Planet Bollywood
Producer: Shrishti Arya, Sunil Lulla
Director: Goldie Behl
Starring: Abhishek Bachchan,Priyanka Chopra,Kay Kay Menon,Jaya Bachchan
Music: Dhruv Ghanekar
Lyrics: Vaibhav Modi
Genre: Action
Recommended Audience: Parental Guidance
Film Released on: 02 October 2008
Reviewed by: Lidia Ostepeev  - Rating: 6.5 / 10
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Public Rating Average: 5.11 / 10 (rated by 410 viewers)
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Writing about Dadasaheb Phalke – pioneer of Indian cinema and master of the mythological, Rachel Dwyer states “Phalke never allows…attractions to distract from the strong narrative line of his films, in which heroes and gods come alive on screen.” Working in the fantasy-mythological genre, director Goldie Behl does not have the basic requirements to create cinematic magic. He does not have an engaging story or particularly vibrant characters apart from his villain – Riz Raizada (K. K. Menon). Even so, the film is passable viewing, offering a standard quest formula with many derivative portions and some splashes of Indian colour. The Dhruv Ghanekar songs lift it from the doldrums even though some numbers do not seem to mesh with the narrative. Clearly it’s a departure from the usual Bollywood fare and ambitious in its use of all-Indian VFX but creating fantasies for modern viewers who can find larger, faster and more compelling sagas in the Hollywood repertoire, is no easy matter.

A quick look at what has given repeat value to recent Hollywood produced fantasies may put into relief some of the failings of Drona. Normally, I am not in favour of such comparisons because Indian films have their own vocabulary and rhythms. However, in this case, the basic story is one that has been reinterpreted in so many guises for centuries, so that cross-cultural comparisons seem appropriate. Drona borrows its hero’s early life from the Harry Potter story. Growing up in London, young Aditya (Abhishek Bachchan) is subjected to his aunt’s scorn and his adopted brother’s taunts. He’s detached from his surroundings and needs to find his identity when a clue blows in through an open window. J. K. Rowling – the creator of the Potter phenomenon worked within the conventions of the genre, borrowed heavily from the mythologies, legends and folktales of the world to create her story. It’s derivative, but told in an exemplary fashion – with an air of mystery so the reader/viewer cannot see what’s around the corner. The Star Wars series of films similarly keeps viewers guessing about issues of identity, nature and motives, allowing for the prospect of speculation.

Drona simply tells all and then proceeds to show it. The back story is given in the form of storybook narration with supporting graphics. We learn of the cosmic battle between gods and demons, the creation of amrit – the water of eternal life and how King Virbhadra’s lineage has for generations been entrusted with the sacred duty of protecting it. Aditya is the modern day Drona –protector and demon slayer. His identity is not a surprise. His purpose isn’t a mystery so that two tenements of good story telling fly out the window.

There is nothing wrong with a narrative that moves at a leisurely pace provided the characters and situations are engaging. Unfortunately Aditya is a sweet but dull youth who takes far too long to don his Drona costume. Is he going through some kind of identity crisis? If he is, it doesn’t ring true. The retort may be “well it’s a fantasy isn’t it?” But even fantasies need to have an internal logic and the very best ones are richly grounded in human experience. There needs to be a believable transformation from innocent young man into a decisive, adult Drona – a rites of passage. The characterisation of the young man was not convincing because the traits of Harry Potter aged about 12 were incongruously grafted onto Abhishek Bachchan’s manly body. The beauty of the Potter books is that the main character is first a child, a real teenager then a troubled young man.

The character of Drona seems to busy himself with the tests, riddles, charms and magical encounters which destiny has put in his path but his trajectory is as dry as the Namibian desert he traverses. His companion and helper – a warrior called Sonia (Priyanka Chopra) does not really provide contrast or sexual tension – apart from her contribution to the songs (most notably Oop Cha) In most instances she is earnest, purposeful and deadly dull. I kept thinking about the Indiana Jones films with their feisty female leads, steady flow of surprises, lively (sometimes breakneck pace) and ample laughs. Perhaps the VFX and action sequences were an all consuming concern in Drona. If so, it is a very high price to pay in more ways than one.

Exempt from criticism is the Mogambo-esque character of demonic Riz Raizada played with pure indulgence by versatile K. K. Menon. If Goldie Behl ever intended to make The Return of Riz, I would watch it. If he plans make a sequel to Drona I wouldn’t be that keen. Riz’s nutty conversations with himself were far more entertaining and interesting than the dialogues between Drona and his love Sonia. In this sense Mr. India (1987) – although primitive in its use of special effects, got the balance right; interesting hero and female lead, great villain, good use of songs and the forces of good still managed to save the world from imminent destruction and the audience from a large dose of tedium.

Quest stories tend to have a prescribed form – a departure, an initiation and a return as suggested by Joseph Campbell – a scholar of mythology. These are the stages that Drona too seems to go through. The high points in each could have logically been underscored or highlighted with a song. But why do we get the jazzy Khushi at the beginning? Is it meant to be ironic? Or is it his wish to escape into a fantasy world? It didn’t seem to work because the character wasn’t coming through at that stage as already mentioned. Oop Cha was more successful in setting a mood of otherworldliness and uncertainty as Drona stands on the threshold of adventure. His reunion with his real mother in (Jaya Bachchan) in the fantasy world is an important point but Bandagi was dwelt on for too long in a clichéd form strangely reminiscent of Mrs. Raichand’s waiting for her son’s arrival (by helicopter) in Kabhi Khushi Kabhhie Gham (2001). The Drona title track on the other hand, is used effectively to mark his transformation. Without giving too much away, there was a more powerful point than meeting his mother which was left songless. It was a slightly ambivalent moment which had the potential to elicit some interesting picturization but Drona is not really about shading – it’s either black or white. Unlike Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, it does not deal with ambivalence, half-truths, the fallibility of omens and prophesies the idea of hierarchies of and layers of meaning. It’s a film that needed to work harder to connect with the viewer through its raw subject matter, not just at the special effects level.

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