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March 6, 1999


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It makes you see red

Suparn Verma

A still from Lal Badshah. Click for bigger pic!
What did K C Bokadia tell Amitabh Bachchan when he signed Lal Badshah?

Did the director just hand over the signing amount? Did he dwell on the double role Amitabh would play, that of father and son. Did he stress on the chance he would get to speak a north Indian rural dialect, that he would star opposite younger stars like Manisha Koirala and Shilpa Shetty, have Nirupa Roy play his mother for the umpteenth time, do his famed drunk dance, snap like rubber bands the ropes that bind him despite being shot in both arms... What??

Maybe he did Lal Badshah because K C Bokadia gave him a surprise hit in Aaj Ka Arjun when Toofan, Jaadugar and Ganga Jamuna Saraswati flopped! Maybe he wasn't certain why about the movies he wanted in his comeback. After all, this was one of the first films he picked on his return...

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The story is about Lal Singh, better known as Lal Badshah, a man with a heart of gold, one who lives for others, the uncrowned king of the people, the one who protects them from all the baddies in town. Galahad in mufti.

The baddies include Mukesh Rishi, who is also a superintendent of police; Raghuvaran, his spoilt brother who claims he is the king of Bombay; Mahesh Anand, their lame uncle who rules the stables in town. Amrish Puri is the ancient baddie who used to be a minister in the cabinet of a small-time raja. He also has this thing against the older Amitabh because the latter guarded the treasury and didn't let anyone pilfer its contents without the king's clearance.

Manisha Koirala plays a life insurance agent who falls for the hero. She doesn't do much other except dance in one sequence and hang around for a bit of the first half, then vanishing to reappear when the goons get into the mood for rape.

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Shilpa Shetty plays the daughter of lawyer Mohan Joshi. She too is saved from a fate worse than debt when the Badshah pops up in the nick of time. But she's blackmailed by the baddies who hold her dad captive. Trouble is, they don't quite know how to use her services so all she does is dance at one of their parties and pass on messages to the hero.

Nirupa Roy does the role of the woman who brings up Lal Singh but the lady who plays his real mother could pass off as his daughter at a pinch. For the older Amitabh, Ver 1.0, Bokadia apparently dredged up his get-up in Akhri Raasta and put in some more hair to hide the flaws. Presto, we have one long-suffering father.

All this nothing to take from Bachchan's own performance. It would take a Herculean effort to salvage a film like this. And he's tried. Bachchan is a natural with comedy, he can sleepwalk through the ma-beta bits, he can look convincing as a saviour, and he might even have salvaged the drunken dance scene hadn't they come up with a ghastly rhythm to go along with it.

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K C Bokadia mixes together a mess of stories and the result, besides being hackneyed, is so unfocused it doesn't even hold the director's attention. The editing, the cinematography, the sets and even Veeru Devgun's action sequences seem products of the mid-eighties. Not a single shot looks good, the action sequences are dull and the guy who did the sound didn't even waste time on synchronising the sound of the blow with the time of actual contact.

It may be bit of pointless trivia, but in every action sequence Bachchan takes on about a dozen or so baddies and peppers them with large pots. The pots happen to be around everywhere, in the goons' hideout, the uncle's den or the climax sequence.

Aadesh Shrivastava's music provides nothing very catchy beyond Dhanno ki aankh, and the person who provides the background score dishes out either stock music or a score so original that it grates on your nerves every time it turns up. The only good thing about the film is Amitabh himself even if he has been ill-used.

Lal Badshah is an insult to Amitabh Bachchan's stature and an assault on public intelligence.

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