By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
Sometimes, the filmmaker's intention far exceeds the actual execution of his vision. The magic of cinema pervades Ashok Kaul's honourably adventurous film like sprinkles of stardust.
And for sure, parts of "Bhaggmati", specially the animation portions chronicling Hyderabadi prince Mohammed Qutub Shah's romance with Hindu commoner Bhaggmati, is done with a glorious grace and elegance replicating the rhythms of a real-life romance.
Kaul uses the animation characters to heighten and soften the contours of the courtship marriage and final tragic finale when, after building the city of Hyderabad for his beloved wife, the prince helplessly watches his lovely wife die in his arms.
The moral hits home: all the riches in the world cannot buy you the life of the one you love.
Likewise, Kaul loves his characters, both animation and live. But he cannot bring to life the non-animation characters, though a lot of resources have gone into the endeavour. The growing relationship between the mysterious Shivranjini (Tabu) and the besotted suitor (Milind Soman) lacks dynamism.
Not only do the two not look like a love-pair the co-stars suffer from ham-handed lines and awkward scenes where they are forced to express their love in postures that seem to be taken from a high-school play rather than a serious film on the continuity of the life cycle through generations of love and bonding between two individuals.
Years ago in the film "Milan" we saw Nutan and Sunil Dutt play similar lovers surmounting the hurdles of the time zone. To this day we haven't forgotten the pair singing "Hum tum yug-yug se yeh geet milan ke gaate rahenge".
The songs that Shivranjini and her paramour sing in "Bhaggmati" are so vapid and uninspired that you wonder what the music composers Vishal Bharadwaj and Ravindra Jain were thinking of while composing songs for an intended classic love story!
Tabu has played the enigmatic diva once too often. While in M.F Husain's Meenaxi her romance with the wiry stranger was erotic and intriguing, in "Bhaggmati" her expressions convey distraction rather than mystique.
A pity, because Tabu is capable of lifting films beyond the banal. Here, she's just not in her element.
Moreover, the character of the pipe-smoking historian (played by director Kaul himself) is so incongruous that it breaks the already precarious rhythms of timeless romance, rendering the narration more static and staccato than epic.
There's a lesson for all directors who face the camera: do so at the risk of losing focus. The potentially fecund fusion of animation and live characters peters into a dead-end. You do get enthralled by the way Kaul brings the animation characters in the same line of vision as the real characters (who incidentally look far less real than their animation counterparts!
You bow to the director's sense of adventurism, which spurs him to blur the borders between love and duty, time and timelessness, art and kitsch.
There are bright innovative patches. Hema Malini's dance number at the prince's wedding is accompanied by animation chorus girls, and the love-making sequence after the lovers in the animation-lovers marry conveys more sensuousness than all the writhing bodies in the live action films.
The audacious synthesis of cartoon and live drama makes you salute the spirit of cinematic ingenuity. But finally you're looking at a film that bites more than it could chew.