Director: Rajkumar Santoshi
Cast: Ajay Devgan, Pankaj Kapur, Vidya Balan, Darshan Jariwalla
Storyline: A self-obsessed actor becomes a social activist to fight for justice.
Bottomline: Bollywood Bol dilutes this Halla
Halla Bol is to Bollywood what Rang De Basanti was to youth.
It tries to say the same thing. Plot-wise too, it is similar, though reactive, to RDB.
If the death of the idealist in RDB (Madhavan), supplemented by role-playing of freedom fighters, triggered off the awakening of the youth in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s classic, here the trigger goes off and innocence is killed right in front of the eyes of the protagonist and, the star who all along had role-played the hero in pot-boilers finally finds something wrong about looking the other way.
If RDB’s protagonists took the easy way out and took law into their own hands, Halla’s idealism (personified by dacoit-turned-activist Pankaj Kapur) tries to look for solutions within the system.
Seeing the posters in Sameer Khan’s room (Yuva and The Legend of Bhagat Singh), you realise that Rajkumar Santoshi has intentionally blurred the lines between Sameer Khan and Ajay Devgan. Because, Halla Bol isn’t about the role of the common man or the youth in bringing social change.
Halla Bol is a dramatic wake-up call for the “hero,” or the guy who people believe is the hero in the modern context: the larger than life icons, idols of pop culture… the demi-gods who have the power to influence a mass.
Santoshi’s idealism demands that our modern day heroes take on a little responsibility given their mass appeal. So his action-hero Sameer Khan (Devgan) is the epitome of all-consuming narcissistic stardom and borrows traits from many stars of today and it is summed up best when we see it all from the point of the view of the common man… One moment, we see the star spout lines fighting for righteousness and then the next moment, he’s endorsing chaddi-baniyan. How seriously do you take him?
Names are dropped liberally (Aamir Khan w.r.t to his Narmada Bachao role and there’s also a dig at Thanda… Matlab?) and film personalities walk in to the frame, often playing themselves (Poor Aarti Chabbria given her five-second appearance does not get a benefit of clarification: for her benefit, we will just assume she was playing a character of a starlet and not herself) and the lines between the real Bollywood and the world of Sameer Khan blur.
There’s a great amount of layering, referencing and parallels drawn in the first half through lines written for films within the film… there’s a Deewar-like stand-off involving him and Tusshar Kapoor where Sameer plays the modern-day hero, the face of ambition. Santoshi even makes sure that the villain of the piece (only Darshan Jariwalla could have made a unidimensional villain at least a little plausible) says almost the same lines from Deewar: “Humare Pass Power Hai, Paisa Hai, Public Hai… Hum Kuch Bhi Kar Saktey Hai”… Co-incidence? Unlikely.
Because, Halla Bol is a smart exploitation of ‘types’ in commercial cinema.
Our heroes used to be farmers who fought for a common problem and oppression, then they became angry young men who fought against injustice meted out to the common man… they had also become non-resident Indians and pop-patriots for a while but thankfully, they returned to the screen completely indifferent and desensitised to corruption, unabashedly celebrating the self (Javed Akhtar once told me how Dil Chahta Hai was a commentary about today’s society and reflective of today’s youth: there is just one person important to the I-Me-Myself generation, he said)… And Sameer Khan’s wife points this out literally when she tells him: “You seem to use the word “I” quite a lot these days.”
If RDB was the first to address this ‘type’ representative of the youth and talk to them about their role, Halla Bol takes the ‘type’ of the mainstream hero in our movies (the star himself because in the Indian context, the lines between the character he plays and the person he really is, are always blurred) and tries to give him a sense of responsibility towards the society.
Where Halla fails, at least in urban pockets, is that it not only lacks subtlety, it is unabashedly loud, melodramatic and overtly direct probably because Santoshi is looking at the people who embraced ‘Gadar’ (though my personal fear is that even this might still be too loud in sensibility for the mass) When the baddies are all set to run over an injured Devgan, a truck speeds into the frame and brakes and I half expected Sunny Deol to step out and give them a thrashing.
But it is Pankaj Kapur here who plays an interesting activist ‘type’… a dacoit, who undergoes a change of heart moved by the power of performance (he even brilliantly acts out a bit of the Raja Harishchandra performance that changed his life to demonstrate the persuasive power of histrionics in selling ideologies) and has realised that violence, though seems like the easy solution, never solves the real problems.
In spite of the gimmicks used to garner mass-appeal (like the crude leak on the carpet) and poor writing (some of the lines are so bad that they ought to have been banned back in the eighties), as far as Halla Bol goes, the means seem to justify the ends.
Because, RDB already reached out to a section of urban youth. This one addresses the grassroots – street-play activism – where opinion leaders need to be convinced about the role they need to play.
The film might have sold its soul but it still has a heart.