Friday, January 13, 2012

Darr

How did Yash Chopra manage to make Darr creepy from the very first scene
That's the hero talking to the heroine through the letter, though it doubles as exactly what the villain could be saying —and is probably thinking, since he, not the hero, is nearby.
but so brain-bashingly stupid? A story that uses fear to contrast definitions and depictions of love would be so much more effective if the romantic pair (Sunil/Sunny Deol and Kiran/Juhi Chawla) did anything to protect themselves from it. They're too stupid to be as afraid as they should be (and therefore cannot act with intelligence), yet somehow they're also too stupid to do much about that fear once it begins to sink in.
For example, if you're being stalked, don't open packages that are left at your door anonymously.
They've got no street smarts, which I guess is to be expected of a girl who still wears a knee-length plaid skirt and white socks to school, but what's the naval officer's excuse? This is a guy who thinks it's funny to pretend to attack his girlfriend from the depths of a dark swimming pool, after the stalker (Rahul/Shahrukh Khan) has shown up at her home and called her, giving her a terrifying thirty seconds of panic as she thinks the stalker is trying to drown her. (And let's not get into the dangers of making someone thrash around unpredictably near wet metal and concrete!)
Inspired by Phoebe Cates?
That right there should get his ass dumped, and it gives unfortunate credence to Rahul's insistence that Sunil doesn't deserve Kiran. When even the comic relief is telling you to call the police to handle the stalker, it's time to m*therf*cking call the police. Because the cluelessness of the leads is no match for the psychopath's obsession, the tension over his next move is so much less than it could have been.

THAT SAID, Darr is otherwise quite enjoyable with flashes of very thoughtful filmmaking. No energy is wasted on showing the psychopath's slow descent into madness. Introduced as a peeping-Tom's-eye-view of the wet and vulnerable heroine, an uneven, distant percussive sound under a melody that will become his calling card, a rustle in the forest, we know he's a threat before we even see him. That is brilliant. (Note I won't argue it's unique; I don't watch enough scary movies to know.) The villain is far and away the most well-written character in the film. He's given more complexity and nuanced depictions. He's also the most consistent, which may be just the logical result of his obsession, but it's also a very welcome change from the vagaries of the child-like heroine and lackluster hero. 

All those stories of Sunny Deol being pissed off about Shahrukh stealing the show in Darr make total sense to me. The hero got shafted. Part of that is the writing—it'd be clear on paper what's going on here (which makes me think that there really must not have been a final-ish script available for him to read, or if there was he didn't read it)—but a very significant factor is Shahrukh's charisma, wildness, and hamminess. He may have great material to work with, but he brings so much to it. To be honest, I have a hard time separating the writing, directing, and performance. I can't tell where Rahul-as-conceived ends and Rahul-as-performed begins.

Not just the scenarios and dialogue but so much of his basic posture and blocking added to our sense of who Rahul is and what he's thinking. For example, the first time we really see him, he is quite literally already on the edge of death.
Or that scene in the elevator, when in the span of a few seconds he goes from sniffing an unwitting Juhi's dupatta and almost touching her to curling up in a little ball in another direction when his (also unaware) rival appears—perfect.
Expand, contract.
That is a person who is not yet confident (or maybe unhinged) enough to be seen. Later in the story, he crashes right past simply being visible to flaunting his presence, but not just yet. Rahul's mania takes many forms: he can realax and play with it, but he can also be wound up and pushed over the brink by it.

I love how the movie hints that the hero and villain can be different sides of the same coin. From the onset, they are compared and confused. Kiran thinks Rahul's song is Sunil's. She talks about how much Sunil loves harassing her (per the subtitles, anyway), like pretending to be a corpse and falling out of her closet when she opens its door, but of course at this point she has no idea what "harassment" is going to mean in her life.
She thinks hands covering her eyes during a black-out at her birthday dinner are her boyfriend's, but boy is she wrong. Later examples include the way each communicates with her using their own blood and the contrasts in her reactions when each of them marks her forehead in red. 
Early in the film, there's very telling narration as Kiran's train from school goes through a tunnel and the screen is dark.
What Rahul suffers is not utterly different or separate from love. It's an overreaching, a transgression, a mutation. 

Anyway, Rahul is an amazing character, and SRK nailed it. This is my favorite of his performances before Dil Se. Which probably isn't saying much, since I tend to avoid-yaar the early and mid-1990s, but still.

Darr sounds and looks really good. In an era—and, let's be honest, with an actor—I associate with crassness, tackiness, and just plain off-ness, I was surprised to find so much cleverness, especially when supporting a story that could have very easily dissolved into a slurry of leering, cheap scares, and pink blood. There are so many ironies that show how in conflict with the standard filmi order, how undesirable, Rahul is. 

The music is so effective at supporting and creating the film's moods. Whoever did the background score (was that also Shiv-Hari?) was completely engaged with what was going on in the film and made sure the music was integrated carefully. For example, listen for how Rahul's theme tune (the "tu hai meri, Kiran" snippet of "Jaadu Teri Nazar") is used throughout, repeated and refracted. I particularly like a militaristic version that plays with no instruments but drums that rattle, just as it surely sounds in Rhaul's head. Or the frantic strings as Kiran thinks she's drowning in the pool. Even those horrible phone rings are effective. Remember the scene when the different phone lines in the house ring a simultaneously but so discordantly? 

Visual motifs repeat too. Writing appears throughout, almost always as a sign of Rahul's insanity (the blood-soaked rag, the vandalized apartment, and oh yeah CARVING HER NAME INTO HIS CHEST WITH A KNIFE)... 
 
but Sunil's writing opens the film. What's that about? Another way of showing the importance of type of love as distinguishing between hero and villain? Water is everywhere, sometimes as a threat, sometimes as a force of isolation, sometimes as sexuality (Kiran getting caught in the rain and starting to take off her wet dress in the beginning, her drenched, sensual dancing in Rahul's imagination), always as unrest (the film loves the word "toofan"). There are parallel scenes of both hero and villain on balconies watching Kiran by a swimming pool in the proximity of the other. Likewise the two boat scenes, bookending the film with the hero making identical entrances into them. 
Glad he had time after recovering from the chest wounds but before rescuing his wife from a murderer to stop and find black cloth to tie around his head. 
It's worth asking how in the world this violent, blood-filled, psychopath-centered film won a silver lotus at the National Film Awards for "best popular film providing wholesome entertainment." The official site for the 1993 awards here says Darr was awarded "for its convincing presentation of the theme of love, which has been rendered complex by its relationship with past experiences of fear." I suppose it's possible to argue that the love/loves portrayed in Darr is/are complex, though I don't think so—Sunil and Kiran love each other in that typical film way that means they'll do stupid things in the name of protecting each other, and Rahul loves Kiran in that very special, completely ignorant, delusional, and solipsistic way that stalkers so often do—but how is the fear "past"? There is very palpable (and very strangely dubbed—in the big fight at the end, only SRK is making any noise) fear until the very last  tacked-on scene. Wholesome schmolesome. 



26 comments:

Sharon said...

I actually watched Darr when I was nine (this is why we need a better ratings system for Indian films!) and I actually learned the words to "Jaadu teri nazar" by heart.

And yes, this film is partially responsible for me being an SRK-fangirl. :-)

Gaja Gamini said...

Oh Darr.... One of the most boring and silly films SRK has ever done, and definitely Yash Chopra´s worst. The only good points about it were indeed SRK and his two songs, otherwise the Switzerland fairytale between the two seemingly demented lovers was just awful. Juhi was incredibly wasted too.

Beth said...

Sharon - I am always shocked at the age of kids I see in the cinemas for Hindi films. I understand that toddlers and under probably won't really undersand what they're seeing, but 8 year olds or so are well old enough to be traumatized by stuff like this. And let's not even mention jokes about gay people etc. Anyway, I completely understand fangirlness coming from this!

Gaja - Boring? Huh. I thought it was pretty well paced, though there was definitely more lovey-doving between Juhi and Sunny than I needed. Their match didn't make sense to me at all. I agree that Juhi was really underused; her character was such an infant. As for worst Yash Chopra movie, I haven't seen them all, but of the ones I've seen I'd have to give that to Silsila, which I LOATHE (though mostly for the script).

cadiz12 said...

Silver lotus for "wholesome entertainment"? I saw Darr when I was in junior high or high school and it scared the pants off me. But I do think the music is what made the movie.

eliza bennet said...

I actually only sympathised with the villain at the very end where Sunil makes fun of his speech impediment. Seriously? You escaped the crutches of a deranged killer, got wounded and beaten in your honeymoon and then you make fun of the way he talks at the airport when you return? It was one of the strongest WTFs I have experienced when his wife and friends joined in the fun.

I do agree with your review on almost all counts (except the music since I was not really that aware of it while watching the film)

memsaabstory said...

K-K-K-K-Kiran...I didn't much care for this either, but I don't really much care for any stalker thrillers.

Mette said...

I knew the song "Jaadoo Teri Nazar" before I knew the film, and loved it. Anyway, I also like the film a lot, Shahrukh is brilliant in it, and that let's me forget how stupid both Kiran and yeah, whatever Sunny is called, are.
I don't understand how it could win a Silver Lotus though.

Temple said...

I really like this film for the simple reason that it created so much suspense and menace in the midst of soooooo much STUPIDITY. I love SRK in his negative roles, and agree Beth - he just seems to take the character that little bit further and edgier than might have been written. And yes - If I were writing a series on "How to avoid your psychotic stalker" I might use a lot of Juhi's scenes for the how not to section.

H said...

I absolutely loved Darr! It was such an intense film. Though at time silly, like all Indian films are -it was really SRK's breakout role. he needs to be a psychopathic villain more often!

Anuradha Warrier said...

First time visitor here. The role that SRK made his own was supposed to be done by Aamir Khan. He walked out when Yash Chopra denied Sunny and him a joint narration. Led to a long blacklisting of AK from Chopra's films (and the equally-long association with SRK) - not that AK complained! Sunny Deol had a right to feel angry - this was *not* the script he heard. He's gone on record to state that the end result made him look like a doofus, and that a lot of his character's graph got lopped off on the editing table.

Pesto Sauce said...

Darr is my all ime favorite film and I simply love it for its intensity. I was hardly 12 yrs old when I saw it and for many days obsession of SRK-Juhi stayed with me. Infact for many days I would even dream of Juhi and her innocent beauty! SRK did a fine job here since Darr along with Baazigar were start of his fateful journey

questionairre said...

As small town teenagers, without much opportunity for interaction with the opposite sex, Shahrukh became our biggest hero. He was just as shy around the girl of his dreams as we were. He thought stalking was the only way to get the girl, as so many of us thought. We did so many things that Shahrukh did here, even before the film. I remember the early ninties schoolboy craze of writing the girl's name on your arm by using a compass or a burning knife. Writing letters in blood was also pretty common. I am not supporting what we did, but hell, that's what we did:)

Beth said...

cadiz12 - Shocking, right?

eliza - Oh that's a good point!

memsaab - I was surprised I liked it so much. I'd actually put off watching it all these years be cause I figured I'd hate it.

Mette - I'm the same about that song - I hadn't even realized what it was from, so when it burst out in the movie so early on I had a real AHA moment.

Temple - It really does manage to be very effective despite all its serious flaws.

H - Ditto!

Anuradha - WOW that's fascinating and explains so much. I don't know how popular this opinion will be, but I bet Aamir would have done very well in it.

Pesto - I probably need to watch Baazigar again - I don't recall it very well.

questionairre - Ha! Thank you for sharing that. I guess I'm not too surprised to hear people actually imitated some of this stuff, although it's also a little disturbing in retrospect. Do any of you bear the scars of youthful obsessions today? :)

yves said...

Hi Beth,
I enjoyed reading this! I remember watching Darr for a description of Yash Chopra's style and things, and liking it in a way. What I now consider rather remarkable is SRK's willingness (much like his mentor Amitabh) to have done this negative role (and what a!) in his youth. I think that says a lot in terms of acing confidence, don't you think?
BTW, did you like him in My name is Khan? I mean his acting. Because you have this comment about this being his best role before Dil se.
regards, yves

Beth said...

Hi Yves - That's a good point about confidence. I wonder if he had any doubts about it at all (or his potential for doing so well in it) or whether he had a sense that it would be such a star-maker. I did see MNIK (http://bethlovesbollywood.blogspot.com/2010/02/my-name-is-khan-well-weve-been-johared.html) and thought SRK was fantastic in it.

Mansi said...

I saw the film years ago...let me guess class four I think and absolutely loved it for Shahrukh, for the the songs, for Juhi, for K-K-K-Kiran, for everything about it...
What immediately comes to mind when I think of Darr is Shahrukh's entry playing the dhol on Holi... :) How I adored him! It was after Baazigar and Darr in fact that I KNEW he was my favorite Khan...

Aparna said...

A lot of things that happened in our lives due to Darr (nothing that intense though) has been listed by other commentors above.
However, I saw this much later as I was just finishing school when this came out, and my parents did not allow me to see this (good for them). I actually hated it - it sort of made obsession immortal and provided a base to all eve teasers on the road to take teasing to the next level of stalking, all in the name of 'love'. No wonder the movie was a hit - my husband says that in the movie hall, the audience actually clapped when the hero got beaten because they were all with the villain's unrequited love, it reasonated with all the male teenagers and youth in India who were being constantly thwarted in their 'advances' either due to their parents telling them to study, or the girl being married off to a more deserving, earning man, or the girl insulting them.
Incidentally, the reason that Aamir refused the role was becuase he said that he had a duty towards society and did not want to legitimise wrong actions. He definitely became more open to those, and probably got matured enough to separate performance from real-life actions later.

pooja said...

this is one of my favorite movie... i'm big fan of SRK and juhiii..it was a gr8 movie.. i loved acting of SRK in that movie...

Beth said...

Sorry for my super slow replies!

Mansi - I can imagine!

Aparna - That's interesting about Aamir. As I was reading your comment but before I saw the end of it, I thought "But what about Ghajini?!?!?!" :)

As for your other point, I can absolutely imagine this film being read as glorifying stalking and harassment. No doubt. I don't think the filmmakers meant it that way, but it's a very easy leap to make, especially if one is already in the frame of mind that resonates well with such attitudes and behaviors. I wonder if Yash Chopra has ever commented on those kinds of responses to this film?

Daniel Rider said...

"Darr" is one of my favorite SRK movies, and this is an excellent analysis, Beth! I had to laugh at your description of Sunny and Juhi's characters as stupid, which is exactly what they are.

I think it would be really interesting to see a "Sunny Deol Special Edition" re-edited to include all the scenes that supposedly make his character come off better. By the way, Sunny Deol the actor you mention disliking, right?

Beth said...

Daniel - Thanks! A "Sunny Special" would be quite the re-write. As for Sunny as an actor, I really haven't seen enough of his films to have much of an opinion, and I haven't seen him in anything that's "my kind of movie," if you know what I mean. My jury is out. :)

Anonymous said...

Yes ... the design is clearly needed to be changed :)
The dark green color would fit perfectly xD

Shahrukh Khan said...

Great Post.. i Love This Movie of SRK

Shahrukh Khan said...

Great Post.. Love SRK

Slytherin said...

Do you think Sunny's role would have had more impact if it were played by someone else-maybe someone who had a more convincing chemistry with Juhi's character? I felt unconvinced of the romance between Juhi and Sunny's characters; I was therefore quite indifferent to whether they got together or not at the end. How about Irrfan? :-) He did a movie with Juhi called 71/2 phere; it was a small film that got lost in the shuffle but I enjoyed the interactions between Juhi and Irrfan's characters in the film....:-)

Beth Watkins said...

Hmmm. Good question. I think that's quite possible, though I am not familiar enough with early 90s actors to say who I think would do a much better job but still be remotely age appropriate (not like Bollywood cares much about that, but I do). Juhi + Irrfan is a FASCINATING idea!