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January 21, 1999


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The power game

Suparn Verma

Sunil Shetty and Tabu in Hu Tu Tu. Click for bigger pic!
The story of Hu Tu Tu is seen from the viewpoint of Panna (Tabu), who witnesses the rise of her mother Malti Barve (Suhasini Mulay) from a school teacher in Sewri to a social activist and, finally, the chief minister of Maharashtra.

Malti is helped along by Sawantrao Gadre (Mohan Agashe) with whom she shares a relationship on both a personal and professional front. Even as a child, Panna is never able to be part of the family. Her defiance begins when she throws a stone at a window of the house where her mother is visiting Gadre. And she goes on to become a foul-mouthed tomboy with a devil-may-care attitude and a boy-cut.

She meets Aditya Patel (Sunil Shetty), son of a wealthy industrialist P N Patel (Kulbhushan Kharbanda). Aditya lives under his father's all-too-large shadow, and has trouble coming to grips with his pa's ruthless temperament.

Panna and Aditya feel they share a void of faith becoming, as they have, part of corrupt lineages. They have no one to look up to but can't leave behind the moral cesspool they live in. They hate what their parents stand for, they disagree with the means used to wield power, but they too are used to living with it.

Suhasini Mulay and Nana Patekar in Hu Tu Tu. Click for bigger pic!
Aditya introduces Panna to another world, the basti behind his father's mill, where Joshi master, Aditya's emotional and spiritual guide, lives. In this 'real world' they come across Bhau (Nana Patekar), a Dalit street poet, who moves across towns and villages along with his troupe, singing songs of hope, of revolution and of human rights.

The story is multi-layered, and follows the political games played by Malti to rise in the political arena, her nexus with industrialists, and her willingness to use the sugar lobby and Dalit votes to rise to power.

There are diverse characters, all complete. There's Amol Barve (Shivaji Satam), Malti's husband, owner of a gur-chakki (sugar unit). He is a silent spectator as he slowly loses his wife, his children, and his self-esteem. There's Aditya, who wants to establish his own identity before it's too late. There's Joshi master who tries to inculcate some of his beliefs in a select few. And, finally, Sawantrao Gadre, the king-maker. But the main characters, clearly, are Panna and Malti.

Click for bigger pic!
Hu Tu Tu has two distinct chords running through it. One is the angst of the generation of Gulzar, forever scarred by Indira Gandhi's regime, which sought to choke their voices with the Emergency.

The other is the dilemma faced by today's generation that lacks the faith or the kind of leadership the previous generation had to guide them. The story is a product of Gulzar and his daughter Meghna, the associate scriptwriter, who incidentally dug up this story penned by Gulzar.

The Malti of Hu Tu Tu is in some ways a different exploration of Suchitra Sen in Aandhi. Though Aandhi was primarily a love story in a political setting, Hu Tu Tu examines, in greater detail, another angle -- life after the choice is made. What happens to the family after you take the plunge?

Gulzar uses flashbacks, which he has used to good effect in films like Aandhi, Ijazzat, Maachis...

With Maachis, Gulzar explored the scarred psyche of the youth of Punjab who pick up arms as a solution, even if the solution is temporary. In Hu Tu Tu, violence is dealt with as a possible solution.

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Hu Tu Tu is one of Gulzar's most ambitious projects in terms of scale. The sets are bigger, the scenes involving Malti's campaign being really huge. There are aerial shots, stunts shot from the air, what have you. Nitin Desai's art direction is effective. Vishal teams up again with Gulzar to produce music that's a delicate blend of various moods. Gulzar's lyrics and dialogues, which revel in the colloquial, are incisive.

The film is technically polished and Gulzar keeps the pace of the film, explaining things as the story proceeds without burdening the narrative with excessive dialogue or by making his characters labour on about their philosophies.

You can't help but think of movies like Roja, Bombay, Dil Se made by Mani Ratnam as fashion statements made by a director who wants to be taken seriously. Both Maachis and Hu Tu Tu are love stories but they never lose focus of the problems they deal with, never use it as an excuse to narrate a love story.

Tabu is first-rate in her second outing with Gulzar.

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Sunil Shetty gets his second meaty role as an actor after a dignified performance in Border, and he doesn't let you down. He uses his eyes, his silences and a walk affected by an amputated leg, to good effect.

Nana, though he still hasn't broken altogether from his stereotype, is put to good use. His dialogues are minimal but effective. He doesn't dub his songs and that helps his cause too.

The supporting cast is composed of seasoned actors, who do a great job. But Suhasini Mulay as Malti Barve steals the show. She made her appearance 30 years ago in Mrinal Sen's Bhuvan Shome opposite Utpal Dutt.

Three decades have simply intensified her performance -- she adds minute nuances to small scenes, using her eyes or simple gestures to draw the portrait of a woman who, on a quest to help people, begins to satisfy her own ego, being drawn deeper the power game.

Hu Tu Tu ranks as one of Gulzar's finest and is a must see.

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