I have a love-hate relationship with this movie’s star Baby Rani and its director Ravi Nagaich. Baby Rani was so very cute in Hum Kisise Kum Nahin but so very monotonous and terrifying in the film which spawned the shortest review I will probably ever write. And Ravi Nagaich insists on making films in which the whole never quite equals the sum of its parts—parts that are so mind-blowing that the whole shouldn’t even matter, but somehow always does. This leaves me dissatisfied but also intent on seeing more of his output, which leaves me dissatisfied, and on and on. I guess it takes talent to be both cute and annoying beyond belief, and so imaginative and yet so boring. And that pretty much sums up how I feel about Rani Aur Lalpari, except in addition, probably because this is supposed to be a children’s story, it is ruthlessly miserable.
Fairy tale writers seem compelled to warn kids that life sucks, and sucks hard, especially if you are Baby Rani.
The film’s opening credits announce that we are to be “blessed by” a cavalcade of big name stars, and that is pretty much the last bit of good news we get for some time.
Rani (Baby Rani) lives with her hard-working seamstress mother Kamala (Asha Parekh) and the cruelest uncle-auntie pair you will ever see. Ramlal (Satyendra Kapoor) is Kamala’s brother, an alcoholic wastrel who spends all the money she brings in on booze for himself and food for his fat wife (Lalita Kumari) who is perpetually stuffing her face. This is in stark contrast to Rani herself, of course, who must resort to daydreaming about an assortment of toffees and biscuits and ice creams in a song that is a product-placement delight.
Rani’s only friends (aside from her mother, whom she loves dearly) are her cute little white bunny rabbit Moti and next-door neighbor Pappu (Master Ibby), who gives Rani a close run for her money in the expressionless line-delivery department. Kamala is sweet but not terribly good at protecting her daughter from her evil brother and sister-in-law. Her hopes are pinned on her beloved husband (Rajendra Kumar) who is working in some foreign location currently but whose return she is sure will make everything better.
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell which one is the adult and which the child as Baby Rani’s suffering increases. Her only respite from her uncle and aunt is school, but she is rusticated (I love that term!) when Ramlal uses the money Kamala gives him for Rani’s school fees on sharaab instead.
I am irritated by her lack of spine on behalf of her child.
Predictably, Rani’s days are now filled with laundry and chores and I have to say that it is pretty grim watching to see that little body working so hard while Auntyji stuffs her face.
WE HATE MAMI AND WANT HER TO CHOKE ON A PAKORA.
Even Moti is sad, although neither is as sad yet as they are going to be.
When Pappu hears Rani’s tale of woe, he compares her to Cinderella and tells her the story. This musical interlude goes on for a really long time, and although I am so very glad to see Neetu Singh as Cinderella and Jeetendra as the Prince, it seems like we’ll never get back to the subject at hand. Also, at this point Ravi Nagaich decides to obscure much of the screen by blurring it out, focusing the action in a small circle in the middle. This makes me feel like I have glaucoma or something and is annoying. His hallmark disregard for even trying to make things look real entertains me though, as usual. Plus we get to meet the titular Lalpari (Reena Roy) who presents herself as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, and when Cinderella escapes the palace at “midnight” she runs out into the blazing sun of Day Night Continuity Issues. And her glass slipper is made of mirrors. Love.
Rani’s real-life Fairy Godmother turns out to be Pappu’s father and mother (Ramesh and Seema Deo), who kindly pay her school fees when they hear of her plight.
Alas! Lest anyone forget that life sucks, and sucks hard…Ramlal discovers that Rani has been keeping a pet rabbit. I cringe as poor Moti bobs and twists in the air hanging by his ears as Rani bites her uncle’s arm.
Why did you choose now to make things look real, Mr. Nagaich, why?! Arggghhhhh.
WE HATE MAMA AND WANT HIM TO DIE.
Kamala doesn’t do much but tell Rani that Moti is now at “Chanda Mama’s” house but any sympathy this harrowing experience has engendered in me for the little girl is erased by what happens next: a cloying school pageant about peace and unity and children being the future and our only hope and so on ad nauseum. Rani acts her little heart out dressed as Mother Theresa or Indira Gandhi in front of an audience that includes the school principal (Jankidas) and film star Danny (Danny Denzongpa as himself), who presents her with a silver cup at the end.
Naturally, Ramlal takes the cup from her as soon as she gets it home to sell it for “household expenses” i.e. more booze money—and Kamala does nothing to stop him.
Rani’s parents aren’t even dead yet (as I know from the dvd cover they will soon be) and I’m as depressed as can be. So is Rani, and Pappu invites her over for some happy family time. His life is a stark contrast to Rani’s! When he traps a black ant under a jar, Rani begs him to let it go and then later frees it herself. Pappu shows her a film he has of Gulliver’s Travels; and again although I am very happy indeed to see Feroz Khan as Gulliver and Jagdeep as the King of Lilliput, it just goes on and on.
Then they watch the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations from Pappu’s window and Pappu explains that Ganesh is immersed in water because the way to heaven is through the sea. I am sure that makes sense to Indians. I hope so, anyway, because it’s sort of important.
At home, a very happy Kamala informs her brother and sister-in-law that her husband’s long-awaited return from abroad is scheduled for Diwali. Rani too is overjoyed at the thought of having her Papa back (who can blame her?). But remember kids: life sucks, and sucks hard, especially when you are Baby Rani.
Not surprisingly, happiness turns to sorrow in an instant as Rajendra’s plane plummets to earth and explodes (in miniature). Kamala passes out from the shock and is hospitalized; when a sobbing Pappu informs Rani that her mother has died it’s not difficult to predict her next move.
I’m exhausted and depressed, and yet I know there must be some real cracktastic moments coming my way. And of course there are, muddied as they are by huge amounts of dry ice, fog machines, colored klieg lights and that annoying blurry halo.
Will Baby Rani find her way to heaven and get her Mom back? Will she find poor murdered Moti? Does anybody care about Papa? And where is Lalpari? Does she even deserve to have her name in the title? So far she’s only really been helpful to Cinderella!
Once again, I find myself trying to get through crazy visuals in a film that has no momentum or emotional oomph. Rani is constantly warned about frightening dangers lying ahead but they never *quite* materialize. Even Premnath as Yamraj appears to be going through the motions (although I do love that Rani is saved from his buffalo by the little ant that she had saved from Pappu). Jagdeep is hilarious as the god Indra, busy writing in his book of deeds. But mostly, Rani’s journey meanders from one eye-popping set and guest star to the next, with not much of anything to connect them. I even begin to want awful Mama and Mami back. And at the end, when it’s revealed that her parents aren’t even dead but survived their plane crash and shock I can only just bang my head on the arm of my chair.
As for me, my love-hate relationships with Baby Rani and Ravi Nagaich are intact. I mean, I can’t hate this little face no matter how annoying the acting, and it’s not her fault really that she cries so much. With her life, I’d cry too.
Nor can I hate anyone who gives me stuff like this:
I just can’t completely love someone who makes it…dull.