This is why we love Bollywood. A simple story of friendship, jealousy, and dissatisfaction with the supernatural, is only so good on paper. A fine film elevates the simple elements to an admirable level while retaining its strong emotional core. The result is a fun entertainer in which our friendship with cinema is the clear winner.
Arjun (Ajay Devgn) and Mannu (Salman Khan) are best friends since their childhood. Both share a passion for music. Arjun dreams of being a rock star and of performing at Wembley Stadium in England. Mannu is content playing the trumpet for his 'Raja-Rani Band' (lit. the 'King-Queen' Band) in their village in the Punjab. Arjun and his music group called 'London Dreams' (which includes Priya (Asin)) taste success in England, and eventually recruit Mannu to their group.
Mannu's incredible talent outshines everyone in the group, so much so that masses chant his name, TV shows refer to London Dreams as 'Mannu's band', and concert audiences demand more of him than any other performer. Arjun is uncomfortable (to say the least) with being overshadowed thus, and as his popularity declines, his faith and friendship are compromised. He is intent on achieving personal success. Question is, as it often is: At what cost?
This simple story is aided by some rather well-written dialogue and most importantly, by some very powerful performances by the lead cast. That is because the casting is perfect and plays to the actors' strengths. Ajay Devgn is traditionally reliable in roles requiring the quiet intensity of Arjun. Salman Khan, on the other hand, is notorious for his comic timing and fierce loyalty. Asin, in only her second Hindi film, is splendid, in a limited but significant role. Of course, there is a love triangle involved. ;)
Only fair to devote a paragraph to Salman here. His performance is a sheer joy to witness. Give him this -- a lot was said about him playing himself in Wanted earlier this year. While it might be true there isn't an actor who could've better portrayed that character, his performance in London Dreams is a testament to versatile talent he's chosen to not exploit in the recent past. Convincing as ever, and more than enough to not only own the film, but to portray a very different character than he has in a long time.
Good musicians make good music -- the beautiful soundtrack (Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy) is beautifully integrated. Again, the songs are extremely well-written, and sound better after the film. There's not a moment when they (and their lyrics) feel out of place, and that's a tribute to the film crew led by director Vipul Shah. The choreography is noteworthy as well, with Tapkey Masti by far my favorite. There's a sequence in which Mannu sings two couplets in various styles -- filmy, ghazal, hip hop, then rock -- which makes us wish the entire sequence were included in the soundtrack.
The magical combination of a good script, perfect casting, and great music, makes it easy for the audience to unleash the power of imagination to want to immerse themselves in the film and overlook its shortcomings (and there are some; but then, since when did believability become an absolute prerequisite to a film of this genre?). And that's really where London Dreams does its audience justice, and vice versa. Four stars for the finest core Bollywood entertainer of 2009. It's got style. It's got substance. It's got strong potential to make its audience shed tears of joy and sorrow. It's got veteran actors having a fun time, and it shows. And it's films like this that make us proud of and grateful for our unconditional love (one hopes!) of Bollywood! Of course, if you're not a fan of core Bollywood, you might dislike this.
Movie rating: 4/5 (Excellent!)
This would not be the same without Salman.
Music rating: 4/5 (Excellent!)
Cannot say enough of its integration and choreography.
My classification: PG-13 (for language/content)
Official website (and picture source): LondonDreamsFilm.com
Please note: Comparisons to Rock On (2008) are not at all warranted.
I had the pleasure of watching this with Shweta of Apni East India Company (here's her review). She enjoyed following the 'Drug Lady' in the film, while I longed to see more of the 'Married Woman'. See the film to appreciate the intrigue! =)