Planet Bollywood
Biwi No. 1
Producer: Vashu Bhagnani
Director: David Dhawan
Starring: Anil Kapoor, Salman Khan, Karisma Kapoor, Sushmita Sen, Tabu, Himani Shivpuri, Master Shahrukh, Baby Karishma & Special Appearance by Saif Ali Khan
Music: Anu Malik
Lyrics: Sameer, Sukhwindara Singh
Genre: Comedy
Recommended Audience: General
Film Released on: 28 May 1999
Reviewed by: Mohammad Ali Ikram  - Rating: 9.0 / 10
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Public Rating Average: 5.12 / 10 (rated by 411 viewers)
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Thank God!  David Dhawan is back in fine form, and he has matured a bit too.  Laced with a pleasant "but don´t take me too seriously" theme, great comedy and super-duper starcast, Biwi No. 1 hits you with unexpected charm.  Unless I grossly underestimate the power of World Cup cricket, this film is bound to do boffo business at the box office.  And deservedly so.   By the time you leave the auditoria, it will have you smiling from ear to ear.

Prem (Salman Khan) and Pooja (Karisma Kapoor) lead a life of wealth and wedded bliss, complete with two adorable little kids and Mother dearest (Himani Shivpuri)in tow.  Of course, all is not well when gorgeous Roopal(Sushmita Sen enters Prem´s life.  She becomes his advertising agency´s exclusive model and Prem looses sight of sanity.  Scheming and lieing to both Roopali and Pooja, Mr. Moneybags leads a double life of lecherous fun!?!?  Add best friend Lakhan (Anil Kapoor) and his wife Lovely (Tabu) to the mix, and Pooja eventually discovers that her husband´s Parisian trip was not business-focused as he depicted.  A wife-given ultimatum later, Prem moves out of one house (Pooja´s) and in to another (Roopali´s).  For good, you ask?  Heavens, no!  Pooja, with Lakhan´s encouragement and help, is determined to get hubby-dearest to recognize his error and return home.  She is, after all, Biwi No.1!

Sounds like a preposterous plot, but remember this is a David Dhawan flick.  We´re not in reality here.  (Or are we?  More on that later.) Comedy and entertainment are the key focus here, and we are given heaping loads of both.  The film´s stars dispense with their vanity to allow the witty dialogue writer make digs about their heights (Salman´s lack and Sushmita Sen´s ample, thereof).  And there aren´t even any superfluous characters.  What, no unnecessary mega-villains or buffoonish side-kicks?  Heck, if the film is about infidelity, it also demonstrates that the problem is not present in every home.  Watching Lakhan and Lovely´s 100% devotedness to one another, we are reminded there are also some perfect marriages in the world.  (Can anyone find me a Lovely?)

An important, but serious sidebar:  Dhawan´s dealt with a pretty serious topic, and though I found the story-line somewhat regressive, my mother decided to share her own wordly intelligence with me.  Why, I argue, do films always depict it as desirable for a woman or man to accept her/his unfaithful spouse?  After commitment/marriage, one should not tolerate or try to win back an untrustworthy love, no matter how much it hurts.  Mom shot down my Western-society based logic and arguments.  She indicated that one of the major strengths of our strong Eastern culture is the great importance given to family and kids.  In South East Asian culture, when a man and woman commit their lives to one another, it is taken very seriously.  (At times, I think, too seriously.)  We are humans who make mistakes, and if we cannot work (within reason) to make our marriages and families work, we will end up with many more of Western society´s problems.  (Nice dig, Mom.)   Point conceded though.  Make that 1-0 in favour of Mom.  (Okay, it is more like 1,000-5 in favour of Mom, but who´s counting?)

Enough seriousness.  I just needed to mention the fact that Dhawan has done a semi-decent job of dealing with a difficult subject.  Building the tale around a series of comedic instances, not worrying about being provocative (showing scenes of the extra-marital affair), and still getting the message across, was a difficult task.   Unlike his senseless (but entertaining) Saajan Chale Sasural and Gharwali Baharwali, David Dhawan deserves acknowledgement for giving the women ample power in this Biwi-tale.  Kudos, director-saab.

While talking about women, might I say that each of the film´s female characters are rendered to perfection by the talented actresses.  Karisma may not look like a mother of two offspring, but she continues to mature as an actress with each successive film.  Conceded that her character is underwritten, changing from glamour doll to domestic engineer between consecutive scenes, but maybe that is just to demonstrate that a woman has the power to be more than just a doormat, if she wants?  

Sushmita Sen opens the film with a paisa vasool modelling session for all the males in the audience, but she backs all that beauty by again demonstrating that she has the acting potential to join the rat-race.  Sushmita´s portrayal of Roopali as a damsel in ethical distress, is most convincing, though she needs a bit more practice in the high emotion scenes.  (Admitted also that Miss Universe is only a little less gorgeous than Miss World, but Sushmita can act circles around Aishwarya Rai.)

Tabu and Himani Shivpuri provide the mcuh-needed comic relief in the movie, and man, do you wish there were more of them in the flick.  With the support of her screen husband, Lovely steals every frame in her twenty minute appearance.  I love the character and it proves that Tabu is one of Bollywood´s most underutilized treasures.  Give this lass some more commercial films, you idiots!  Himani Shivpuri adds comical conviction to the scheming mother character who will not rest until she breaks her son and Roopali apart.

Anil Kapoor is also credible as a bumbling Punjabi.  Poor guy is first torn between helping his friend hide the affair, but is later bound by his conscience to help his Bhabhi regain her family life.  And the chemistry between Tabu and Anil is electric; it must be seen to be relished.   (Now that´s a perfect screen couple, and I was sure glad the movie ended with them.)

Salman reprises the role of an intellectually challenged playboy, a character for which he might as well buy a patent given its recurrance in his last few films.  Prem´s comical, self-loathing monologue at the end of the movie is very amusing and entertaining, but grow up Mr. Khan. 

Other than Salman´ repeatedness, the film´s songs are the only other semi-annoying aspect of the movie.  Yes, they are all picturized amazingly and are thoroughly enjoyable, but a couple of the jump into the movie at the most inopportune times.  The editing and flow from scene to scene could have been better.  (I have to criticize something about it, don´t I?)  Still, my personal fave, "Chunnari Chunnari" is given grand appeal with Sushmita dancing on a cliff near the Golden Gate Bridge.  (Wah, kya ladki and cinematography thi!)  And damn, I even fell for the soppy melodrama of "Mujeh Maaf Karna", no thanks to those crying kiddies.  (I was so sure this song was going to be contrived in the movie, but kya karoon, I am a sucker for family togetherness.)

All in all, Biwi No.1 is a major acomplishment for David Dhawan.  It again proves that in spite of working on a dozen flicks at once, the man can still deliver (occasional) bouts of mega-entertainment.  And he´s getting better at entertaining too.  (Of course, he did make a brain-draining hash of Bade Miyan Chote Miyan.)  Biwi No.1´s got it all; commercial to the core entertainment, a decent story and theme, comedy, a multi-star cast, engaging performances and engaging tunes.   So what are you waiting for?  The Biwi awaits.  Don´t miss it!

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