The plight of women in rural India has been witnessed umpteen times on the Indian screen. Santoshi Productions' LAJJA, directed by Rajkumar Santoshi, is one of those films that entertains, yes, but it also exposes the stark truth that plagues our society.
The film narrates the story of four women who have either been tormented or exploited by men for their selfish gains. It begins from the opulent city of New York and ends at a remote village in Uttar Pradesh.
* Rekha is Ramdulari, who has cared to make her village women self-sufficient. This progressive woman, in death, becomes a victim of the most regressive and darkest side of humanity.
* Madhuri Dixit is Janki, who dares to live by her own unconventional rules. The glass of alcohol in her hand and an unborn child in her unwed existence do not add as much fire to her as does her refusal to suffer injustice.
* Manisha Koirala is Vaidehi, who walks out on her husband and thus a significant journey begins. But she finds that she is not the only one. In fact, the horror has only begun. The film is seen through her agonised eyes.
* Mahima Chaudhary is Maithili, who is a bride-to-be. Her helpless father bows down to the demands and humiliation of the groom's parents. The daughter in her takes it all, until the woman in her takes over? and she rebels.
LAJJA boasts of some of the most talented names on and off screen. And the outcome is laudable!
Writer-director Rajkumar Santoshi has attempted a film that is straight out of newspaper and television headlines. In that respect, the story would be identified more by an Indian cinegoer than those across the Atlantic.
The beginning of the film is mediocre in terms of substance and execution. Manisha's portions with Jackie in the U.S. are just about okay. The pace drops when the focus shifts to Mahima Chaudhary's wedding. And that's mainly because the story deviates from its main course, concentrating on light moments (Asrani, Jagdeep) and dramatic portions (Govind Namdev, Anjan Srivastava, Rohini Hattangadi) instead.
The first half also gives the film an episodic feel. Also, it is lengthy and lacks the intense moments Santoshi is so famous for.
But the second half takes a turn for the better! The three memorable characters ? Madhuri Dixit, Ajay Devgan and Rekha ? are introduced in this half and the graph of the film moves at an upward scale.
Madhuri's portions are lively and make for interesting viewing. Her characterisation is such, the masses will love it. Ajay Devgan's entry comes at a point when the graph of the film is already on the rise. His presence and sequences boost it considerably. And, of course, Rekha's portions are the best of the lot.
The three performers, under the expert supervision of Santoshi, contribute to some memorable moments in the film. Like:
* A pregnant Madhuri facing the ire and fury of the crowd and her subsequent miscarriage on the street.
* Ajay Devgan's introduction and his confrontation with Danny in the climax.
* Rekha's rape sequence is nail biting and has been executed brilliantly.
Besides these engaging moments, the finale is excellent as well. Manisha's speech towards the concluding reels is an eye-opener.
Directorially, Santoshi is in form in the second half mainly. A few individual sequences have the by-now-famous stamp of this accomplished director. But as a writer, he should've avoided sermonising at places.
Anu Malik's music is of a mixed variety. The makers have promoted three songs mainly ('Aaeeye, Aa Jaeeye' ? Urmila Matondkar, 'Mujhe Saajan Ke Ghar Jaana Hai' ? Sonali Bendre and 'Badi Mushkil Baba Badi Mushkil' ? Madhuri and Manisha) and they stand out for their skilful picturisation.
Madhu Ambat's cinematography captures the various moods in the story to perfection. Dialogues (Rajkumar Santoshi, Ranjit Kapoor) are superb, specially those spoken by Ajay Devgan. The background score is alright.
The film boasts of four extremely talented actresses coming together for the first time and it is Rekha who walks away with the glory, delivering one of the finest performances the Indian screen has seen in the recent times. Cast in a non-glamorous role, she delivers a bravura performance and the end to her character is ghastly and it's mainly due to her effective portrayal. All in all, an award winning performance!
Madhuri Dixit is simply fantastic. The ease with which she emotes this complex character deserves full marks. Her expressions when her lover (Samir Soni) dumps her, during the course of the play, proves what a magnificent actress she is.
Manisha Koirala shines in the concluding reels. Even otherwise she is good. Mahima Chaudhary gets one scene to perform and she does full justice to it. Her outburst at the wedding hall is clapworthy.
Amongst the male leads, it is Ajay Devgan all the way. The role fits him like a glove; this performance will multiply his fanmail two-fold. One of the finest actors today, he leaves a lasting impression in a brief role.
Anil Kapoor is, like always, competent. Jackie Shroff is his usual self. Danny Denzongpa is first-rate. Gulshan Grover, Johny Lever, Razzak Khan and Tinnu Anand lend adequate support.
Urmila Matondkar sizzles in the dance number. Sonali Bendre is equally good.
* On the whole, LAJJA is a purposeful film within commercial parameters and the best part is that the Indian masses will be able to identify with the goings-on. An enviable star cast, a talented director and an excellent second half are amongst its strong points. The business in U.P. and Bihar (Rekha, Ajay Devgan's characterisations and dialect) should prove to be the best. Tax-exemption will only enhance its business prospects.