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Upperstall Review



Hindi, 2002, Color

Cast And Crew

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Art Direction

It is an effort, not an accomplishment said Meghna Gulzar of her debut feature film, Filhaal. To be fair to her, Filhaal is more than an effort - it is actually a good and earnest effort but sadly the film falls short of being an accomplishment. After finally watching this wafer thin tale of surrogate motherhood (though thankfully the correct scientific method of transferring the embryo to another womb is used rather then the melodrama of the husband having to sleep with the 'other woman' ala Doosri Dulhan and Chori Chori Chupke Chupke!), one is still quite confused at the end that what is it the film is trying to say. Does it support the concept of surrogate motherhood? Or does it not support it saying such decisions could cause great turmoil in your settled lives - or is it merely to inform you that go ahead but this could happen. Or....?

The film looks at the lives of two fast friends Rewa (Tabu) and Sia (Sushmita Sen). While Rewa settles into domesticity with Dhruv(Sanjay Suri), Sia prefers to concentrate on her career even though she has an ardent suitor, Saahil (Palash Sen of Euphoria fame); marriage and children feature nowhere on her agenda. If a man can marry after he settles down why not a woman, she reasons. After some effort Rewa conceives but miscarries. She is totally shattered as her life falls apart. To make things worse, Rewa is told that she can never be a mother. She could conceive but her womb is not strong enough to last the full term of pregnancy and a miscarriage would be inevitable. Sia unable to see Rewa in this state agrees to carry the child in her womb thus unintentionally setting off a chain of events upsetting the lives of the four people concerned...

The main problem with Filhaal lies with its slow moving screenplay. The film moves along flatly with very little highs. The turning points of the script are too easy and convenient and are conveniently cast aside once they have served their purpose. For example a situation is created with the baby turning inside Sia's womb thus creating complications in her delivery wherein her life is in danger. This is only so that Rewa, who has left her husband and Sia due to feelings of insecurity and jealousy as she sees Sia enjoying every stage of the pregnancy with her husband, can return to her senses and realize the enormity of what Sia has done for her. The minute that is done the director immediately cuts to Sia having had the baby as if no complications existed at all - all is well - problem solved! But it is difficult to comprehend why Rewa left in the first place. Her turnabout saying she now doesn't want the child is most unconvincing. Yes it's a difficult situation for her but she wanted it this way and then to walk out...Also the topic of adoption is tokenly brought up and dismissed immediately. Why? Is there something wrong with adopting a child and if so what? Is it so incorrect that in the desire to have one's own child, one would rather hire a surrogate mother rather than bring up a homeless child as one's own? This is an angle that could have been explored and given the film a little more depth but...

What gives Filhaal its strength are the two central performances of Tabu and Sushmita Sen. Tabu proves once again what a fine actress she is, carrying off admittedly the more difficult role in the film but it is Sushmita Sen as Sia who walks away with the film with an outstanding performance. She expertly captures every shade of her character be it the the confidence of a career woman, the tender and playful romantic moments with Saahil, the buddy-buddy scenes with Rewa or the emotional dramatic scenes once she becomes the surrogate mother more than matching strides with Tabu even in these difficult scenes. It is a 'Sen'sational performance with Sushmita hitting the right notes every time. Also, the scenes between the two women are well worked out and have their intimate and heartwarming moments. And for once it is nice to see women characters with well defined roles and wearing clothes they would in real life! But once again marriage and raising one's family is shown as the ultimate achievement for the Indian woman rather than her career. It is seen as a major victory for everyone at the end of the film when Sia decides to tie the knot with Saahil - career be damned.

Credit also must be given to first time director Meghna for avoiding high melodrama in the film and try to make it believable with some sense of logic. For e.g. the scene where Tabu miscarries -There was enough scope to go over the top with this sequence but the director gets the point across with restraint. A couple of the transitions like in the flashback sequence Tabu's stitches from her fencing injury opening up necessitating her to go to the hospital and then cut back to the present with Sushmita in the hospital being led to the delivery room work well.

One has complained enough in these very columns of our re-reviews about the second rate treatment given to women characters in our films. While one cannot complain about that in Filhaal, Meghna goes 180 degrees the other way. The roles of both the male protagonists are strictly one dimensional and weak. Both appear to be total wimps whose lives only revolve around the women. They have absolutely no minds of their own. The women happily decide among themselves to go ahead without the men being consulted at all and the men lamely follow all that is happening. Also both Sanjay Suri and Palash Sen find it beyond them to rise above the inadequacies of their roles. The scene where the two men take their respective frustrations out with each other just doesn't work at all. The supporting cast have no roles to speak of as the drama is mainly restricted to the 4 main players.

The music too is barely adequate and the song picturizations, even though they thankfully avoid PT exercises and background dancers, are a no-no. Even Asha Bhosle sounds strained in her rendering of the title song though it is one of the better tuned songs of the film. However Manmohan Singh's neat camerawork and Nitin Desai's stylish sets do deserve a mention.

It is credible that Meghna Gulzar chose to make the film she wanted to and not worry about the box office parameters. She shows enough spark to suggest that she could only get better with her subsequent films. But at the end of watching Filhaal, one comes out of the theatre agreeing with her - It is an effort not..........

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