I have to admit that it took me quite some time to decide to watch Paheli (2005). I think I avoided the film because of the crazy gigantic orange turban that Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) wears which is often displayed on DVD covers and other online information about the movie. Because of that turban, I thought it might be a children's comedy.
However, Paheli is often highlighted as a favorite in the SRK filmography. In India, the film won many awards including Zee Cine and Star Screen Awards for Best Actor (SRK), Filmfare Award for Best Male Playback Singer (Sonu Nigam), Filmfare Award for Best Lyrics (Gulzar), a Zee Cine Award for Best Costumes (Shalini Sama) and Zee Cine and Star Screen Awards for best Choreographer (Farah Khan) and Cinematography (Ravi K. Chandran) and a Zee Cine Award for Best Art Direction (Muneesh Sappal).
In the United States, it was the Indian submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. According to the rediff Entertainment Bureau:
Ravi K Chandran's breathtaking cinematography is a probable reason for the Shah Rukh Khan starrer getting the prestigious nomination.
Paheli didn't set the box office on fire in India, despite opening to great numbers in the US: the film's North American gross was around $1.5 million. Most Indian critics savaged the film, even as Shah Rukh Khan's home production stepped into usually uncharted territory -- the superstar played a friendly ghost who falls in love. Amol Palekar's soft, off-beat film is an adaptation of a Vijay Dandetha novel that previously been adapted by Mani Kaul, who made Duvidha in 1971.
Well, I finally watched this film.
It is definitely not a children's comedy though it does have children in it.
There are so many things I love about this movie. The music is breathtaking, the cinematography outstanding, the costumes amazing and the settings beautiful. Supporting actors include Sunil Shetty, Juhi Chawla, Rajpal Yadav and Amitabh Bachchan. There are even marionette narrators (voiced by Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak) that help move the story along. The twirling dancer at the spring in "Laaga Re Jal Laaga" is unforgettable.
And, well, SRK rocks the crazy gigantic orange turban.
So, what is this movie about? Paheli is not the name of any character in the film. I've see the word translated as "riddle" but in the english subtitles of the film the word "dilemma" is used. To clarify, I turn to the description of Paheli from the Red Chillies website:
Once upon a time, there was a lovely girl Lachchi (Rani Mukherjee) who was married to a man who was only interested in making money. There was a ghost (Shah Rukh Khan) who fell madly in love with her. On the wedding night itself, the husband left home for five long years on account of his business. The ghost took on the husband's appearance and entered her life.
A few years later, when the husband returned home, the villagers and relatives were bewildered. How this situation gets resolved is the Paheli.
Paheli is the dilemma of the girl who had to choose between the ghost's eternal love and her husband's insensitive monotone.
Paheli is the dilemma of the husband who had to face rejection from his own people.
Paheli is the dilemma of the ghost who wanted to be human and yet remain sincere and honest to his love.
Paheli is the dilemma of the parents who accepted an adorable son who was not their real son.
Paheli is the dilemma of the villagers who had to decide whether to live with ambiguity or to resolve the riddle.
There are so many things you can point to that make this movie enchanting - the story, the songs, the dancing, the costumes, the actors, the sets, the scenery. The storyline of this lavish film engages the viewer by testing the concepts of love, marriage, wealth, influence, reality and truth throughout the film.
But what makes this movie stand out for me is that while the real Kishanlal is focused on making money, ghost Kishanlal appears out of thin air to become a kind of "kinsmen-redeemer", restoring rights and avenging wrongs done to members of Kishanlal's family. Ultimately, his actions restore what Kishanlal's family has lost - sons, husbands, dignity, love, honor, and respect. And he does so in what Raja Sen describes as a film that is "picture-perfect, marinated in intoxicating colour."
Watch this film (available via NetFlix and Eros Now) and let me know what you think. And, after seeing the film, you may also want to read Deepti Priya Mehrotra's thoughtful review Paheli Rediscovering the Spirit of Love.
If you like this, leave a comment and check out our other Paheli posts.