Paheli (2005) a.k.a The Dilemma
Red Chillies Entertainment, India, 2005.
Based on Vijayadan Detha's novel and 1973 movie "Duvidha."
Beautiful Lachchi (Rani Mukerji) is getting married in ancient India. In the first song there is both playful anticipation of the wedding night and sadness of leaving behind family and childhood's friends. The wedding procession has to stop at a place that is said to be haunted. There a shapeshifting Ghost falls in love with Lachchi. Husband Kishanlal (Shah Rukh Khan) is a trader and only interested in business. He is leaving for a business trip for five years (!) and has no time for even a wedding night, so Lachchi feels lonely and sad. The women in the family seem to be have unhappy fates as also Kishanlal's brother Sunderlal (Sunil Shetty) left his family and wife Gajrobai (Juhi Chawla) after losing a bet in camel races.
The Ghost disguises as Kishanlal and returns home. He tells Kishanlal's father Bhanwarlal (Anupam Kher) that he is now blessed and earns five magic coins per day. Lachchi is happy but the Ghost reveals that he is not the real husband. Sneaky Uncle Kanwarlal (Dilip Prabhavalkar) wants to know where the gold comes from, however this subplot never comes to any conclusion.
Confusing situation arises when servant Bhoja (Rajpal Yadav) comes to bring letter from Kishanlal - only to be greeted by Kishanlal. The Ghost is generally a nice guy and a benefactor of his society - however the real Kishanlal still has fondness for his wife. And to make it clear, he is not a bad guy, just a man pressed by the expectations of his father. Later when the real Kishanpal returns, wiseman The Shepherd (Amitabh Bachchan) arranges a group of tests to decide who is the real Kishanpal. How will the Dilemma be solved and will Lachchi be united with her ghost lover or her work-obsessed husband?
The musical numbers alternate between playful teasing and longing passion. The gigantic turban worn by Kishanlal in the DVD cover gives a comical impression, but this is mainly an exotic romantic fantasy. However there are some amusing side characters and the story is narrated by two puppets. Supernatural identity theft contrasts the reality vs Lachichis dream man where Kishanlal is the sense and Ghost Kishanlal is the sensitivity. It is beautifully filmed and colourful with nicely choreographed music numbers. Although it was generally pleasant, the acting and chemistry of the charismatic main stars, who are two megastars in India, was great and the film praised by Western critics, I didn't find it the best Bollywood can offer.
Then the bad. The simple story feels overlong (the film's duration is 134 minutes) making poor use of the subplots. For me the handling of real Kishanlal's story felt clumsy and the solution to the awkward situation felt forced, making shortcuts to arrive at the happy ending. And indeed, what I found out from teh Internets is that the original 1973 film had a sad ending with the romantic ghost being trapped forever and the true feelings of Lachchi ignored. This modernization seems to water down the original 1973 version's critique of the Indian social traditions and the point about woman's position in Indian society (i.e what the woman wants vs what is socially acceptable). Having a more audience pleasing happy end, the new version cuts away the stronger points that the 1973 had. Maybe I have to find the original 1973 film for comparison if I can buy it somewhere. Despite all the good things, for me "Paheli" didn't leave an Oomph-effect that the best Asian films make. But then again I'm an old crank so what do I know.
Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Anupam Kher, Rani Mukerji, Amitabh Bachchan, Naseeruddin Shah, Sunil Shetty, Juhi Chawla, Dilip Prabhavalkar, Nina Kulkarni, Padma Rani, Sharvari Jamenis, Aditi Govitrikar, Advait Trivedi, Palak Jain, Ratna Pathak, Rajpal Yadav, Somesh Agarwal, Mohan Bhandari, Rishi Deshpande, A.K. Hangal, Vijay Mishra, Surendra Rajan, Nikhil Ratnaparkhi, Aashif Sheikh, Lekh Tandon, Anita Wahi
Director: Amol Palekar