Junoon Movie Review: A Haunting Drama of Love In Times Of War
Shashi Kapoor, the youngest of Prithviraj Kapoor's sons and the one who resembled him the most in the looks department, has undoubtedly been one of the most under-rated actors of Bollywood. Despite the fact that he made his debut as a leading man with a daring film like Dharmputra, made by Yash Chopra in 1961, and then went on feature in many films made by Merchant Ivory, besides acting in many of his home productions directed by the likes of Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani, Shashi Kapoor was seen more as a star then a serious actor. The truth was perhaps something in between. Shashi was one of most popular actors of his times ? the sixties, seventies and the early eighties. His beloved wife, Jennifer, a very talented actress herself, died of cancer in 1984. It is sometime after that, that the actor gradually seemed to loose interest in acting and films. It was also probably accelerated by the fact that he lost a lot of money on his own productions like the magnum opus Utsav and Ajooba, which were duds at the box office. His is a case of a man who made his money from the film industry and tried to plough it back as well into the industry, which had given him the fame and money in the first place. Shashi earned name, fame and money by working in potboilers mostly. His breezy style of acting, his crooked smile and his charming persona, made him an instant hit with the ladies, on and off screen as well. Most of his co-stars found him quite charming as well. He had an air of sophistication about him which was quite irresistible. In short, Shashi managed to thrive in a period where the likes of Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan ruled the roost at the box office. Without being a threat to anyone of them, he managed to nevertheless carve a distinct space for himself. Some of his most noteworthy films have been opposite Amitabh Bachchan like Deewar, Kabhie Kabhie, Trishul, Kaala Pathar, Shaan and Namak Halal. Beside these movies, he did other popular films like Satyam Shivam Sundaram for his brother Raj Kapoor, Siddharth for Conrad Rooks. Besides, he also worked in many British and American films like Shakespearwallah, The Householder, Heat and Dust, Muhafiz (Merchant Ivory), Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, and Pretty Polly. He launched his own company, Filmwalahs and made an attempt to make good cinema with films like Junoon, Kalyug and 36 Chowringhee Lane. Shashi succeeded to a certain extent but the actor-producer also lost a lot of money in the bargain and probably decided to cut his losses after a while. Also, his long association with Merchant Ivory too received a blow with the death of Ismail Merchant, one of his oldest friends and associates. These days, the actor leads a retired life. He is associated with a few causes but his public appearances are far and few in between. His last and most recent film appearances was in a movie called Jinnah made in 1998, a biopic of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, where he was the narrator. Among Shashi's vast repertoire of films (he's worked in more than 100 films), Junoon probably stands out as among one of his best performances to date. That apart, the film is also one of the most romantic films made by Shyam Benegal. He manages to capture the poignancy and maddness of a very turbulent period in the life of this country. The time was 1857, the period of the Sepoy Mutiny, also often known as India's first war of Independence against the British. This period has held utmost fascination for filmmakers beginng from Satyajit Ray (Shatranj Ke Khiladi), Muzaffar Ali (Umrao Jaan) to Ketan Mehta (Mangal Pandey). Each of these directors have looked and captured the period in their own qunitessential way. Junoon, produced by Shashi Kapoor, was based on Ruskin Bond's novella, Flight of the Pigeons. Benegal wrote the screenplay for this immensely moving film and its dialogues were worked in by masters of the trade, Pt Satyadev Dubey and Ismat Chugtai. The man at the helm of the camera was none other than Govind Nihalani and the effect, to say the least, was haunting. The contribution of its cast was no less. If there was Shashi playing the crazed in love Javed, there was the firebrand, bloodthirsty Sarfraz played by Naseeruddin Shah. In between, there was the brittle Firdaus (Shabana Azmi) and the steely Miriam (Jennifer Kendal). And lastly, there was the vulnerable Ruth, played to perfection by Nafisa Ali. Togther, they brought out the heart-breaking maddness of those times. The film begins at a time in 1857 when Mangal Pandey has been executed by the British. The flames of revolt have spread across the country, especially in Awadh and its adjoining areas. Rebels storm a church one Sunday morning and kill all the Britishers present. They are led by a bloodthirsty fanatic, Sarfraz. The only one who survives the carnage is the young Ruth. She and her mother, Miriam, find shelter in the house of a Hindu friend Mohanlal (Amrish Puri). But they are soon discovered there by Javed, who though equally devoted to the cause of getting rid of the British like Sarfraz, cannot bring himself to be so ruthless. He is a man who prefers to spend his time with his beloved pigeons. He takes the women into his home. But Javed is not mitivated by any higher sense of mercy. He is a man obsessed by the innocence and beauty of Ruth and must have her. Being a Pathan, it is a blow to his dignity to beg or use force. He pleads with Miriam to give her daughter in marriage to him but she refuses. In her attempt to buy time and save her daughter and herself, Miriam strikes a bargain with Javed ---if the rebels are able to take Delhi, then Ruth would be his. But if the British win, then he would have to let them go. As Miriam negotiates with Javed to avoid the marriage, Javed's obsession with Ruth keeps simmering and growing stronger day by day. Benegal manages to bring out an obsessive love story (however, one-sided it maybe, it is love story of a kind) set against the backdrop of simmering rebellion searing through those times. The film's performances are memorble and full credit for that has to go to the actors who seem to get into the skin of their characters. Shashi Kapoor is superb as the love/lust crazed Javed, struggling against his desire for Ruth. The actor manages to bring out the vulnerability of Javed's plight with his masterful performance. Jennifer Kendall as the desperate but steely Miriam, who stakes all to save her daughter from Javed's clutches, brings a certain dignity to her portrayal. If Javed's obsession is lust then Sarfraz's obsession is with getting rid of the British. The scene where Naseer as Sarfraz, comes to tell Javed that they have lost Delhi is spellbinding. The power and intensity of his anguish is unmistakably touching. Finally, there is Shabana Azmi playing Firdaus, the neglected wife of Javed. She sulks, pouts and does her utmost to get her husband to acknowledge her. This is not the neglected wife of Shatranj Ke Khiladi, who has a lover stashed away. This is an anguished wife, who cannot take her husband's obsession with the British girl. Every time that she sees a ray of hope for their relationship, it is dashed immediately. The scene when the Indians are fleeing after they have lost Delhi, has Javed seeking her out desperately. But all her joy at seeing him is dissolved into despair, when all that he demands to know is the whereabouts of Miriam and Ruth. Nafisa Ali as Ruth is everything that is vulnerable, innocent and feminine. Without it having the grandeur and detailing of so many similar period dramas, Junoon still manages to recreate the Awadh of yore through its compelling narrative. Junoon, like its name suggests, is an intensely haunting film. There is a bittersweet sense of futility and inevitability, which only goes ahead to reinforce the haunting element in the film. Benegal demonstrates his mastery over the medium with Junoon. It remains as much his film as maybe, Shashi Kapoor's. The film went on to earn many awards which justified this case. It won the national award for best film and best cinematography. At the Filmfare Awards too, it bagged awards for its producer, director, cinematographer and editor.