*Starring Neelam’s Hair!*
When I began watching Hindi films in 2002 or so, many of the first ones I saw were from the 1990s. And yet still—I persisted! I was charmed! I guess it was all so shiny and new that I didn’t know or care how hackneyed or obnoxious the plots were and the OTT use of wind machines and light filters merely fascinated me. “Look! her hair is blowing wildly inside her house!” “Oooh! A thousand points of light!” etc. Plus the people (Aamir, Shahrukh, Kajol, Rani) were so very good-looking and the girls had such glossy, glossy long hair. But none of them were a patch on Neelam in that department.
Almost every frame that she is in (which is a lot of them) is filled with her long, shiny locks. They whip in the wind, they become tangled in Aamir’s fingers, they bounce and swing as she dances, they blow gently across her tear-filled eyes. This film is an Ode to Neelam’s Hair. I am pretty sure that it even has its own spotlight and probably its very own assistant too. But as silky and beautiful as it is, it cannot save this movie and neither can Aamir’s considerable charm, sidelined as it may be.
The story is the same old star-crossed lovers in college plot; they are tormented first by misunderstanding and evil classmates, and then by long-ago poor decisions and current-day bad parenting on the part of the so-called adults in their lives.
Raj (Aamir Khan) is the son of wealthy Mahindra Behl (Kiran Kumar). He is a happy-go-lucky kind of guy with three close friends at school (Deepak Tijori, Rakesh Bedi and Raju Shrestha—my little Master Raju, all grown up!).
The mullet-sporting school Romeo is named Vikram (Jeet Upendra); he and Raj have a fierce rivalry that plays itself out in the boxing ring as well as on school grounds. It flares up when a new and very pretty girl named Nikita (Neelam) arrives at school one day and both are smitten on sight. They make a bet as to who will kiss her first.
Nikita lives with her Mamaji Anand Verma (Saeed Jaffrey), a bachelor who has brought her up after her parents both died when she was small.
We now discover too that although Mahindra Behl has told Raj that his mother died at his birth, the truth of the matter is that twenty years back Mahindra abandoned his wife Bina (Beena Banerjee) and infant son to marry a rich woman with terminal “blood cancer” for her money. When his second wife dies and leaves him her fortune as planned, he comes back to get Bina and his son; Bina not unreasonably repudiates him. When she also balks at giving him their son, Mahindra reminds her that society will give a single mother like her a bad name, which will also rub off on Raj.
I would say: “His name is Mahindra Behl and he is a bigamist and a selfish, greedy man”!
But Bina caves instantly and I roll my eyes as she hands the tiny baby over: such sacrifice! such lofty principles! such a BAD mother! Her landlord—who we recognize as Anand Verma, Nikita’s uncle—protests, but she is adamant. She will not go with her husband, and she will not tarnish her son’s name.
Twenty-odd years have passed and hey—guess what? Bina has just been hired as the new principal at Raj’s college, and the first student she meets on campus is her son, although of course neither knows it yet.
She asks if he doesn’t find solace for studying at home, and he tells her it “stinks of wealth” which leads them into a philosophical discussion on principles versus money so that we understand Raj is definitely his mother’s son…even if neither knows it yet.
And now the romance-separation-reunion portion of the story commences, and it goes on and on for more than an hour.
Raj of course falls in love with Nikita as she is falling in love with him, but she discovers the bet he’d made with Vikram and it takes a long long time, with much pouting and hair-flinging on her part and lots of angst and moping on his, to make up. We are flogged in the interim with really bad songs (Bappida) and shenanigans like this:
with more showcasing of The Hair (which also randomly changes its tint and sometimes has a fringe).
Seriously if Gemma hadn’t vomited all over the carpet at that moment, I would have. The sugary despair is occasionally interrupted by hormone-fuelled confrontations between Vikram and Raj:
but it doesn’t help.
When a Goan monsoon rain finally brings Raj and Nikita back together:
it’s not for long, because Mamaji has gone to meet Raj’s father and recognized him as that scoundrel who abandoned his wife all those years ago. There is NO WAY he is going to let his precious niece marry a man who might do the same thing to her that Mahindra did to Bina. This turns him from a loving and supportive paternal figure into a monster who manhandles her roughly, locks her up in her room, and refuses to listen to her (although her hair remains strong and shiny).
Will Raj find out the truth about his mother and father? Will true love find a way to overcome all obstacles? Will there be an unbelievably glib resolution for all so that repressive societal notions of what constitutes a proper family are upheld and glorified?
If you can sit through what amounts to a very long and expensive shampoo commercial to find out, watch Afsana Pyar Ke. I don’t recommend that you do, though. The plot is dumb, the characters cartoonish, and the messages confused and stupid. Aamir and Neelam have next to no chemistry at all, possibly because Neelam spends most of her time onscreen with her back or profile to the camera in order to give us an optimal view of her crowning glory.
I guess if you are going to play second fiddle anyway, it might as well be to your own hair.