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"Let's raise a toast to the ghost" : Subhash Jha

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By: Subhash K. Jha, IndiaFM
Tuesday, September 11, 2007

One extra star goes to this poor ghost film only for Esha Deol's startling presence and sterling account of a woman whom love turns into a roaming spirit.

So let"s raise a toast to the ghost. As the devilishly impish Darling in disgust, Esha flies high which performance that has a kite-like velocity to it. Esha has never pulled so many strings from her histrionic kitty. She brings depth, despair, pathos and humour into her rather hazily –written role.

Esha comes across hazily for more than one reason. Like in last week's Aag Ram Gopal Varma gets together with his over-experimental DOP Amit Roy to shoot Darling in a bluish lens-tinted light which covers the ghostly goings-on in a pall of gloom. But Esha brightens up even the dullest frame. Not since Arjun Sablok's Na Tum Jaano Na Hum have we seen her seek such sensitive alcoves in her personality. Taking long restless unsettling romps between frightful bouts of misadventures in cafes and cinema-halls (at the latter venue, the narrative starts with a totally out-of-context item song) Varma still manages to give Esha the camera space to convey the restless anguish of a woman scorned.

Restless edgy, fidgety and melancholy Esha"s eyes penetrate with unblinking pathos into Fardeen Khan's guilt-laden conscience. She wacks him on his shoulders and thighs, teases and torments him and turns her tortured personality into a treatise on jilted love.

It's hard to feel any sympathy for Fardeen's husbandly betrayals especially since the actor is unable to come to grips with the more emotional moments. But then acting isn't about trying, specially when it comes to crying. When he whines cringes and sobs in front of his wife, it's Esha silhouetted in the background often with her head buried in her face, who catches your attention.

Esha apart (and what a part!) let me state it's time for Varma to stop filling up the background of his frames with the same sets of character actors, like Zakir Husain who plays the most annoying hero's sidekick-friend ever seen in a Hindi cinema. As for Upayendra Limaye as the investigating officer, he does a cross between Chiranjeevi in Pratibandh and Shakti Kapoor in Insaaf . Limaye has a glowering female accomplice (everyone knows Ramu's penchant for unusual faces but this seething specimen of womankind is a 'cross' apart was too much) who looks at Fardeen like a dish of roasted ham which has got flies on it. Whoever said cops in our films were stereotyped? Maybe Varma's vision of a police force that looks like an extension of the underworld's underbelly needs to be revised.

It's time the characters stopped looking so scruffy and casual in Varma"s scheme of things. In Darling the director often focuses on the protagonists' feet, pelvis and legs. When Fardeen accidentally kills and deliberately buries his pregnant secretary he's dressed in shorts, as though the character pre-empted the hard labour that awaited him. And poor Esha! She wears a white kaftan throughout. The wardrobe lady never had it easier.

And let me not forget the shrink, the psychiatrist played by Kota Shrinivas Rao….he's seen curing a patient (played by Rasika Joshi who played Basanti's mausi last week in Aag) for believing she's married to Shahrukh Khan. Me thinks, the shrink needs a shrink.

The first-half has its bouts of genuine humour especially in the casual way Fardeen frolics flirts and fornicates, all in one breath as though Sanjeev Kumar in B.R. Chopra's Pati Patni Aur Who was his drool model. This isn't the first time Fardeen Khan has been caught by Varma on-camera cheating on his loving wife. Remember Pyar Tune Kya Kiya? Will someone please point out the difference between Sonali Kulkarni in that film, and Issha Koppiker in Darling?

Varma has a keen eye for domestic details, such as the breakfast babble or the bedroom backchat. But Fardeen bonding with his little son is nil. Bad father or shy director?

The film also gets a surprising quotient of romantic overtures hitherto unknown in Varma's dark dry and dispassionate domain.

Watch Esha's pleading anguished eyes when at the end she tells her errant lover, "Would you have married me if you were single?"

Love never stood a ghost of a chance in Ramu's cinema.

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