If there is one thing that made movie fans both in and out of India fall in love with Bollywood, it was its ability to feature larger-than-life themes that allowed audiences to escape to other worlds.
While many say Bollywood has significantly lost that element in most of its recent films – hence the noted struggles at the box office across the board the last few years – one new release made an effort to try to reclaim the magic of old Hindi cinema lore. That film is Sadiyaan.
Sure, the story begins predictably with a Hindu and a Moslem caught in the middle of a love affair that would never be approved, yet as Sadiyaan unfolds, the story becomes one of melodrama and gaudy cheese, much like what Bollywood used to be before its (current) transition to popcorn-style cinema.
As a few fellow critics have already pointed out, Sadiyaan may not be the ideal film to play in the many multiplexes rampant throughout India’s big cities, but it will feel right at home at the old-school one-screen theaters that defined Bollywood not even 20 years ago.
Just like the film’s ode to Bollywood of old, the plot of Sadiyaan itself is a period piece, proverbially placed at one of the most pivotal times in modern Indian history – 1947 Partition.
Of course, it helps to have film legends Rekha, Hema Malini and Rishi Kapoor in leading roles.
As families and lives were separated by an arbitrary line drawn by the political powers that be in London and Delhi, Partition also drew a line between love birds. Now, not only did a man, woman and family have to overcome religious barriers to pursuing love, they also had to tackle nationality issues of India versus Pakistan.
Sadiyaan introduces audiences to Benazir (Hema Malini), a Moslem mother who is separated from her child as she moves to Lahore. Discovered by Amrit and Rajveer (played by Rekha and Kapoor, respectively), the kid (Luv Sinha) grows up believing he is a Hindu.
When he finally finds love as a young adult, he finds disapproval, as his chosen woman (Ferena Wazeir) is Muslim. Amrit and Rajveer must then decide whether to tell their adopted son the truth (and spare his love) and how to confront Benazir in the process.
It is that latter confrontation that makes Sadiyaan worth watching, as Hema Malini and Rekha revive their Bollywood glory days in 2010, bringing a level of substance to the film that can only be matched by two heavyweight boxers, like Joe Louis and James Braddock, reliving their much ballyhooed past in present times.
Likewise, Kapoor reminds audiences why he is the living legend that helped turn Bollywood into one of the world’s biggest film industries, delivering a resoundingly powerful performance rarely found in today’s younger stars.
Perhaps that is the only true weakness of Sadiyaan. In featuring some of the biggest names of Bollywood of a few generations past, it will be hard for current audiences to connect to who they may consider as relics in the film’s three “ancient” ambassadors.
Indeed, the entire film comes off as old-fashioned. While this should be a good thing, considering the cast and overall solid acting, the old-fashioned nature of Sadiyaan ultimately is an unfortunate handicap, what with an audience who craves more than melodramatic scenes and ultra-filmy fanfare.
Another minor handicap is in how the film combines old with fresh. While Hema Malini, Kapoor and Rekha are their solid selves, their performances are in stark contrast to the otherwise awkward debut of Sinha and the blaze rendition of young female love interest by Wazeir.
Still, Sadiyaan is the perfect movie for those who are still clinging to what Bollywood used to be, what with its steady dose of filmy enchantment and overtly dramatic flair.
Slightly falling short of being a must-see (since it comes off as too much of a soap opera by film’s end), the Raj Kanwar-directed film is well-shot and a respectable ode to the Bollywood that once was.
Sadiyaan is now playing in wide release.