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Director :
Music :
Lyrics :
Starring :
 Mahesh Manjrekar
 Anand Raj Anand
 Ajay Jhingran
 Bipasha Basu, Sanjay Dutt, Suniel Shetty, Dino Morea, Himanshu Malik, Amrita Arora, Neha Dhupia, Rajit Bedi, Payal Rohatgi, Abhishek Bachchan.

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS Send to Friend

Not often do we get a mainstream Hindi film that allows some of our biggest stars to defiantly depart from their images. "Rakht" gives macho actors like Sanjay Dutt, Suniel Shetty and Dino Morea a chance to broaden their histrionic horizons in unexpected and startling ways.

Rakht WallpaperMost of all, the plot is handed over to the leading lady. Playing a widowed clairvoyant with a growing son, Bipasha Basu gets into character like never before.

From the time he made "Nidaan", Bollywood's first film on AIDS, Mahesh Manjrekar has always been an envelope-pusher. Even an awful film like "Pitah" went into the unexpectedly shocking territory of juvenile rape.

"Rakht" again takes us into unexpected territory, including child abuse, which is peripherally brought in through Suniel Shetty's traumatised character. Journeying into the dark and unknown sphere of occultism through the eyes of the aptly named Drishti (Bipasha), "Rakht" springs up some stock shocks and unorthodox surprises, specially in the way mainstream stars have been projected.

Alas, the innovations in the plot and characterisations, though commendable, do not take the film far enough for us to rejoice in the aura of newness.

Rakht WallpaperThe core element in the plot is borrowed from an appalling Hollywood supernatural thriller Sam Rami's "The Gift". Though unpalatable, the original had its share of sturdy performances. Like Shekhar Kapur's adaptation of "Man Woman and Child" ("Masoom"), Manjrekar goes beyond the original. His innovations in the original plot are quite clever, if not entirely impressive.

Though the jolting soundtrack and scenic soothing green setting are typical of all suspense thrillers, from the riveting "Kudrat" in the 1970s to the appalling Shikari earlier this year, "Rakht" looks more aesthetic than your average shiver giver. Manjrekar's steady cinematographer Vijay Arora applies luminous lenses to the leaping suspense.

In no recent thriller has the cast looked so fetching. Not just Bipasha, who's beautifully packaged to look deep, dark and mysterious, but also Neha Dhupia who looks frail and vulnerable as the battered wife. And Amrita Arora as the nymphomaniac murder victim gives her role an adrenaline-charged no-holds-barred vibrancy.

Yup, this is a woman's film, though the feminine brigade tends to get unwieldy when item songs are thrown in for no reason except to lighten the suspenseful load. What, for instance, is Yana Gupta doing shaking her booty in that "Babe" song? Or Amrita Arora breaking into gelatinous gyrations at the drop of a hat?

Curiously, the leading lady gets no songs to sing! Bipasha, busy with her visions and cards, just doesn't get the time for trivial pursuits.

Even in her 'item song' with Abhishek Bachchan, Bipasha simply swings to the beat, thereby completing the picture of role reversal, whereby the heroine becomes the film's hero.

Rakht WallpaperIf the ladies are interestingly varied in their projection, there's a gallery of watchable male stars, from Dutt (bespectacled and shy) and Shetty (stuttering and repressed) to Sachin Khedekar (maniacally cynical as a lawyer) and Manjrekar's lucky mascot Shivaji Satam (who appears for a fleeting part).

Each man knows his place in the plot and makes the best use of it. Among the men, Dino Morea as the wife-beater is specially interesting. His performance draws a very fine line between violence and evil.

Though "Rakht" sails through its turbulent theme on the strength of the actors and characters, it faces rough weather on the narrative level. Manjrekar maintains a disquieting calm at the heart of the anguished plot. But the deliberately loud soundtrack suggests that the film finally wants to belong at the centre of the suspense genre.

As a whodunit, "Rakht" doesn't have much meat to chew on. The denouement when it comes puts the plot in a barely contained panic. Watch this film for the way Manjrekar uses mainstream stars, specially Bipasha who is exotic, enigmatic and erotic in spite of an eight-year old son.

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