Raakh (1989) and Aatank Hi Aatank (1995): Bad guys in a violent city

We centered the last couple of discussions around a welcome difference in how the city of Bombay is usually portrayed in Hindi film, and the relative lack of bad gals in Hindi film. Raakh and Aatank Hi Aatank are a return to the Bombay we're conditioned to expect on celluloid, with elements we're all too familiar with: Corrupt police, with the token considerate cop; Unpunished crime, with the token unconvinced criminal; Moral decay rampant in society; Violence in response to violence, often thoughtless at both ends; Bad guys (almost always guys, and lots of them); and a dark underlying web of the Bombay underworld.

Raakh (Ashes, it's being titled 'Ashes to Ashes' in its newly cut version) was screened at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles last month, where I also got to chat with Director Aditya Bhattacharya about his work. "I have a sick mind," he proudly proclaimed. As I mentioned to him, his first product of film provides ample evidence. :)

Aamir Hussain (Aamir Khan, and Hussain is his real middle name) and his college friends are returning from a night out when they are stopped by typical evil, drunk, rowdy, and influential gangsters. Neeta (Supriya Pathak), the woman in Aamir's life, is gang-raped. She handles the event much better than he does, the difference between silent withdrawal and uncontrolled youthful exuberance evident in the two.

In his quest to do something, Aamir seeks help from law enforcement, but learns quickly of the strong mafia connections that run the show there. If the police aren't aiding the mafia, they're hapless against them. To top it off, Aamir must leave his home because of his parents' opposition of his willingness to report the crime -- he has an unmarried sister after all, and bringing a bad name to their family would wreck her chances of receiving a good proposal. (Is this sounding like typical 80s stuff yet?)

Once out in the real world, his two best friends are a street urchin, and a cop named P.K. (Pankaj Kapoor). P.K. is fed up of his reliance on his job, which, over time, has forced him to lose his innocence and stop being a protector of the innocent. They share common goals, and must unite to exact revenge because they're the only ones who can. The big question is, as it always seems to be: At what cost?

I have a love-hate relationship with Raakh.

For one, it is atypical of its era in many ways, and unlike anything I have seen from the 1980s. In a weird way, it almost lives up to Aamir's brand promise. Its stylish presentation (cinematography by Santosh Sivan (Asoka (2001), Before the Rains (2007), Tahaan (2008)), who debuted with the film) is one reason. Its socially conscious foundations with an issue chronologically relevant to the history of the city is remarkably striking, and the National Awards it won are for good reason. The performances are what one would expect from a young Aamir and especially Pankaj, who is by far the best actor in the film. The dialogue (Nuzhat Khan, that's Imran's mom) is the most effective element, and the sounds that accompany it only add to its credibility. There's even a fair amount of comic relief, in what is a very serious film.

Disconcerting bit is, there's often comic relief where it was hardly intended. That might be because the film has not aged well. But it's only a minor issue in the bigger picture. The background score (no playback singing in this film) is sheer torture, and given the emphasis on dialogue and sound, one expects the music to be much less intrusive.

The biggest issue I have with Raakh is its lethargic pace. Sure, white space can be used to convey trauma, but this latest edit of the film, despite having been condensed to just over two hours, is still painfully long. If the film were to be made today -- and Bhattacharya's directing an English remake of Raakh in Los Angeles this summer -- it could last around 45 minutes and still be plenty. The unforgivable bit is, despite its length, it leaves out several interesting plot lines, forcing the audience to try to fill in the very wide blanks, and dwells instead on redundant themes, putting to shame all the good work that makes Raakh worth at least one watch.

Raakh was filmed before Aamir's big debut film Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988), and was released after QSQT. It was never released on DVD, and a dispute around an attempted release last year meant it was tabled for a while. But it's almost here, and per the director, it should release to the public in July or August of this year.

If not for Pankaj Kapoor's fine performance, watch it if you're a fan of Aamir, if only to appreciate how far he has come from his Raakh days. This is one of the more unconvincing performances I've seen from Aamir, but given the demands of this complex role, it isn't at all bad for a first. Of course, there's a case to be made for the many different shades of the character affecting the perceived convictions of the performance. Regardless, there's plenty of room to contrast with his character in Ghajini (2008), which works for the film aficionado in me.

Film rating:
2.5/5 (Average)
This could've been so much better, but of course, I don't know how I would've received it if I were an adult in 1989. Did anyone see this back then?

Music rating: 1/5 (No songs, and an annoying background score)

My classification: R (for violence, language, plot)

Watch the trailer at this YouTube link


All one needs to say about Aatank Hi Aatank (Nothing but Terror) is that it is essentially a remake of The Godfather, and stars Aamir and Juhi Chawla (haaye Allah!) in one of their more forgettable pairings. But that doesn't mean it is an entirely bad film. In fact, if you enjoy the idea of Mafia Wars on Facebook, or the equivalent elsewhere, I'd recommend you check this out, especially because Rajnikanth and Aamir in the same film can be fun to watch in a film with such intensity.

Too much violence and too many revenge killings in this, as one would expect -- so how about we skip all of that and discuss some screenshots? Let's begin with Rajnikanth, who's made this style his over the years.

Nothing quite like a woman turning her back to her parents to walk away with a gangster amid all sorts of artillery, and earning support of the masses in the process, believe it or not (that's Mumbai for you).

Aamir too has a style quotient to live up to, of course. Contrast the hair style with that of characters in The Godfather.

Helps to have the sign reading 'Gentle men' inside the mens room. Anyone have any idea of its purposefulness?

Juhi is a teacher! Can't get any better, really. Fun personality.

Certainly not fun to need security wherever you go.

They even have a song in the rain, and yes, Juhi's in a wet saree for most of it. Song's titled 'We are together, love is forever,' (view at this YouTube link) and its choreography is at the intersection of Kaate Nahin Katte from Mr. India (1987), the Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) SRK-Kajol almost-making out while it rained scene (okay, you surely know which one I'm referring to), and Mitwa from Lagaan (2001).

A bad, bad item number with playback singing is a trademark of 1990s gangster films. 'Goonda Rap' (gotta love the song title!) even has several moonwalkers, complete with hats and white or blue jackets!

By far my favorite bit in the film involves a bout of arm-wrestling triggered by none other than by far my favorite 'other woman' of Hindi film. (Contrast with the motivation behind the race against the train scene --Rani Mukherji in the film that made her a household name -- in Ghulam (1998).)

Yes, it's Her Hotness, Pooja Bedi! (The specific scene and setting belong to a Western, but we can overlook that. ;)

For ye Kabir Bedi fans:

Don't watch this for Aamir -- he's in about 30% of the film at the most. Watch it if you're a fan of gangster films and ridiculous, often pointless, violence. Any film that reduces Juhi Chawla to a commodity, I have major issues with.

Movie rating: 2.5/5 (Average)
A well-cast film of its genre is probably the best that can be said of it. The performances are above the script and screenplay. It's not a bad 'timepass' film at all, assuming you like the cast and have a tolerance for the theme.

Music rating: 2/5 (Average)
Your conventional mid-1990s soundtrack.

My classification: R (for language, violence, plot)

DVD information: My official Moserbaer DVD does not have English subtitles.


Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Rakh is one of my favorite Amir movies, and made me totally love the man, despite the character's obvious issues. I really want u to watch Holi one day- I think you will like that, or at least love-hate it too :D
Aatank hi Aatank is SUCH secret indulgence! I just dont think there is enough Juhi-Amir happening in there, they just arent in the same shot for too long ever! but that is owing to the whole Godfather rip-off, so what can u do...

theBollywoodFan said...

Thanks for stopping by, Shweta.

Raakh creeped me out, truly did, and I can see why it would be appealing to fans of gangster noir. (I wouldn't typically watch something like it in theaters, but given it was an only chance...had to!) Aatank Hi Aatank was the more filmy one, of course. And you're right about the nature of the film, I should probably see it again without a Juhi-centric mindset. ;)

Been searching far and wide for Holi, hope to some day get my hands on it!


ajnabi said...

"Goonda Rap" made me laugh out loud. I'm going to have to search YouTube; something thusly titled can be nothing but goodness. ;-) Both of these look like films for very hard-core fans of one of the principles. Speaking of bad guys in a violent city, what do you think of the Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai (yes, like that) previews? I think it looks promising, although the last year or so have been so lackluster that I'm afraid to get my hopes up.

dunkdaft said...

Given Aditya's works are great [Lucky Ali's videos] I would love to see Raakh. But again, action is not my piece of pie. So I doubt I would love it. But it turns out to be shocker that you didn't like it at all !

on the other hand, Aatank Hi Aatank - saw it in childhood. Still remember for the hairdo of Aamir in it. Nothing much I can remember. But they should try now, to get rajni and aamir together for such movie. Fun !
oh, and this sunday i was roaming in bookstore, while I saw dvd of Aatank.... was going to grab it but then thought..hah, why ?

Nicki said...

I love your double reviews :)

Honestly, I don't remember Raakh much, saw it so long ago without subs. But I could say the same thing about Aatank Hi Aatank too (thanks for reminding me that I have it now)

I may be the minority but I think I will like Raakh

theBollywoodFan said...

Ajnabi: Goonda Rap has to be one of the most bizarre songs I've ever heard. Lyrics go something like this:

"Rap rap rap, Goonda Rap.
I am bad. And I am mad."


I love the casting for 'Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai', Devgan v Hashmi in *that* kind of film can't be bad. Have you seen 'Company' or 'Awarapan', with the former and latter respectively? Enjoyed both quite a bit. Let's hope for the best.

theBollywoodFan said...

Darshit: I had no idea of Aditya's connection with Lucky Ali. I wonder if Raakh will be different with a remote control in hand. It was at times frustrating to sit through it in a theater.

I like action films, there's just not enough of it in Raakh at least. Aatank Hi Aatank, on the other hand, was more fun to watch, but just a bad remake of The Godfather, and with poor production values too. I wouldn't say you're missing out on much if you skip it, but it's worth one watch for Rajni and Aamir nonetheless.

theBollywoodFan said...

Nicki! Thanks for stopping by. Do stop by once you've seen Raakh, I think there's more substance there, but the two films are equally far from being good, in my view.

Glad you like the double reviews, I have so many films to catch up on, probably best to discuss even more together. :)


triShie said...

so i've been following ur blog just this year, and already i'm an avid fan!!

i've got SO much to catch up on here, and i'm loving it! love your reviews! i don't get to see much varieties of hindi films here, but i try to keep up. and your blog has helped me to just that! and THANKS for ur song translations!! kudos!~

MsBlogger said...

I'll be sure to check these two out soon seen as I love Aamir Kahna and am trying to watch all of his decent/good films... I really find the Aamir/Juhi pairing so endearing, that I'd bear a pretty bad film for it. I want to see Mela just to check out what went wrong... Any other older Aamir films you'd recommend?

I think Pankaj Kapoor is pretty entertaining which gives me another reason to check out Raakh.

I need to check out The Godfather, mad I know... but that's just the way it is!

Anu said...


Was waiting for the Raakh review from you for a long time! Glad to finally see it!

Judging from your review (which I feel is rather brief) you don't seem to be much enthused or impressed from the film.

You didn't elaborate much on AK's performance in it. What exactly does ''unconvincing'' imply?

Many other fans who have seen this film (they saw the original version, which must be worse) said it's too slow, depressing and looks tacky, has an irritating background score and is far from being a masterpiece. Though they did praise AK's performance in it.

I think it's flaws are somewhat understandable given its low budget, entire team of newcomers and delays. There were also reports about lack of funds required to complete this film.

Some other reviews of Raakh are quite lengthy and detailed, while yours is rather brief...

Coming to AHA - I have seen this film twice now on Set Max. It's an embarrassment! Frankly I ended up seeing this film twice only for Rajnikant, and not for AK!! The songs are weird to say the least...

I better not talk about it much!

Anyway, good news for you and fellow AK-Lagaan fans is that Lagaan has been listed among 100 Best Films of World Cinema by
Empire magazine! It ranks at #55.

Link -

Great news and great timing, since Lagaan's 9th anniversary is
also around the corner!

Lagaan (at #55) is the second highest ranking film
in this list after The Life of Apu Trilogy which ranks at #17
(they have clubbed all Apu trilogy films as one in this list).
Other Indian films are Devdas (2002) which ranks at #74 and
Mother India which ranks at #80.

Won't we have Lagaan Ninth anniversary celebration, this time around, on your blog? You didn't seem to mention it this time...