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May 22, 1999


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He's back!

Sharmila Taliculam

A still from Sooryavansham. Click for bigger pic!
It doesn't happen very often that someone with two miserable films comes back with a humdinger. But common rules hardly apply with Amitabh Bachchan, do they?

And so, after those terrible 'comeback' films, Mrityudaata and Lal Badshah, he's proved that it may be human to err, but it takes someone a little greater to grab his luck by the scruff of its neck and turn it around.

Sooryavansham proves the critics wrong, Amitabh right. It makes you certain that he'd never lost his touch, only that he'd landed roles that no one could do justice to, that it would be an ass of a producer who did not know that he'd come good in a big way sometime. In fact, Sooryavansham makes you an Amitabh fan all over again.

The story, we must admit, is still cliched, dwelling on the father-son conflict rendered famous by films like Shakti, Trishul and Aakhri Raasta. Amitabh plays both father Thakur Bhanupratap Singh and illiterate son Hira. The thakur has scant respect for his son and shows it. The meek and obedient son makes no protest.

That's the difference between earlier Amitabh films about the father-son divide and this one -- there the sons rebelled against the parent's demand for conformity; in Sooryavansham the son feels he can't measure up to what his father expects of him. He doesn't rebel, just blames himself for the pain caused to his family and is rendered passive due to his terror of the consequences of action.

Then Radha (Soundarya), falls in love with Hira and proposes marriage. He accepts, and that annoys enrages the thakur so much that he tosses the couple out of the house.

Click for bigger pic!
So there you are -- you have the unbending patriarch, the docile son, the black sheep... So many cliches, yes, but then you don't mind, considering the performance Amitabh's given here.

The characters have been presented very well. That there are conflicts is evident, but there are no lengthy dialogues between the two protagonists. While the father is introduced a bit dramatically, the son ambles in in one frame and he's hardly given much attention.

The father's role is closer to stereotype -- he is shown as being unbending, unwilling to listen to reason. Even his other children think twice about protecting the one he's dubbed the black sheep.

And the son? He's subdued and sober and most willing to listen to anything his father had to say, except on the issue of his marriage. Despite his father-is-god attitude, he avoids being exasperating, only inducing in you a degree of pity.

So his parents and brothers don't tell him that his only sister is being married off. He doesn't mind that. Similarly he doesn't hesitate when the heroine, who doesn't know him at the time, asks him to iron some of her clothes. His hesitation and helplessness are evident, as is his unwillingness to annoy his father. The weak man's vulnerability is captured very well.

Click for bigger pic!
And it's particularly good in a scene where he's he makes excuses for his father not being present at the inauguration of a hospital. It's as if he's trying to convince himself that his father really had a reason, other than his annoyance with his son, for not being there.

Amitabh is very understated as both characters. The voice is deeper for the older man, and it's a bit reminiscent of Agneepath. There are only two fight sequences, both rather cliched. Thankfully, the younger man doesn't have to go through the dance, fight and romance sequences.

Though his age is evident in some scenes, Amitabh still manages to make you ignore it most of the time, the role being as sober as it is. He manages to look right for the heroine.

There are only four songs in the film, of which one is repeated thrice, another twice. They are all a little superfluous.

Thankfully, the father-son conflict is bereft of tired rhetoric. This is no Shakti where father Dilip Kumar and son Amitabh discuss their personal philosophies in detail to underline their differences.

Sooryavansham is a remake of a South Indian film of the same name. Sharat Kumar played the patriarch and his son in the Tamil version. That was a huge hit. The Hindi remake is faithful enough to retain the southern flavour, these including huge ornate sets, commodious bungalows and a good many melodramatic situations.

Sooryavansham is a reminder that Amitabh Bachchan is not yet material for coffee table historians. All those who have been demanding his retirement could spend their time watching Sooryavansham. It should be a rewarding experience.

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