┬┤Paheli┬┤ classified as a fantasy and passed with a ┬┤U┬┤ certificate by the censor board is based on Vijaydan Detha┬┤s classic titled ┬┤Duvidha┬┤. The movie was earlier made in 1973 by Mani Kaul but this time we have the award winning Amol Palekar who wields the megaphone.
The movie opens with Amitabh Bachchan┬┤s baritone voice going ┬┤Barson purani ek kahani ...┬┤ and the opening scene has the marriage scene of ┬┤Laachi┬┤ (Rani Mukherji) to Kishan Lal (Shah Rukh Khan) who is the son of a Rajasthani trader Bhanwar Lal (Anupam Kher). As ┬┤Laachi┬┤ proceeds to her in-laws house mysterious things happen on the way and a supernatural being, awestruck by her beauty falls in love with her.
For ┬┤ Laachi┬┤, marriage is the culmination of a dream and wedding night a once in a lifetime experience but for the business minded ┬┤Kishan┬┤ its just another night as he is more worried about the 5 year long business related journey the next morning (that is supposed to be an auspicious date) to fulfill the dreams of his money minded father.
┬┤Kishan┬┤ proceeds on his pre-planned journey with a trusted employee, leaving behind a sobbing ┬┤Laachi┬┤. The supernatural character (actually a ghost) takes the form of a human (Aasif Sheikh) and learns of the 5 year seperation and jumps at the opportunity and transforms himself into ┬┤Kishan Lal┬┤ and reaches his home and takes his place. He however is honest enough to tell ┬┤Laachi┬┤ the truth, who having been badly hurt by her real husband┬┤s attitude accepts him, fully knowing that he is neither her husband nor a human. Love blossoms between the two and ┬┤Laachi┬┤ gets from her new relationship everything that she had desired.
In between the fake ┬┤Kishan┬┤ uses his supernatural powers to satisfy his money minded father and also manages to win a camel race that brings the family honor back. Things progress smoothly until real ┬┤Kishan┬┤ lands up at his home (before the scheduled time period).
On the whole ┬┤Paheli┬┤ is fantasy joyride for the whole family, with a slightly slow first half (though livened up by some excellent special effects) and a thrill a minute second half. But the lovely Hariharan song ┬┤Khali hai tere bina dono ankhiyan┬┤ should be edited out as it slows the pace of the movie. Shah Rukh┬┤s scenes with Rani are wonderful, specially their romantic scenes and the one where he owns up that he is not a human. The final climax scene standout, not to mention the light scenes between Shah Rukh, Anupam and Rajpal Yadav.
Muneesh Sappal┬┤s sets bring authentic Rajasthani ambience to the screen and Ravi K. Chandran┬┤s cinematography is there to capture it in the rich and vibarant colours (which are not gawdy) and will rate amongst his finest works.
Farah Khan shows why she is one of the best choreographers today as this time its not the Gen X choreography or dance floor ┬┤item┬┤ numbers. She surprises with her authentic Rajasthani dance steps. The opening song ┬┤Minnat Kare┬┤, ┬┤Kangna Re┬┤, ┬┤Laga Re Jal Laaga┬┤ are three wonderfully choreographed songs.
Allan Amin┬┤s action sequences, specially the camel race are quite good. Amitabh Shukla┬┤s editing is crisp.
The Gulzar-Kreem combo gives us some lovely songs with meaningful and apt lyrics. ┬┤Dheere Jalna┬┤, ┬┤Khali hai tere bina dono ankhiyan, Tum gaye kahan┬┤ are some examples of how music and lyrics compliment each other.
Performance wise it is a third ┬┤different┬┤ performance for Shah Rukh (accused of doing the same things over and over again) after ┬┤Veer-Zaara┬┤ and ┬┤Swades┬┤. King Khan demonstrates his range of histrionics yet again (for the learned critics). Kudos to Shah Rukh Khan for striking an excellent balance in roles that had the potential to go overboard on both, the ┬┤human┬┤ as well as the ┬┤ghost┬┤ side! We must add that that Shah Rukh ┬┤The ghost┬┤ blows off Shah Rukh ┬┤The human┬┤ (not taking anything away from his lovely meek and obedient son portrayal).
Rani (the unquestionable numero uno) after ┬┤Veer-Zaara┬┤, ┬┤Black┬┤ and ┬┤Paheli┬┤ is head and shoulders above the the next competitors and the gap now gets quite pronounced and big.
Anupam is good in a role that he has essayed many times. Juhi as the silent sufferer is effective and Shetty as her husband hardly has anything to do but makes up for it by his screen presence. Rajpal Yadav (as the old day ┬┤courier┬┤) is hillarious and after ┬┤Waqt-The Race Against Time┬┤ and now ┬┤Paheli┬┤ , it is obvious that he has displaced Johny Lever as Bollywood┬┤s top comedian. Aditi Govitrikar looks beautiful and is adequate. Amitabh┬┤s short appearance comes as a surprise and he is as good as he has been for the last 35 years. Naseer and Ratna Shah liven up the proceeding with their tongue-in-cheek narration (as puppet voices) from time to time.
┬┤Paheli┬┤ belongs to that genre of filmmaking that has not been attempted before. With such big stars and with a weak script/screenplay and an inept director it could easily have become comical, but full marks to Sandhya Gokhale┬┤s flawless screenplay and Amol Palekar┬┤s wonderful direction, ┬┤Paheli┬┤ becomes an engrossing tale, (this time on celluloid ) the kinds of which we must have heard from our grandparents.
All in all ┬┤Paheli┬┤ that already has a table profit and has been sold for a reasonable price (except to the Bombay distributors) will prove to be a safe and profitable venture for its distributors specially after the good multiplex start .