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Running away from home can't keep a couple together. A signed paper can't keep a couple together. Love can. While for most Love Stories, marriage is the "goal", the fact remains that marriage is just the beginning. Saathiya continues on, from where most love stories end. From the infatuation stage "when a couple thinks they are in love" right through to "when a couple discovers the true meaning of love". Aditya (Vivek Oberoi) and Suhani (Rani Mukerji) met and fell in love. But when they eloped and set up home hoping that just Love will do the trick - well that's just the beginning of their story. Written by
When you come across a film like first-time director, Shaad Ali's offering, `Saathiya', you want to stand up and cheer. Now, Shaad Ali is the son of Muzaffar Ali who made the exquisite 1981 film `Umrao Jaan', so perhaps his sensibilities and instincts were genetically acquired! Amidst the dreck that is churned out relentlessly by the world's movie industries, a `Saathiya' is that rarity: a simple film, devoid of pretension, that quietly goes about its business and disarms the viewer with its honesty and intensity. `Saathiya', which translates into `partner', deals with every aspect of the partnership involved in marriage.
As the film opens, a young man, blissed out on the music from his earphones, weaves his way through the heavy Mumbai (formerly Bombay) traffic on his motorcycle. He is on his way to the train station to meet his wife, who commutes to her job as a pediatrician in the city. When she isn't on the first train, or the next one, or the next, we watch him, as the night wears on, go from mildly irritated to anxious to completely distraught.
Inter-cut with the scenes of his harried efforts to track her whereabouts, is the story of how they met, how he wooed her, their marriage and evolving, perhaps crumbling, relationship. Through the flashbacks you get to know them, and with rising apprehension, witness his frustration and fear at not being able to find out what has happened to her. Has she left him? Was she abducted? Is she lying wounded or, worse, dead, in some ditch?
As the film takes you back two years, you see him-young, brash, immature, but essentially good-hearted-meet the young woman for the first time. This first encounter takes place at a friend's wedding, where she snubs him. She is brainy, sensible, focused on her studies, and wants no part of a silly romance. Now this is nothing new: countless movies have begun in this manner, but where it takes you and how their story is told, is where this one differs from the rest.
The film worked for me on every level. That it is mesmerizing should come as no surprise: the screenplay is by Mani Ratnam, while the dialogue is by Gulzar. These masters take the commonplace and turn it into pure gold. With such superior writing, the characters spring into vivid, recognizable life, and give the director and actors so much to work with. The writers have kept everything grounded in a solid, everyday reality: the different social milieus from which the leads come are familiar to all of us. The young man is spoilt and comes from an upper middle-class family. But, his father's affluence is believable-he is a successful lawyer-in the manner of the everyday world. There is not a trace of `Devdas'-like excess in this film. The young woman's father is a railway employee, and they live in the railway staff housing. Her family, too, in their simple, unglamorous routines, is credible in the way of millions of people are the world over. At the only meeting between the two sets of parents, the lawyer carps that it was difficult to find the other man's house because all the dwellings in the area look alike. The girl's father takes no offence at this; he merely tells the lawyer that that's how the other half lives. Unfortunately, it's downhill from there: the visit ends with an impasse. The parents actively dislike each other, and an alliance between the two families looks unlikely.
Once their backgrounds are established in quick, broad strokes, we get down to the business of seeing the lead characters evolve. His ardour melts her resolve; they encounter resistance from their parents, they elope and set up house on their own. We watch them go from young, hopeful lovers to stressed-out, bickering married people. Life in the big city is not easy, as they find out, and neither is marriage. `Poor dears, come join the club!' you think, as they take faltering, tentative steps toward adulthood. Just like the rest of us, they are trying to muddle through. You root for them and get genuinely caught up in their lives.
The young leads are perfect. Rani Mukherjee has always struck me as an actress with potential. Though most of her films only require her to look good, something she accomplishes with ease, she has impressed in films like `Kuch Kuch Hota Hai' and Kamalahasan's self-indulgent yet brilliant-in-patches `Hey Ram'. Rani fleshes out the character of Suhani Sharma beautifully and makes her someone you care about deeply. Likewise, the new actor Vivek Oberoi, invests his character Aditya with poignancy and great feeling. Though Aditya is callow, even silly, you see his passion; despite his posturing, you glimpse his insecurities and vulnerability. This young man is a fine new addition to the ranks of Indian actors. The supporting cast does not have much to do, as the film focuses entirely on the lead pair, but Sandhya Mridul, as Suhani's older sister, Dina, is quite lovely. Tanuja, who plays Suhani's mother, perhaps defines what is meant by the term `working actor': someone who takes an acting gig to either pay the bills, keep busy, or just wishes to be involved in any way at all with a quality project. I'm hoping that it's for the last reason that she took this job. The part offers no scope for her talent and could have been played by an actress of far lesser skills. Sharat Saxena, who plays Suhani's father, has come a long way from the inconsequential thuggish roles he played in the eighties, and displays an unexpected gravitas (and a full head of silver hair!) here.
At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, I'd like to say that this was a film that could have been made without songs. It needed no embellishment, and the songs don't further the story or offer any expository detail. Having said that, A. R. Rahman's music is pretty and a couple of the songs linger in the memory. I recall a quote from either Gulzar or Javed Akhtar that A. R. Rahman is the only contemporary film composer who is not daunted by lyrics in blank verse. May his tribe increase! Gulzar's lyrics, as usual, are sublime, so I suppose it's good that songs were included. I can barely believe my luck that within a 24-hour period, I saw TWO excellent films: `Saathiya' and the Pedro Almodovar gem `Talk To Her'. This does not happen often, you can be sure!
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