfolding drama, I must concede that the film isnīt working for me. Mere Jeevan Saathi is a Masala movie which revolves around fairly conservative values. In a time when sexual boundaries are being tested by films such as Hum Tum and Salaam Namaste, it treats a breach of faith and one night stand as a grave sins even though the "transgressions" occur during courtship rather than marriage.
Masala movies that hook you in despite the better judgment of your rational self, are a joy. Stylistically however, Mere Jeevan Saathi seems to sit uncomfortably between straight melodrama and Masala. Its screenplay isnīt sufficiently cohesive or developed to be a good melodrama yet thereīs also a sense of apology and awkwardness about the overblown Masala bits. Perhaps the film has been heavily edited to comply with a 2 hour 15 minute running time. Whatever the case, it is not the vehicle for Karisma Kapoorīs come-back and a bravura performance does not materialize.
Character trajectories are erratic and patchy so that the duality of love - its selfless and possessive qualities do not find convincing expression in the three main protagonists - a guilt ridden singer (Akshay Kumar), his giving fiance (Amisha Patel) and the possessive "other woman" (Karisma Kapoor). Briefly, Meere Jeevan Saathi centers on a successful singerīs love for his fiance which is threatened by the largely unrequited desires of his manipulative boss - a woman whose emotional problems border on the psychotic.
Bollywood cinema is dripping with love triangles. From the classics like Mehboobīs Andaz to Kal Ho Naa Ho, these can speak volumes about the nature of love and underline societal tension: some soar to dizzy metaphorical heights while others stay at an entertaining literal level but the good ones have one thing in common; they engage our emotions. Itīs this ingredient thatīs missing from Mere Jeevan Saathi and copious on-screen histrionics do nothing to remedy the situation.
Similarities shared with Fatal Attraction, Disclosure, Chaahat (1996) and Aitraaz also give the film a tired, predictable quality. The fiancee, Anjali is all doe-eyed innocence and grace while the seductress, Natasha is all artifice and "daggers". Lack of plausibility has its greatest drawback when, during a confrontation, another side to each womanīs character suddenly materializes. At this point itīs as hard to feel compassion for the crazed seductress as it is to applaud a show of wisdom from the ordinarily shallow fiancee so that what should be a dramatic showdown looks like a contrived afterthought.
Akshay Kumarīs acting is noticeably more assured than that of the female leads. Maybe heīs simply drawing on a similar performance in Aitraaz but uneven performances might also be the result of directorial choice and constraint. Curiously, both female actors display unusually mannered movement patterns that seem to indicate that the director may have wanted to create a sense of unity: so that they would appear as the dual aspects of the same force. One woman was to represent the singerīs ambition; the one that makes the songs successful while the other was to represent the muse, without whom the song would never have been written. Unfortunately these stagy performances backfire and further alienate the characters.
To be fair, at times Karisma did seem to project more subtlety than the trite confines of her role allowed; sometimes there were snatches of the power she wielded in films like Zubeidaa and Fiza. Amisha however, struggled throughout. It wasnīt just that her character was too angelic. How did actresses like Nimi and Nargis in days gone by get that almost incandescent belief radiating from their eyes when they essayed similar roles?
Because the film is not stylistically firm, the masala-like bits of comedic relief, provided by a few "hammy" gangland figures, falls flat. Itīs also because they are simply not funny. To use the same characters as instigators for potentially tense action sequences is a poor choice because they are too buffoon-like and fallible to be menacing. Another shortcoming at a structural level is the technique of showing a confronting scene then diluting its effect by relegating it to the realm of the imaginary; this was overused, making the narrative predictable and ineffectual. A contrived monologue as the means of explaining the roots of Natashaīs obsession is also heavy-handed, clumsy filmmaking because itīs a technique that is better suited to the stage.
Really the only points of engagement for me came via the melodious songs of Nadeem Shravan and the picturizations of Natashaīs fantasies. In general, the chemistry between the actors was best during the songs. Although Akshayīs big rock star number was reminiscent of Bewafaa, the choreography (Raju Khan) and the dancing itself were more accomplished in Mere Jeevan Saathi. These dancers had technique and attitude; very different from the "mannequins" in Bewafaa. The catchy Deewani - a window into Natashaīs madness, was beautifully costumed and energetically performed with Karisma at the helm projecting the fire and passion of her old self.
Unfortunately, a short burst of brilliance dies quickly in the tedium of an uninspired story and half hearted execution. Itīs a love triangle in name but so ill-defined that itīs doubtful whether it has an apex.