7 May 2009

ITTEFAQ / COINCIDENCE (Dir. Yash Chopra, 1969, India)

Rajesh Khanna as Dilip Roy in Yash Chopra's 1969 film Iteffaq

Ittefaq
was a thriller Yash Chopra directed before he became a film maker strongly associated with the romantic melodramas of the 70s. Many consider it to be one of his finest films but I am not entirely convinced of the critical reputation of Itefaaq. On its release in 1969, Yash Chopra was praised for dispensing with the formulaic dependency on song and dance sequences, opting to locate most of the narrative action within the claustrophobic settings of a house (on obviously transparent sound stage) and casting one of Indian cinema’s most popular film stars, Rajesh Khanna, in the role of a neurotic anti hero who is falsely accused of murdering his wife. The conception of the film does have the feel of a daring experiment, much like Hitchcock’s classic Rope and some critics did pick up on the fact that this was the perhaps the closest a commercial film maker like Yash Chopra would come to imitating the language of the art film. However, the film has dated quite severely and today particularly suffers from a completely unnecessary sound mix that annoyingly heightens the soundtrack at obvious dramatic high points. It also suffers from some strangely unconvincing plot resolutions in which a highly nuanced police detective ridiculously solves not one, but two murder cases in the space of a few minutes.

The classic Khanna pose as the intoxicated, romantic hero

I was never a big fan of the Rajesh Khanna school of acting and I had always tried to avoid watching his films but his early retirement from acting, unlike his contemporaries, has made me return to many of the commercial films he made in the 60s like Anand and Namak Haram. Beneath the romantic facade was a talented actor and one of Indian cinema’s first genuine superstars but he faced the difficulty of convincing the critics to take him seriously as a credible actor other than a caricature of romantic tragedy. Many have remarked on the point I am about to make before but no matter how many times I read it or hear it, it only serves to reiterate the truth about the meteoric rise of Amitabh Bachchan in the 70s; without Rajesh Khanna, there would be no Amitabh. He did help pave the way for the phenomenon of the superstar and strangely enough, Rajesh Khanna’s laid back romantic on screen persona is the one that Indian film stars of today (Shah Rukh Khan) try their best to emulate. Yash Chopra directed a number of notable films in the 70s and much of his best work was a fruitful collaboration with Salim-Javed and Amitabh Bachchan. Today, he is revered as somewhat of a legendary figure and is a powerful studio boss who has eclipsed his directorial legacy with the internationally recognisable cinematic brand of Yash-Raj. Like his brother, B.R. Chopra, who gave him his first break as a director, Yash Chopra is one of Indian cinema's most successful film producers and though much of the recent output from the Yash-Raj studio which he helped establish has been quite average, a film like Itefaaq does seem highly unconventional when compared to the kind of escapist and superficial cinema he regularly oversees today with the aid of his son, Aditya Chopra.

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