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April 5, 2002
Just when you have given up on Hindi films after the last round of disastrous flicks like Kya Yehi Pyaar Hai, Durga and Vadh, there comes a film that restores your faith in Bollywood.
Aankhen has a Hollywood-style bank robbery plot executed without compromising too much on the three must-haves of Hindi films --- songs, three hours and gaping holes in the plot.
Vijay Singh Rajput (Amitabh Bachchan) is the manager of Vilasrao Jefferson bank. He has chosen celibacy to prove his dedication to his work. But his pent-up frustrations burst out against his employees --- the watchman caught sleeping on the job, the cashier who tries to siphon off a few notes before he hands it over the counter.
After he beats the living daylights out of the nincompoop sweaty cashier, Rajput is fired from the bank he has served for over 25 years.
The official reason for his behaviour is that Rajput has schizophrenia, which explains why he is obsessed with taking revenge on his employers and co-workers --- all of which some of us fantasize about through our lives. The only difference is that Rajput goes a step further and does what others only dream of doing --- get even with the bosses.
He decides to extract his revenge by robbing the bank and finds a cast of three blind men, Vishwas Prajapati (Akshay Kumar), Arjun Verma (Arjun Rampal) and Ilias (Paresh Rawal). Svelte teacher Neha Srivastav (Sushmita Sen) also carries out his bidding.
While the three blind men are in it for the money, Neha plays along because Rajput has her younger brother captive. Using her skills as a teacher, Neha simulates the bank's interiors and teaches the trio the tricks to pull off the heist.
After over 40 days of training in a simulated environment, the three blind men step into the bank to pull off the most novel bank robbery Bollywood has seen. How they do it forms the rest of the film.
Aankhen defies all the rules of commercial Hindi cinema. The heroes are blind and are actually listen to a woman who seems more intelligent and capable than all of them put together.
The plot doesn't lose sight of its goal -- the bank robbery -- and refuses to get side-tracked into mindless romance or songs. Conceived and executed like a taut Hollywood thriller, Aankhen is an impressive breakaway from the cliché ridden formula filmmaking that afflicts Bollywood.
The credit for this belongs to debutant director Vipul Shah and his team. Shah is in completely in control of the film, whether it is in the dramatic sequences or developing the chemistry among the cast.
The story of Aankhen has been adapted by writer Aatish Kapadia from his own Gujarati play, Andhla Pato (Blindman's Buff), first staged in 1992. Thanks to his experience with the theatre where taut scripts are necessary to hold the act together, Kapadia's screenplay is one of the film's strong points.
The other is the cast and characterisation.
As Vijay Singh Rajput, Amitabh Bachchan has turned in one of the finest performances of his career. He pulls off the most ludicrous situations with credibility and style. In a role that changes colours, starting as an upright bank officer morphing into a man obsessed with pulling off a bank robbery for revenge and finally turning into the villain who is prepared to go to any lengths to get his booty, Bachchan is glorious. He proves himself worth the sobriquet of the 'superstar' of Hindi cinema.
Not to say that the others are overshadowed by his presence. As the blind man with that extra-sensory perception, Akshay Kumar holds his own in every scene. He brush-offs with Bachchan are dramatic and he brings a quiet intelligence and depth to his role. Every time he senses the silent Rajput hovering in the background, the screen crackles with electricity.
The chemistry between him and Paresh Rawal is delightful. Akshay's thinking demeanor offsets Rawal's light-hearted quick-to-crack a joke countenance. With a role that is funny and irreverent, Rawal gathers the audience's laughs and proves his onscreen brilliance yet again.
Arjun Rampal looks good, has a good body and a goodr screen presence but falls flat, partly due to poor characterisation. His is the only role that appears half-baked and Rampal only makes it worse.
Sushmita Sen's role of Neha deserves an extra round of applause. Unlike most Hindi film heroines who come across as bimbettes and whose only aim is to get into the hero's way at the climax, Neha doesn't need a man to exist. She is intelligent and capable, even during the climax.
However, the film has its fair share of flaws. The pace tends to sag intermittently and the actual robbery comes as an anti-climax to the tension built during the training. Besides, the robbery also appears terribly tame.
The three-hour film tends to get you a little fidgety towards the end. Bipasha Basu and Kashmira Shah in 'item' numbers aggravate the cramped legs in an already stretched out film.
But in all, Aankhen is different from your usual Hindi flick. It is a fast paced, slick thriller, a species rarely encountered in the annals of the Hindi film industry.
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