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Kalu is a taxi-driver in Bombay, India. He has two women who love him and would like to marry him. Kalu first wants to establish himself, and become rich, before he can even think of marriage. One of the women who loves him, has a father who is involved in gangster-type activities, and would like Kalu also to join him so that he can get rich soon. Kalu has now to decide to become rich quick or sleep better. Written by
Getting an early release from jail (he was in for a couple months for his involvement in an accident), Kaalu (Guru Dutt) is in need of a job and a place to stay. He lands both at a mechanic's shop, owned by Lalaji (Jagdish Sethi). However, he's fallen in love with Lalaji's daughter, Nikki (Shyama), and it doesn't go over well with her father. Based on a reference he received from a jail-mate, he ends up instead working as a cabbie again, but his new "employer" is shady, and also employs another woman who has fallen in love with Kaalu. When Kaalu's new employer tries to involve him in a heist, Kaalu is faced with a number of dilemmas.
This is one of my first forays into classic Bollywood cinema. My previous exposure to Bollywood has been primarily through newer horror and thriller films, along with the occasional modern musical. I mention this because it will be difficult at this point for me to say much in the way of comparison/contrast with other relevant Bollywood films; I'm still on the upward slope of the learning curve.
What I can say is that I enjoyed Aar Paar quite a bit. Like many Bollywood films, it spans a number of genres from musical and romance (of course) to crime, action and thriller. Dutt (who also directed and produced the film) and cinematographer V.K. Murthy seem to have been heavily influenced by Hollywood film noir here--their crisp black & white photography often features strong contrasts and heavy shadows, with pitch black darks and blindingly white highlights. But even though that style of cinematography is present throughout, the noirish crime/action/thriller plot points aren't very much the focus until the very end of the film.
Aar Paar is much more about romance, especially romance that is not reciprocated, or that causes familial problems. On this end, it is intriguing and frequently funny, with much of the relationship development occurring in beautiful, harmonically complex songs (sometimes the disco-like rhythmic repetitions of modern, Bhangra-influenced Indian pop and film music drive me crazy--it was nice to hear music in an Indian film without overly simplistic, unimaginative percussion).
Kaalu is an intriguing character. While he seems mostly a victim of circumstance, there are twinges of a shadier side that continually show through his adopted exteriors. A lot of the tensions in the film arise through two competing milieus trying to bring out one side or another of Kaalu's personality. Nikki and her family represent his sweet, innocent side, while his underworld "boss" and his lackeys represent a seedier, more hedonistic side. It's interesting that both sides have beautiful women attempting to lure Kaalu into their realm. In between the two we have Elaichi Sandow (Jagdeep), a "street urchin" who fulfills a function something like a guardian angel.
The least successful aspect of the film was the aspect that provoked me to watch it in the first place--the crime/action/thriller material. Dutt and scriptwriters Nabendu Ghosh and Abrar Alvi provide inadequate exposition and staging to convey the gist of the heist plot. Later, during an extended car chase and shoot out, there are editing (and possibly coverage) problems that make it frequently difficult to discern the action. This material isn't a complete failure, but it's not nearly as gripping or suspenseful as it should be. However, as this material is only a small segment of the film, and the other aspects of Aar Paar work extremely well, the slight problems did not bring down my rating very much.
The crime/action/thriller aspects may have been realized more effectively if they comprised a larger percentage of the film. Dutt almost gives the impression of having to tack them on, perhaps because of a studio that demanded something similar to the noirish American films had recently become popular worldwide.
In any event, Aar Paar is certainly a success overall. Dutt gets maximum mileage out of a couple relatively simple sets, interspersed with a few driving scenes (mostly process shots). The performances must carry the bulk of the film for its two-hour length; they do so easily. Aar Paar is well worth watching as an example of the work of one of Bollywood's important "classic" directors.
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