In the closing moments of Cheeni Kum, there is what I suppose to have been an unintended montage which filled me with awe and wonder at the interpretive power of cinema, unique for each of us. Buddhadev (Amitabh Bachchan) is at the Mauryan Iron Pillar in Delhi with his screen mother played by the indomitable Zohra Sehgal when he gets to know of the passing away of a dear friend. A few scenes prior to this, with the help of his mother Buddha gets his hands to meet across the pillar (held backwards) and wishes to marry his lady love Neena (Tabu). The happy turn in events are interrupted by the phone call and the next few sequences were very powerful for me. Amidst the ruins of the ancient Mauryan pillar, belonging to what is communally dubbed the Hindu period of Indian history, which, in our history books is termed the ancient period and sourrounded by the Qutub Minar complex, a symbol of the destruction that mostly foreign and Muslim invaders wreacked on North India, a sobbing Bachchan runs back to the pillar trying to get his hands across again so that he can make another wish and undo the inevitable. The range of life between the two wishes (for union of the old and against death of the young) resonated in the legacy of the Iron Pillar within the Qutub complex, a remanent of the earlier rulers over laid by time and the ravages of later ones.
Cheeni Kum is otherwise a dessert to enjoy after a hearty meal. The heavy moments are few in what can be described as a movie about normal life and a common enough romance. The uncommon in the Hindi film universe and which ought to be mentioned is the age of the lovers, 64 for Buddha and 34 for Neena. Brave and modern, is how I interpreted it especially when they plot the hero as even older than the heroine's father. The film begins in London where the caustic Buddha (living with his mother, Zohra Sehgal and running London's best Indian resturant) meets the visiting Neena and resolves itself in Delhi when Buddha is to seek permission to marry Neena. The bulk of the movie plays with Buddha and Neena and later Paresh Rawal as Neena's father. With such a seasoned and extra ordinary cast, the movie is refreshing and delightfully real. I had my issues with the talk and specifically the dialogues when the soon to be lovers accidentally meet and spar but with the inevitable occuring, it is a nice ride of a movie, smooth, well anchored and even better chartered.
The screen chemistry between Bachchan and Tabu is flawless, it jumps right across the screen and sits on your mind. Tabu is a great actress and Bachchan weaves in with her rather well, reflecting at oppurtune moments the immaturity of hormonal overflow and at no point making efforts to score that, I-am-old-so-wise position which could have been a temptation for the writers. The brave part is the lack of a justification for this unlikely romance and impossible marriage. The modern part is about the nuances of the romance as much as the resolution despite Paresh Rawal's Satyagrah (Fast Unto Death).
The Bachchan-Rawal scenes are sparky due to their brevity and the well thought out and enacted characters. It is laugh riot without degenerating into Bollywood kitch romance slapstick confrontation. Rawal as the dad is well heeled in his perception as a retired Indian, taking morning walks in Lodhi Gardens, espousing a hypocritical Gandhian attitude and passing superflous judgements on the young. In Rawal's otherwise fulfilling life, the only thing that Rawal will had to do was marry his daughter and then he could peacefully pass his last days and prepared himself for death (Sanyasi). The Bachachan-Rawal face off also contrasts life styles at home and abroad. While the 64 year old Bachchan seeks to marry, the 58 year old Rawal behaves like he is at the end of his life.
Cheeni Kum is an interesting fantasy. It teases your sense of fun, it makes you feel good about starry romance, it makes for a good Zafarani Hyderabadi pulow with just that dash of salt without over doing the sweetness that plague our love stories.