Movie Review: Aa Gale Lag Jaa - An Oldie, A Goodie, and ...
Beth Loves Bollywood
What makes a movie suitable material for one's Desicritics debut? Kudrat (even starring my almost-favorite Akshaye Khanna) was boring and Chokher Bali escaped me completely, so how about one that features a small but important plot point that a week of thinking still hasn't unraveled? Aa Gale Lag Jaa (1973) is the story of almost-couple Sharmila Tagore (Preeti) and Shashi Kapoor (Prem), who meet cute on roller skates, romp in the snow, and then get torn apart by her stern father, who doesn't think unemployed Prem can be trusted around his medical student daughter. Add in Master Tito as an adorable disabled child and Shatrughan Sinha as a skilled doctor (Amar) who is both threat and hope and let the weeping begin.
You know how it's going to end, but this film requires more energy to sort all that out than some other Bollywood stories. And here's where the energy is needed: after the romp in the snow, Preeti falls in an icy stream, and when Prem gets her to the shabby mountain house, she's in such shock or fear or chill that she cannot speak - or get herself out of her wet clothes, so...well, you can guess. Prem has to do it for her, and he can find nothing to revive her except body heat. His discomfort over the situation plain on his face, he uncomfortably takes of his own wet clothes and slips into bed with her. A few scenes later, she's pregnant.
This scene probably does not merit the attention that my brain has been giving it in the days since I watched the film. But I cannot figure out what I am supposed to believe has just happened. Given that she was incoherent, could she possibly have been active in making such a decision? On the other hand, in the morning after, she's all sheepish smiles, which I have to believe means she made a choice and was happy with it. Surely a viewer isn't supposed to accept that someone would be sappily smiling after - not to put too fine a point on it - being raped? Frankly, that was a lot for me to deal with, and I wish I could ask the screenwriter what they intended me to think had happened. Any of the options I come up with leave me in bizarro world, in which either 1) our hero is a monster, 2) our heroine is happy to have been raped, or 3) we have to assume, with no actual information, that Preeti made a miraculous recovery from her hypothermia and was happy to sleep with Prem all in one short night.
But I'm a seasoned Bollywood-watcher, happy to put disbelief aside when needed, so I took #3 - but as you can see I'm still not entirely satisfied with that option, least of evils that it is. To my surprise, I found disbelief much harder to ignore when the social and emotional issues around the creation of a human life were involved. And anyway, the real villain is of course Preeti's dad, who twice schemes to keep the two lovers apart.
Aa Gale Lag Jaa has most of the Recommended Masala Allowance of family drama, comedy (though some of that is unintentional, as we watch Shashi Kapoor whiz around on skates and even take out four criminals, also on skates), and romance, though the elements are not as evenly distributed as I would like, with most of the comedy front-loaded, leaving the second half of the movie for Perm's broken-hearted suffering and Rahul's heart-melting antics that unknowingly bring about the reconciliation we've been anticipating.
In all honesty I cannot say this movie offers much that you haven't seen before - except maybe the roller skating, which really is quite enjoyable - but it you want a good cry, it's all but a sure thing. And there's certainly nothing wrong with seeing something you've seen before, put in a new package and delivered by a different combination of actors. I adore both the leads, and I can report that they turn in perfectly good performances, much stronger in the funny and sparring bits than in the melodramatic.