(Hindi - 1996 - 152 min)
MR. BECHARA poses a classic Bollywood conundrum: is it a good idea to lie to somebody if you believe it will ultimately help them? MR. BECHARA then goes one further and makes Anupam Kher the vehicle for this parable, so everything gets out of control. I've learned that when Anupam is involved movies go haywire, for better or for worse. In this case his character -- Doctor Deya Anand -- is very haywire indeed, and whether or not the other people in the film are blessed or cursed by his intervention is a subject for debate.
I personally have never met a doctor quite like Deya Anand, but then I've never met anyone like Anupam Kher either. It may just be the crowd I move in or the country where I live, but I swear that NONE of my doctors -- even the most mental ones -- would consider it therapeutic to steal a woman's baby and give it to somebody else, which this doctor does during the first few seconds of the film. MAD doctors are nothing new in movies (or in real life), but Deya Anand is a mad doctor who really DOES think he's helping people. Plus, he giggles and sweats and simpers a lot, as you would expect from Anupam (who, I would like to point out, might be upset about losing the Planet BollyBob "Best Male Wig" award if he knew anything about the contest...sorry, Anupam!)
Doctor Deya Anand has an interesting case on his hands. It seems that Sridevi washed up on a beach suffering amnesia and requiring some sort of surgery that allowed Anupam a really studious look at her legs. He knows where her moles are. If you think this sort of behaviour -- "Ummm, this girl almost drowned, so I operated on her, looked at her thighs, and never explained what the operation was for" -- is grounds for malpractice, don't call your lawyer quite yet...wait and see what happens next. He develops an elaborate scheme to convince the mystery woman -- who he names "Asha" -- that she is really the wife of Mr. Anand Bechara (Anil Kapoor) and the mother of his child.
It's not clear whether or not patients actually seek out Doctor Deya Anand to be their family physician, but anybody who did so probably ended up with fewer family members.
All kidding aside, the crazy doctor DOES have a good point: "Asha" is tortured by not having a past, and nobody has come to claim her. Her future would be a pretty bleak one if things continued as they were -- she'd end up a nameless woman without any relatives, probably working with those trained monkeys at the edge of the road. As well, Anand has recently lost his wife and is bringing up his child by himself (and we know what happens to motherless children...they end up working with those trained parrots who tell your fortune in back alleys). Anxious to help these wayward souls, the doctor sees this as an opportunity for match-making, trying to enrich both his patient's lives by bringing them together. But anybody who's suffered through a blind-date set up by a friend with dubious judgement -- a friend who, for instance, would steal an unconscious woman's baby in the middle of a hospital and rationalize it as being ultimately good for her -- knows that these things work out badly. And anybody who's ever lied -- or watched moralistic children's television programs -- knows that one lie leads to another...which leads to another...which leads to a pretty funny movie where everybody is frantically covering up their fibs with more fibs, gathering more accomplices, until the snowball of lies is so huge that you'd wish it would just roll over Anupam Kher and put everybody out of their misery.
Mr. Bechara and his confused "wife" are not ideally matched. He is a quiet, sensitive man who is still madly in love with his dead former wife. He spends most of his days running his failing printing press and riding around the beach on his bicycle. "Asha," however, is loud and somewhat obnoxious. She performs a crazy dance number on a wharf with a bunch of transients who happen to own musical instruments, including guitars which sound like keyboards. In this song Asha demonstrates that she's a wild-and-crazy, irreverent, flighty, somewhat pigeon-toed woman...in short, a stereotypical Sridevi-opposite-Anil character bound to cause all sorts of trouble (due to her selfishness and "modern girl" values clashing with his soft-hearted and traditional outlook). This is particularly clear when she insults a lot of girls during the song, brandishes a knife, and even removes one woman's sari. Anil looks on in dismay, no doubt cursing the day he hired a sociopath to be his family doctor...bad move, Mr. Bechara!
Complicating the adjustment problems that Mr. Bechara and Asha are having is the disturbing comedic presence of Shakti Kapoor -- "Mr. Naterwal" -- who was another patient of Deya Anand and is exactly the sort of man I imagine gives himself enemas for fun. He also never cleans his wig. He knows about the elaborate "Asha is really the wife of a man she's never met and the mother of a child she never gave birth to" ruse and he uses it to pose as Asha's father...entirely so he can steal silverware. I really liked Shakti's character -- other than the enema thing, which I admit is unconfirmed and entirely based on the way he looks -- and his presence in MR. BECHARA pushes the movie into the welcome territory of Screwball Comedy, a territory near and dear to my heart.
Another great character in the film is Dum Dum, a pudgy pre-adolescent child who works in Mr. Bechara's printing shop. Dum Dum doesn't seem to mind his name at all -- at least he's not a Pinky or a Bunty, and he's not nearly as retarded as Master Tin-Tin from CHAND KA TUKDAA -- and he serves as a kind of unwashed, long-suffering guardian angel, running Anil's printing press and ushering in a minor subplot meant to showcase some pretty actresses who aren't paid to speak. It turns out that Mr. Bechara's shop is facing stiff competition from "Beauty Press," a neighbouring company that hires girls in skimpy outfits. Asha, thinking she's doing something Mr. Bechara will appreciate (Asha is not a stellar judge of character) puts on a skimpy, ill-fitting, gaudy, absolutely unflattering Pat Benatar-esque outfit in order to seduce customers away from "Beauty Press," which she manages to do with the help of Dum Dum. It's interesting to ponder why Sridevi has been put into so many skimpy, ill-fitting, gaudy and absolutely unflattering Pat Benatar-esque outfits during her career, but I bet it has something to do with her portraying "modern girls," a breed of woman that Bollywood filmmakers appear never to have met. Unless of course modern girls in India really wear this stuff, which is too bizarre to contemplate.
Sridevi saves Anil Kapoor's business with her trampy behaviour. Dum Dum congratulates her. Anil, of course, slaps her. Yikes. It's no secret to anyone that Bollywood films can be pretty slap-happy, but usually the person committing the deed is instantly sorry -- how many times have you seen an Indian star stare self-loathingly at his huddled, recently-assaulted wife? But when Anil slaps Sridevi -- and I'm also thinking of JUDAAI here -- it's always a "she deserved it" sort of thing. And I agree that in JUDAAI Sridevi's character needed some sort of wake-up call (and it worked, judging by the amount of time she spent flailing and crying on a barren mountaintop afterwards). But in MR. BECHARA it was a bit gratuitous.
Meanwhile, surprise! Asha's fiancÚ shows up. He's the poor guy (previously not introduced) who loves her to death and has been searching for her for months. Rather than just tell the truth (as Big Bird would have suggested) good old Anupam spends much of his energy trying to keep the fiancÚ apart from Asha and Mr. Bechara, who are finally beginning to hit it off. He gets so wound up about all these complications that he even begins to drive his car around backwards, which is a pretty cheap way to get a laugh.
Time to stop laughing, though. When the truth comes out -- which we knew it would -- how can Asha not hate Anil, even though she's begun to love him and his child? How can Anil survive losing not one woman, but two? Who will Shakti steal his silverware from when Asha discovers he's not her father?
I'm not going to tell you. This was one of those finely-balanced endings which could have gone either way -- and was finally tipped by a hideously cute but somehow inevitable moment of happenstance. But don't think this means the ending was HAPPY; let me just say that if you've ever seen one of these Bollywood "which man should I choose" movies you know they always result in somebody stoically wishing the lucky man an auspicious future, walking off camera, snorting crack cocaine and throwing themselves under a bus. Though we don't actually see the bus thing here -- as we didn't see it in RANGEELA or CHANDNI or JUDAAI or LAMHE -- you can bet somebody lived the rest of their (short) lives a broken and dispirited shell of a man, similar to the lives lead by characters in SALAAM BOMBAY: enforced prostitution, rain-soaked chai, arrest and death.
Besides all that, what is MR. BECHARA, then? It's vivacious...Anil and Sridevi always seem to make a great pair. It's also very funny. The songs -- while picturized oddly -- are great fun. The myriad conflicts throughout the movie are the kind that make you squirm and bite your nails in consternation. For a movie that is essentially void of substance, I sure had a good time watching it...at least in hindsight. When I look back on it the thing I remember most are enormous swatches of pink stretch polyester, probably the material they used to make Sridevi's clothes.