Controlling the Halla Bol

Saw Halla Bol this past weekend. Starring Ajay Devgan, Vidya Balan, Pankaj Kapoor and others. Directed by Rajkumar Santoshi (who also directed Khakee (2004) and Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002)) and with music by Sukhwinder Singh and Vanraj Bhatia. Vidya Balan was why I wanted to see this initially. But there is more to the film, which is not evident for the first 30 minutes.

Halla Bol is about an internal struggle for a successful actor Ashfaque (played by Ajay Devgan, adopting the screen name of Sameer Khan). One awards ceremony night, he realizes his mistreatment of those who helped him become successful, starting with his small-town days as a street play actor. These included his wife Sneha, played by Vidya Balan, and his guru Siddhu, played by Pankaj Kapoor. Couple this realization with a willingness to stand up for truth when no one else at a crime scene would, and Halla Bol becomes more than just about a man and his quest to bring justice to killers of an innocent young woman at a night club. Some thoughts:

1. The plot did not seem unique initially. Did not like the way the film started out, because it seemed like a Page 3 in a little under 30 minutes. But the scene at a night club (pictured below) really turned the movie around, and what followed was pretty good.

2. The flashback portion of the film, in which Ashfaque recalls his journey into acting in films, contained some strong moments.

There is a scene with his guru Siddhu talking to people about how he (Siddhu) turned into an actor from his former days of being a criminal. This scene was particularly well done, and I liked the attention to detail. For one, the pakoras that were cooked made me hungry an hour after dinner! On a more valid note, there was a blackboard behind Siddhu with the text (in Hindi): Jawaabi Hamla (translated as 'retaliatory strike'), which I thought was very relevant, because Siddhu believed in his street plays sending a message to society, revealing the injustices committed by the powerful few. This sentence, to me, was one of the messages of the film: Mein zindagi mein jhoot bol kar kuch haasil nahin karna chahta (translated as: I do not want to lie to earn anything in life).

3. The flashback is also where the love affair between Ashfaque and Sneha is revealed. For once, it is refreshing to see the lovers' parents not objecting to their children marrying someone of another faith.

4. After the flashback is when Ajay Devgan takes over the film. The script suits his strengths, and he delivers in fine fashion. From his making amends with his guru... his earning the respect of his wife. This scene was Vidya Balan's strongest moment in the film. A scene Eliot Spitzer's wife would have been proud of (what was she doing standing next to him in that press conference?). For the record, what Ashfaque did in the film did not compare to Mr. Spitzer's wrongdoings. Vidya Balan is fantastic here. There are few who can deliver this dialog with the intensity demanded.

The other strong moment for Ms. Balan was where she tells her husband: Aaj kal 'mein' bohat istamaal karne lage ho (translated as: you are using 'me' a lot these days).

5. I was looking forward to the song at the Haji Ali dargaah (wrote about it in this post), and it was used with good timing. So was another devotional song at a temple. Here is the Sameer Khan family walking toward the dargaah:

When you visit Mumbai, I recommend you visit the Haji Ali dargaah. In addition to the devotional component, there is also a juice center by the entrance that serves some of the best fresh fruit juices! That was the consensus in the 1980s, and it still is, which speaks volumes of the consistency of their product quality. My favorite has always been the mango cream, but the sitaphal (custard apple) juice is one of the most famous too. Oh, and they have some delicious desi home-style pizzas too! Here is a related video:

6. There are several special appearances in the film. Jackie Shroff appears in a scene which has a reference to the banning of Fanaa (2006) in Gujarat. Others included Tushar Kapoor, Sridevi and Bonnie Kapoor. Pleasantly surprised to see Ruby Bhatia (a former VJ for Channel [V]) and especially Kareena Kapoor. This was part of the film, and was surely from the sets of Omkara (2006):

7. The line by one of the evil politicians, 'apne paas paisa, power, aur public hai' (translated as: we have wealth, power, and the public), is sadly a true reflection of politics in Mumbai. There is one group in the city that is associated with this brand of politics. If you have read the book Maximum City by Suketu Mehta, you know the group being referred to.

8. Some more realism is added with the scene in which people break into Ashfaque's house. Well done, and very well acted.

9. 'Halla Bol' is the title of a street play Siddhu and Ashfaque organize upon realizing they cannot single-handedly conquer the corruption in various spheres of society (i.e. police, politicians, media, and of course the defendants). Will the play go on? Will they win the masses with their message? Will people adopt Halla Bol as their slogan? These questions are answered in the climax.

Ajay Devgan is excellent. Pankaj Kapoor is fantastic (remember him in Dus (2005)?). Vidya Balan proves, in a somewhat limited role (again), that she is one of the finest actresses in Bollywood today. Loved seeing her in salwar kameez for most of the film. Loveleh!

Overall, Halla Bol is a good film which deserves three stars. It has several strong moments following the first half hour. The film's biggest weakness lies in some conventional twists, e.g. old-school dhamkis (blackmailing), a false claim of rape, Ashfaque annoying a politician in what some would say were effective but distasteful ways etc.. The film could have done without these, and would have been shorter by at least 20 minutes. Yet, the complete product is not impacted too much and the halla bol (pun intended) stays in control.

If you liked Yuva (2004), also starring Ajay Devgan and several other big names, you will like this. If you have not seen Yuva, think of this as the story of one who tried to be the change he wanted to see (as Gandhi would say), and realized that alone, he could do so little, and together so much more (Hellen Keller, was it?)!

Movie rating: 3/5 (good)

My classification: R (for violence and language)

Music rating: 2.5/5 (average)

Picture source: This picture gallery.


Anonymous said...

Great review! I wanted to see this, but the original so-so reviews turned me off. Is it out on DVD yet? I think I will see this after all. I do love Vidya. Ajay swings so wildly from role to role, that you never quite know where he will land next.

theBollywoodFan said...

Thank you filmi girl. Yes, it is out on DVD.

Agree with your thoughts on Ajay Devgan. I didn't like him much in Sunday, but he did much better in Halla Bol. Now, I'll give U Me Aur Hum a greater priority :) Although Kajol and her acting are reasons enough to watch a film.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your review of Halla Bol! and agreed with all of it. Good point that it had a “Page 3”feel to it. I did my own little take on it a while back here:

I especially liked Pankaj Kapoor’s character and also the scene where Devgan went berserk in his Filmfare room.

Also, I’m glad you brought up Maximum City. I’ve read Mehta’s book and have put it down, but want to re-read it now that I have a bit more of an understanding of India. I found it fascinating and he’s a great writer and very enthusiastic about his work.

I have at list here at goodreads of the books I’ve read. Check it out, maybe we’ve read some of the same books besides that one:

All the best,

theBollywoodFan said...

Sita-ji: Halla Bol was fun. Agree with your review as well.

Maximum City is an interesting book. I did not think some of the content was a fair reflection of the Mumbai I know (perhaps that is the key...the Mumbai I know). But agree with a lot too, like the discussion of the political dynamic. Look forward to checking out the books you've read!

Anonymous said...

I have this, need to watch it SOON.

I just love Ajay. Love love love him. He is the first Hindi actor I fell for :-)

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

I wasnt planning on watching this, since it seemed too stressful- your praises of it have turned me though- i'll dig out my copy tonite :)

theBollywoodFan said...

Memsaab: Was there a movie in particular that made you an Ajay Devgan fan?

Shweta: It's an interesting film that was less stressful that I thought. If anything, it prepared me for a likely more stressful watch this coming weekend in Black and White.

Anonymous said...

I'm somewhat embarrassed to say that it was "Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha"---the first full Hindi film I watched (I had only seen bits and pieces of some before) and I was hooked.

Loved Kajol in it too :-) Am sad "U, Me Aur Hum" has not gotten better reviews...

theBollywoodFan said...

Kajol and Ajay were great in Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha. And U Me Aur Hum should be interesting. It's a different kind of plot (sure it will be quite emotional), and their acting will only complement it.

Anonymous said...

Hey dosto,
Memsaab-I too adore Ajay Devgan. I fell for him in "Hum Dil Chuke De Sanam" because of the scene I wrote about here:

After what you guys have said, I'll have to watch "Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha" too, it must be good.

And in Omkara I adored him!


theBollywoodFan said...

Ajay Devgan was great in Company (2002) and Yuva (2004) too. And Tera Mera Saath Rahe (2001) was well done too (although it was pretty sad -- not the ending, just the plot).