Written by French novelist Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, the 1756 fairy tale La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast) has been translated into multiple languages, adapted to a variety of cultures, and revised many times for stage and screen. The 1991 Disney animated musical version was so popular it became a Broadway production in 1994.
While the 1996 Hindi film Jeet ("Victory") isn't a direct adaptation of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, it closely reflects several themes from the story - including the transformation of the beast. This version, however, is intense, gritty, and sometimes violent and comes complete with several song and dance numbers in the Bollywood style.
As Kajal, Karishma Kapoor is the "Beauty" of this story who believes there is good in everyone. While she is a dutiful daughter, she speaks her mind when needed. She has a good relationship with her widowed father, Professor Sidhant Sharma (Alok Nath), and is willing to do anything for him.
Stepping into the role of the "Beast" is Sunny Deol as the dangerous and unpredictable Karan, a streetwise hoodlum and paid assassin for hire. When Karan crosses paths with Kajal, something about her begins to transform him. Finding himself drawn to her, he stalks Kajal until she confronts him, calling him "a beast ... a merciless beast!"
As in the fairytale, Beauty offers to spend time with the Beast. Kajal sees that there is good in Karan and she helps spur his transformation into someone who is worthy of her friendship and love.
This is a different life for Karan. He says, "I can't understand anything. Everything appears so nice." As they declare their love for each other, he tells her not to leave him. "I will not be able to live," he says. She promises not to let him down.
This promise becomes both the downfall and ultimate redemption for Karan.
Into this romance strolls happy-go-lucky family friend Rajeev 'Raju' Sahay (Salman Khan). Self-confident and a bit arrogant, he can be somewhat annoying. An NRI living in Europe, he returns to India to fulfill a promise made by their parents years go - to marry Kajal. Though Kajal resists at first, she gives up her promise to Karan to fulfill her father's promise to Raju.
With his dreams shattered, Karan returns to his former life and soon is handed an assignment to assassinate Kajal's husband Raju.
What makes this story work so well are the exceptional dramatic performances of each of the characters - including the supporting cast featuring Tabu as the dancer and prostitute Tulsibai, Master Mohsin as the little boy Time Pass, Johnny Lever as brothel eunuch Piajee, and Amrish Puri as crime boss Gajraj Choudhary.
In a behind-the-scenes interview, Sunny Deol explained that the complex character of Karan is what drew him to the role:
"I'm playing a character with three shades in this film ... three different personalities. A person who doesn't think twice about killing a person and he changes and becomes like a child and after that again because of circumstances he becomes worse again ... he's a cold-blooded killer all over again without any more feelings. He just wants to die."
Karishma Kapoor also saw multiple shades in the role of Kajal. She explained:
"My character in this film is a girl who is extremely intense and she is torn between two men - one man who she has fallen in love with and the other man who has been in love with her since childhood. They are childhood friends. I call Jeet an intense love story. ... The film caption is "the victory of love" and it is a fact - the film is about the victory of love."
Salman Khan's character Raju also goes through a noticeable transformation. Initially he seems innocent and naive; however, when confronted with some harsh realities about his life he emerges strong and focused and becomes a healing balm for the hurts of the past.
While Jeet reflects some old-school Bollywood style that modern moviegoers may not be familiar with, the powerful story and performances make this a worthwhile film to watch if you are new to Bollywood.
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