Last time when Yogi, one of my might-be classmates at IIMK (he is still to decide between IIMs I and K), had his way, he treated his friends to a splendid dose of Govinda as he literally dragged them to a show of the movie Aunty No.1. This time, the ones dragged were the poor me, my room mate and one of my colleagues from Infy, and the movie was Charas. Right from the word Go, we were all (that is, except Yogi) a little apprehensive about the whole stuff of going to a theatre to watch a low key movie like Charas but ultimately, nonsense prevailed and the four of us started towards Melody, one of the few theatres in Chennai that show only Hindi movies.
The scene that greeted us was prophetic. There wasn't a single bike or car parked in the parking area of the theatre and even the ticket counters had not opened and all this when there were only some twenty odd minutes to the start of the movie. We went out to an eatery nearby with the hope that when we return after some time, there will be a sizeable crowd waiting to buy tickets for the show (it was an evening show on a Saturday, by the way...so no chances of a poor gathering because of the show timings). All or hopes crashed, however, when we found that when we returned some fifteen minutes later, we were still the first to buy the tickets. More to this, I thought I heard the ticket counter guy saying to his assistant after we bought the tickets..."ye waala show chalaana parega"(We will have to run this show)
Despite all the background above, the point is not that the total audience for the movie was hardly into two figures, or even that it finally dropped to single figure after the intermission. The point is that this movie, Charas, starring no stars, following no formula, produced by Yash Raj Films (yes, the same Yash Raj films of the fame of so many BIIG hits), was actually a different movie. I won't say that I loved the movie but it will be wrong to say that I simply abhorred it, either.
The movie begins and ends with Charas (Resin from the mature cannabis plant, for the uninitiated). A botany student from London decides to take a walk in the jungles located on the mountains of India and gets captured by a gang that is actually involved in the production of Charas and its illegal trafficking in the national and international market. This gang is led by Policeman (Irfaan), who has not been out of the jungle for a long long time. He co-ordinates his operations through a minister in Delhi, and a minister of the British Government in London, amongst others. An officer Dev (Jimmy Shergill) who always gives his name as Dev...Dev Anand (James Bond, anybody?) and tries to swagger like the actor Dev Anand in a number of scenes and songs, is sent to India to search for the botany student who disappeared. Even if it is a little unbelievable that an officer of the Scotland yard is sent after one British national who is just a student and not even a big-shot, the story still goes ahead and we meet Ashraf (Uday Chopra), an undercover cop with the crime branch. He has been asked by his senior officers (who are hand-in-glove with the charas traffickers) to keep a watch over the British Officer Dev who might uncover the charas trade (that is not the reason they give him, however) in his quest for the botany student. In a purely western movie style, the two heroes start towards these mountains on Harley-Davidson type bikes (actually, the Yamaha Enticer) and break into songs wearing leather jackets and believe it or not, cowboy hats!!!
The story moves into the next gear as the heroes meet Naina (Hrishita Bhatt) enroute, give her a lift, space to stay for the night, and find her gone in the morning (luckily she did not take away any of their belongings). Next, they reach the village at the foothills of the jungle that they plan to visit and Dev starts investigating. He gets in touch with Piya (Namrata Shirodkar) who is actually an undercover journalist investigating the Charas trade. She cajoles him into believing her (in true phoren movie ishtyle, even gets into bed with him to get the news) and steals the information which our Dev Anand toils to obtain. Things get more hot when a report is published in a magazine about the drug trade and when almost simultaneously, Policeman murders a member of the Italian Mafia (pretty naive guy, this, member of the Italian mafia, could not even defend himself...did not even try). The Mafia wants Afghanis to take over the Charas trade and kill Policeman and his team. The movie tries to do a lot at this stage and goes into flashback to show that Policeman was actually a police man some years back. He got disillusioned with the Government when some Afghanis (itís all connected, you know) kill two members of his team, and are still let go by the Government. Our undercover cop, Ashraf, was also a part of Policeman's team but was never really accepted into the team because of his being a Muslim (I know, too much of the coincidental attachments!!!) and he wants to prove his point to the team leader (now Policeman, but Ashraf doesn't know that yet) some day.
The final half hour of the movie is like that of any other pot-boiler. The Afghanis come to the forest, three initially. They call on their other friends and kill the entire gang of Policeman. But our heroes Ashraf and Dev come to the rescue and kill the Afghanis, too (by the way, what happened to the Mafia???). The two heroines are also there at the final scene (Naina was also a part of Policeman's gang and don't ask me what Piya was doing there...) and finally, all is well. The botany student is also found out. He has turned into a scientist who is actually experimenting on Charas to develop better varieties of the drug.
So much said in the movie, but to what purpose? Was it an art movie, as the term goes? Was it a documentary on drug trafficking? Was it a commercial thriller? It was none and all of the above and that is the doom of Charas. Despite brilliant cinematography and passable acting by the actors, the movie bombs on its face because of a lack of purpose. The story teller tries to imbibe too many dimensions into the story and in the process, lets go of the main thread (not that it was there at any stage, though). The movie does remind you of Hare Rama Hare Krishna, with more foreign nationals in the frames than Indians, but compared to the older classic, this movie does not seem to belong, neither to the times nor to the theme. The hippie culture that the movie tries to portray may be a reality in some parts of the country but is something that an average cine-goer like me can not identify with. This is a period when only the feel-good (Even after the election loss!!!) movies like Main Hoon Na are appreciated and movies like Charas that try to show the other, hidden side, are shelved before they even get off the shelf.
First resolution and advice: Think twice before going out for a movie that does not have star power.
Second resolution and advice: Treat Yogi's taste in movies with caution (just kidding...)