Planet Bollywood
Aa Ab Laut Chalen
Producer: RK Films
Director: Rishi Kapoor
Starring: Rajesh Khanna, Akshaye Khanna, Aishwarya Rai, Suman Ranganathan, Kader Khan, Jaspal Bhatti, Satish Kaushik, Himani Shivpuri, Paresh Rawal and Special Appearances by Moushoumi Chatterjee & Aloknath
Music: Nadeem-Shravan
Lyrics: Sameer
Genre: Family
Recommended Audience: General
Film Released on: 22 January 1999
Reviewed by: Mohammad Ali Ikram  - Rating: 7.0 / 10
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Public Rating Average: 5.13 / 10 (rated by 412 viewers)
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Sure it is great to be inspired by a legendary director like Raj Kapoor.  RK films has a legacy of unforgettable (and some forgettable) cinema by Raj Saab and now it  his sons´ turn.  Randhir Kapoor gifted us a beautiful and poignant Henna, Rajiv Kapoor offered a confused, miscast, juvenile but nonetheless visually appealing Prem Granth.  How appropriate that the middle son, Rishi Kapoor, a brilliant actor in his own right, gives us a movie better than the latter, but far off the mark of the first.

Aa Ab Laut Chalen´s (AALC) faults lie in the confusion and convolutedness it presents in the name of romance and patriotism.  Both are very much in style themes today.  Rishi molds AALC along similar lines but the romantic triangle between Rohan (Akshaye), Pooja (Aishwarya) and Loveleen (Suman) could not be less interesting. Rohan, a bright but unemployed Indian youth, comes to the USA to make some money and a life for his family and himself. Too bad America is filled with so many stereotypically selfish people unlike ´back home´.  Thanks to the kindness of two strangers, a Pakistani Pathan named Sardar (Kader Khan) and a Hindustani Sikh named Iqbal (Jaspal Bhatti) [yes, it is hard to keep straight], Rohan gets some boarding and eventually recruits a stranded Pooja to move in with them also.  To get his Green Card, and become a permanent US resident, Rohan attempts to woo and marry, Loveleen (Suman Ranganathan), an NRI who is more prostitute than the rich little spolit girl she is supposed to be.  In the midst of the madness, we find out that the tale of Rohan´s father´s death eons ago may not in fact be true.

Resolve the narrative confusion on your own.  There is a point to all plots and sub-plots, but Rishi gives the love story a prominence it does not deserve.  Writer Rumi Jaffrey had meant for the romance to prove one point in the central theme, but director-saab gives it undue importance.  (Okay, I might have too if only to get more shooting dates out of a stunner like Aishwarya, but then those superfluous scenes should have been left on the editing room floor.)  The story really works as a metaphor representing parents who do not give their children proper guidance in life, whether it be by abandonment or neglect.  These examples are both shown through one character´s pursuit of money over family.  In true Bollywood style, AALC may be filmi in conveying the theme, but the point is presented with applaudable conviction in the second half.

Surviving through the pre-interval torture is another matter all together.  You have already been warned there is too much focus on love story development, but you will also see most of America´s Most Wanted in the first hour.  The films´ two leads, the poor saps, have all the crime in the city directed towards them.  Get real, even New York cannot be that bad.  (Or am I wrong?) Furthermore, Rumi Jaffrey must have been on some mind-numbing medication when he created the completely unrealistic characters of Pooja´s brother and Ronny Cooper.  I have not heard of any South East Indians so callous enough to bring their parents to North America, only to have them work as slaves in their sleazy motels.  (If you thought Pardes presented North America in a bad light, you have yet to see the worst of it.)

Saroj Khan´s almost undetectable choreography and the soothing cinematography do help make the banal Nadeem-Shravan songs a bit more appealing, but some cannot be saved from their ludicrousness.  "Tere Bin Ek Pal" was, is, and will always remain standing-ovation worthy, but "O Yaaro Maaf Karna"´s stupidity is only heightened further.  Hey dimwits, in North America we too make plenty of saawayan (vermicelle) for Eid, there are tons of Melas all the time here, and most mothers on the planet sing lullabies to put their kids to sleep.  These are not virtues over which India can claim any kind of monopoly.

Thank God for Iqbal, Sardar and the couple played by Satish Kaushik and Himani Shivpuri.  Their humour and entetainment appeal as lower-middle class citizens in the United States is quite a breath of fresh air amidst the parts of boredom.  Akshaye as usual, in case you have yet to discover, shines effortlessly in an under-developed role.  And thanks to his raw emotion scenes, Rajesh Khanna is 1999´s first shoe-in nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  Aishwarya still needs to learn lessons on intermediate emoting and basic voice modulation, but while we wait, her beauty and innocence provides ample distraction. Suman, who is stuck with a character whose dress-sense makes no logical sense, springs a surprise by portraying her character as such that you cannot hate her or deem her evil in any true sense of the word.  Moushoumi is motherly to perfection in her limited scenes.

For all it is worth, I wish so much that I could have liked Aa Ab Laut Chalen more.  On its own, the last half-hour will have your tear ducts operating in over-drive.  (That is, if you are a sap for light melodrama, like most of us film-goers.)  It is just important that Rishi Kapoor realize that he need not cater to box office trends when directing.  If you have a strong basic plot, like in this case, concentrate more on the central theme (or shorten the film); do not get carried away with trendy or convoluted sub-plots.  Aa Ab Laut Chalen marks the official beginning of a new era for RK Films.  The auteur of Mera Naam Joker and Prem Rog is gone, but hopefully his sons will carry the legacy forward.

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