The Ghost and Mrs. Mukherji: my do paise on Paheli

First thing I noticed is that the name of the film’s jeweler is listed before the opening credits even start running.   Once the movie gets underway, you understand why: the women, and quite a few men, are dripping in more bling than you’d see at the BET awards.

The story in a nutshell: Rani Mukherji marries Shahrukh Khan in Ye Olde Rajasthan.   He’s a bean-counter by profession and, in spite of Rani’s charms, even as they are jolted about against each other in a carriage home from the wedding, he’s pouring over his accounting books, instead of checking out his fetching new wife.   They stop in a village to cool off for a bit and a ghost catches a glimpse of Rani and falls in love with her.   After an unconsummated wedding night, Mr. Accountant Khan sets off on a five-year business trip, leaving the Mrs. in tears.

The ghost gets wind of the fact that the object of his desire will be unchaperoned for a long time and takes on the guise of the husband, pretending to show up back home early.   The family is duped, as is Rani.   But just as the couple are finally about to get down to business, the ghost comes clean to Mrs. Mukherji about who he really is, and, get this, she’s so tickled by the lengths that he’d go to in order to be with her (and so ticked off at the hubby disappearing), she tells him to stay.   They settle in to a blissful existence together, SRK the Ghost works his charms on the village in a kind of Lagaan/Swadesi way, until (cue suspenseful music) the real husband returns, just as Rani’s in the throes of labour.   Toss in an appearance by the Big B as a Solomon-like goatherd in a dhoti (boy, does he have skinny calves), and some hocus pocus later, loose ends are tied up.   Fin.

The costumes are a magnificent array of strong jewel colors and gold embroidery that hold up well against the desert sun and endless blue sky.   The women are swathed in lots pf reds and pinks, ghunghats firmly pulled down whenever the menfolk are around.   Meanwhile the fellas, all turbans and twirly moustaches, sport blousy empire-waist shirts that tie at the side.

Two puppets serve as narrators and a Greek chorus  of sorts.   Naseeruddin Shah – here in  voice only – outperforms Suniel Shetty (who appears in the second half in a cameo role) in totum.

Shahrukh Khan is himself, energetic and playful, with eyebrows like two tildes escaped from a Galdós  novel.    Rani’s feline eyes are magnetic as she peers up, scene after scene, from under her veil.   Score one for women’s lib when she replies to a choice that Khan the Spirit has presented her with: “No one has ever asked me what I wanted.”   The two together are entirely credible as a manand a woman who can’t get enough of each other.

Juhi Chawla may well have a second career ahead of her as a woman of more substance than she was in her earlier roles.   Playing the abandoned sister-in-law, she has more gravitas and presence than before she passed the perkiness mantle on to Preity Zinta, and her face is more luminously beautiful, whereas before she was merely toothy and pretty.   It’s interesting to see her cast as a woman close to her own age, and to note that her place as leading lady beside Shahrukh Khan now taken by Rani Mukherji.   There was a lovely frame of her, alone as the other women go off to the temple, the stark contrast of the hues of her clothes set off by the small mounds of white cotton all around her.

(By the way, who else is going to change the spelling of their name?   Sunil was Sunil, but  now he’s Suniel.   Rani Mukherjee was Rani Mukherjee, ’til she became Rani Mukherji.)

The special effects – mainly Shahrukh  appearing and disappearing in a swirl of sand – are well done.   Similarly, a small cluster of flower petals floating before SRK’s eyes in one scene, and a circle of them darting around Rani’s footsteps in a courtyard  are believable.   The only thing that is obviously fake is the blue bird at the start of the movie, one of the ghost’s avatars, fluttering around and following Rani at the Rajasthani rest stop.

As with most Bollywood movies, a few things are not quite right.   Anupam Kher is cardboard thin as the money-grubbing father.   Juhi Chawla’s reaction to her husband’s reappearance after seven years is way  too muted, to say the least.   If the man you loved and had married vanished with neither trace nor explanation, and stayed away for almost a decade, wouldn’t you haul off and at least slap him a few times if he suddenly waltzed through the door?   One other question to ponder is, how can it be that an entire village accepts Rani’s infidelity (even if she was, as they believe, tricked), to say nothing of the same reax from the family she married into to?

But as a purely romantic fable where True  Love conquers all, the movie works.   The lovers never quarrel, SRK is always doting and affectionate, nobody says “Just once, will you please stop leaving you clothes on the floor!”   In a scenario reminiscent of Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos, when husband and ghost meet, the phantom Khan explains to his flesh-and-blood doppelganger: “I’m the love she longs for.”   Sigh.

See it or skip it?          

See it!   Beautiful to look at, with a different story.

6 thoughts on “The Ghost and Mrs. Mukherji: my do paise on Paheli

  1. JKM, I love the timeshare concept!

    Samira, yes, Rani looked lovely, SRK in a mush took a bit of adjusting to.

    FB, indeed, symbolism (and fantasy) over reality any day!

  2. The ending was a beautiful concept – that ‘prem'(love) becomes part of the essence of the husband. Prior to that, he was more of a businessman, and didn’t care for love. The ending was more symobolic – than rational – as all folk tales are. Isn’t that the real beauty of folk tales…?

  3. Very nice reviews here…you hit quite a number of things that I agree with. However, I, like Beth was a bit off put by Paheli’s ending (that’s been happening a lot to me lately RDB’s last 30 minutes, Yun Hota To Kya Hota’s last 45…and THAT should have been subtitled “What the..uh…iF?” forget “What if?”) And it’s not due to the rapidly shifting period vs modern points of view on women’s rights, it was simply due to the “unfairness” of the ghost appropriating the body of the husband with scarcely a thought. If they had included one scene in the forest where the ghost and the husband talked and established that they both wanted Lachchi to be happy and agreed to a corporeal timeshare or something (Bean-counter during the day, Ghost at night, for example), I’d have been okay with it. As it was, I enjoyed most of it, but it could have been so much more satisfying.

  4. I didn’t have a problem with the ending, probably in part because – I understand – it’s based on a fable and, though I’ll probably have a hard time explaining it logically at this hour, because of that, I give the filmmaker even more of a pass with regard to how reasonable a particular plot twist may be, or not.

    I’m rummaging back to the recesses of my memory to recall Lachchi’s p-o-v at the end, since I haven’t bought the film and saw it last year the weekend in June when it opened…

    I think also my hackles as a woman were not particularly up at whatever lack of choice Lachchi may have had, or not had, at the end, because of the fact that the setting appears to be quite far back in the past, and so it didn’t bother me as much as if the setting had been contemporary, because I’d expect more for the women characters then.

    And I must confess that, Vestern raised as I am, there are times when I’m glad to see that Duty doesn’t always triumph over Free Will in a Hindi movie and without tragic consequences.

    PS – did you see your buddy Akshaye is featured in a short article in the June issue of Stardust? Don’t you love his line in “Bollywood/Hollywood” when they’re thanking him for coming all the way over for the engagement party and he embraces Rahul saying “He’s like a brother to me”? Too cute.

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