Phir Milenge Review
Thanks to her well-deserved Celebrity Big Brother win, Shilpa Shetty may now be the most famous Indian actress in Britain, but just a few short weeks ago before her much-publicised spats with Jade Goody, she wasn’t exactly the toast of her home turf in Bollywood. An incredibly attractive woman for sure and boasting bags of sex appeal, charisma and dancing ability, her fourteen-year career in Hindi cinema had nonetheless been mostly restricted to ‘arm candy’ roles; playing the damsel in distress opposite her usually much older and far less talented male co-stars in bog-standard masala B-movies. After years of hard work, her resume still lacked that one special film that properly allowed her to flex her acting muscles. In 2004, her big chance finally arrived when she was cast in the lead role (and received top billing to boot, a rarity for female performers in Bollywood) in the HIV awareness drama Phir Milenge ('We’ll Meet Again'). And while this film’s controversial subject matter ensured its dismal failure at the Indian box office, its poignant story, sensitive portrayals and heartfelt performances garnered it much praise from fans and critics alike, who all had nothing but encouraging words to offer for Shilpa’s work in particular. An actress was born.
Shilpa Shetty stars as Tamanna Sahni, a young and successful advertising executive whose life is shattered after discovering she is HIV-positive. Armed with false accusations of negligence at work, her boss promptly fires her from her job, not wishing to associate his company with someone afflicted with the disease. Determined to fight for her rights, Tamanna hires the services of lawyer Tarun Anand (Abhishek Bachchan) to help her win back her career and reputation. Phir Milenge marks the second directorial outing for South Indian actress Revathi after 2002’s fairly dull English-language flop Mitr, My Friend. A marked improvement over her debut, Revathi (who herself also plays a small part) makes the most out of her tiny budget to produce a professional, beautifully-shot and progressive picture that successfully bridges the gap between commercial and arthouse Indian cinema – not an easy feat by any means. And while accusations of borrowing generous amounts of elements from 1993’s similarly-themed Tom Hanks vehicle Philadelphia are richly deserved, there is enough original material and characterisation here to allow the film to be judged on its own merits.
Phir Milenge aims to expose the ignorance about HIV in India, educate about the disease and throw in a sickly-sweet romantic subplot in the process. A narrative like that could have every right to be entirely phoney and incoherent, but by keeping the characters at the forefront and the preachiness to a minimum, it all works rather splendidly. Screenwriter Atul Sabharwal has shaped every character beautifully and with every actor giving it their all (excluding the ever-robotic Salman Khan, playing an AIDS-stricken victim in a cameo), the audience is ensured to be right there with them all the way. Abhishek Bachchan hadn’t yet quite hit the big time during the making of this film, but his turn as the struggling advocate Tarun gives a nice indication of the good things to come. Though he falters slightly in his numerous grandiose speeches in court, Bachchan still brings forth his usual gusto and boyish charm to deliver a memorable performance. But the backbone of Phir Milenge is undoubtedly Shilpa Shetty herself who carries every single frame she appears in. Viewers of Celebrity Big Brother will be well aware of Shilpa’s pampered upbringing, but this luxurious lifestyle clearly didn’t affect her ability to portray Tamanna’s pain and anguish with startling believability. Her journey from carefree, fun-loving bigshot to frightened, heartbroken outcast is played to absolute perfection – a testament to her newly discovered talent.
Problems with Phir Milenge arise in the form of its long running time. The usual Hindi filmi ingredients of garish, lengthy song sequences are obviously absent here, yet director Revathi somehow still felt the need to pad out the picture’s length to 142 minutes when she should have been doing the exact opposite. The film’s intimate storyline just simply cannot sustain full-blown interest for that amount of time and indeed there are stretches where there is seemingly nothing happening to move the narrative along. Harsher editing decisions were clearly called for. Sluggish sections aside however, Phir Milenge still offers something fresh and different from the standard Bollywood fare, and for Shilpa Shetty’s new-found fanbase it will unquestionably be her perfect showcase.
Tip Top Entertainment have given the bare-bones treatment to Phir Milenge for its DVD release. No extras are to be found on the disc, but the transfer is at least a tiny cut above the average junk Bollywood DVD. Colours are warm and natural-looking in the rock-steady image with little evidence of dirt, grain, scratches or other such damage to be found on the print itself. Sharpness is lacking however and aliasing problems arise at times as well as some slightly blurred motion, which looked to me to be a result of excessive DNR. Chroma-lag errors also occur in two out of every ten fields of the interlaced video, which is anamorphically-enhanced and presents the film cropped down slightly at 2.25:1 from its original ratio of 2.35:1. Sound-wise, there are no such niggles to report as the disc’s Hindi track boasts crystal clear audio from its 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack that won’t make any ripples in your sound system, but does the job nicely indeed for a film such as this.
A multitude of subtitle options are available on the DVD with the English track offering a mostly good translation, though a couple of spelling errors do rear their head as well as some outright incorrect transcriptions – even of the English lines! One example of sore thumb proportions is “I'm really sorry” being rendered as “I'm really angry”. The inclusion of the English dialogue in the subtitles also poses a rather annoying problem in that around a third of the movie is in English yet there is no option to view the film with only the Hindi-speaking portions subbed. To hazard a guess, I’d say this is probably because the DVD authors needed every line to cut ‘n’ paste into Google’s language translator for the rest of the European translations on the disc, since they all (I’m reliably informed) read as utter nonsense to their respective native speakers.
With film and TV offers now bound to be flooding her agency, it likely won’t be long before Shilpa Shetty finally follows up on the tremendous promise she demonstrated in Phir Milenge three years ago. For now though, both the film and perhaps even Indian cinema will hopefully enjoy a greater degree of success and appreciation from a brand new audience.
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Last updated: 10/07/2018 00:16:07