Agnisakshi (1996)

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I recently realized that I have not written about any movies from the 1990’s, mostly because I’ve seen the ones from that decade that I want to (I started off watching films from the 90’s and 2000’s and then moved on, or back, depending how you look at it). Essentially, I haven’t seen a movie made in the 90’s for a long time. So I thought I’d give this one a shot since Nana Patekar is in it, although my expectations of enjoyment were not too high. Turns out Nana IS the main reason to watch this—but what a reason! He almost singlehandedly makes this a good movie. It’s a great lesson in how one actor’s performance and charisma can carry a film to another level than it would be otherwise. The other actors (Jackie Shroff, Manisha Koirala) are competent, but it is Nana’s film all the way.

We begin with one of those naach-gaana numbers that are meant to warm up the audience. It has the Michael Jackson moves that were so ubiquitous in the 90’s. It also introduces us to Ravi Kapoor (Ravi Behl) and his girlfriend Urmi (Divya Dutta).

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Ravi is the younger brother of two in the “Kapoor Group of Industries” family. His wealthy parents are traditional and don’t want Ravi to marry until his older brother Suraj (Jackie Shroff) ties the knot. Urmi is fed up with waiting. Ravi does his best, but Suraj isn’t interested.

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Then one day a girl named Shivangi (Manisha Koirala) rear-ends his car. He is instantly in love, but she rebuffs his advances—until he saves her from a fire. Naturally! Her grateful uncle convinces Shivangi to accept Suraj’s proposal and they get married.

The film so far is a little ho-hum, although not awful.

But on their honeymoon, Suraj and Shivangi come across Vishwanath (Nana Patekar), a businessman from Mauritius. After watching them for a day or so, he approaches them. He is convinced that Shivangi is his wife, Madhu, who disappeared a couple of years ago. He is urbane and polite, but insistent.

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He calls Suraj to his hotel room and shows him his wedding video. Sure enough, his bride looks very like Shivangi, but Suraj is far from convinced. Vishwanath tells him that he’s been looking for his wife for two years and he will pay Suraj any amount to get her back. Suraj angrily tells him that he is rich already. Vishwanath says that any amount of wealth and influence doesn’t change the fact that he is legally her husband. He says that he won’t sleep until he gets her back.

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This is all pretty creepy, and Shivangi is scared. Suraj agrees to take her somewhere else for the rest of their honeymoon. Vishwanath follows them though, and on Shivangi’s birthday (which coincides with Madhu’s birthday) we get a glimpse through his memories of who he is and who Madhu was.

It’s not pretty. Vishwanath is a classic abuser and we watch as his pretty wife devolves from shyly apprehensive bride to terrified wounded animal. He is obsessed, possessive and controlling. He dresses her up like a doll, forces her to wear heavy jewelry.

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He refuses even to let her father see her. When she goes out he wants an accounting of every minute she’s been gone. And one day when he comes home to find her practicing dance, he beats her legs and feet savagely with his belt.

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Later, repentant, he applies ointment to her wounds and tells her that when he was 7 or 8 years old, his father abandoned his mother and him for a dancer and he was sent to boarding school. Shortly afterwards his mother also remarried, and he never saw either of his parents again.

The rest of the film is a reasonably suspenseful cat-and-mouse game between Vishwanath and Suraj and Shivangi, interspersed with more scenes from Vishwanath and Madhu’s marriage. Jackie is fine in his role, although he doesn’t have much to do except bash up Vishwanath now and again. Manisha is especially good in flashbacks as Madhu—her helplessness and fear is palpable as her married life becomes a nightmare. As Shivangi she gets tiresome though. I’ll let you watch to find out if Shivangi really is Madhu, and if Vishwanath succeeds in getting his wife back.

As I said: the best thing about the film is Nana’s performance. He is charismatic and compelling, even sometimes charming, and you can’t help feeling drawn to him and sorry for him even as he frightens you. I imagine that some real abusers are like that too. Why else would women return to them, as they so often do in real life?

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10 Comments to “Agnisakshi (1996)”

  1. Nana Patekar is also one of the best things about the early SRK movie Raju ban gaya gentleman (“Raju becomes a gentleman”). He plays a street performer dispensing hard-earned wisdom, and is the moral center of the movie. There’s a great scene towards the end where, after Nana’s intervention has allowed Raju to escape a group of thugs, he disarms the thugs by saying, in essence, “Hey–the guy you were after’s not here anymore, so let’s chill.” And they listen to him, instead of beating him to a pulp. Raju isn’t a great movie, but Nana’s performance is pure pleasure.

  2. Yes, I’d forgotten about that! Thanks for reminding me.

    I have another Nana Patekar movie in my pile of “to-be-watched” called Yeshwant, which looks good.

  3. I recently saw him in Krantiveer. He was great; rest of the movie, enh.

  4. Hi,

    My first time on your site and it certainely wont be the last time. I loved ur site and will be visiting again and again.

    i too share your admiration for Nana. Read my thoughts at

    http://nirvana73.blogspot.com/2008/01/movies-r-us-2-2008.html

    And do visit me at http://www.nirvana73.blogspot.com/

    regards

    Nirvana

  5. Welcome, Nirvana, please do come back! I still need to see Yeshwant, hope to soon…

  6. Ah, Nana. Check out “Ankush” – a precursor to RDB. Also “Pratighaat” and “Parinda” are excellent Nana movies, if you haven’t seen them already.

  7. I do have some more Nana to watch. Loved Parinda, great movie. Thanks for the other recommendations!

  8. This is another remake of SLEEPING WITH THE ENIEMY after DARAAR and YAARANA(1995) which flopped

    this movie was good and a hit

    nana excelled, jackie was just there
    manisha was good

  9. Nana Patekar is an amazing actor! His performance in this movie was just mind blowing. Nana is a true definition of an actor, not Shahrukh Khan.

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