Armaan Movie Review

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Having limited knowledge of Bollywood movies, I'm a little afraid of showing cultural ignorance in my review of Armaan. However, if there's one thing I've learned from my nearly three-year stint at filmcritic.com, watching some of the worst movies ever committed to celluloid, it is that cinematic flaws transcend geography and cultural understanding.

The movie, which clocks in somewhere between 160 minutes and forever, deals with the trials and tribulations among the personnel at a gorgeous estate of a hospital, which is in need of new equipment and a load of cash. From that main conflict springs a virtual geyser of events, including a romance between a talented neurosurgeon (Anil Kapoor) and an anesthesiologist (Gracy Singh), an arranged marriage that puts a strain on the two lovers' professional and personal rapport, two tragic deaths, ghostly visions, a staggering number of brain surgeries, lots of screaming, and other conflicts, songs, a pretty sexy dance routine, two car accidents, and more songs.

Like most Bollywood films, Armaan plays like an elaborate soap opera, interspersed with songs. There's nothing wrong with good over-the-top entertainment. Two of my favorite movies last year were a musical (Chicago) and a melodrama masquerading as social commentary (Far From Heaven). But combining both formats into one lengthy project is just overbearing and eliminates any camp appeal. This is especially true when none of the songs are memorable and the onscreen drama is presented as if the director (Honey Inish, who co-wrote the screenplay) is running the movie equivalent of the fast break.

Consequently, the movie fails to weave a spell, which becomes apparent when Kapoor's character tells Singh's character that he is marrying another woman (the amazingly shrill Preity Zinta). Such an arrangement is the only way he can save the hospital, which his saintly father (Amitabh Bachchan) created and ran. Of course, Kapoor doesn't tell Singh the truth about his situation. Now, if the movie had thrown me into its world, I would have ignored this gaping hole and be happy that more drama was unfolding. I didn't and realized the movie was only halfway to its finish.

Other nagging problems include the actors' tendencies to speak in the foreign dialect and then launch into English, a trait that's even more annoying considering that the dialogue oftentimes matches the text onscreen. The subtitles are written so badly that you'd think the characters were in a Merchant-Ivory production. Two expressions actually used in the movie: "What rot" and "flow like bucketfuls." I did not see one corset or top hat during my time at the theater.

In the movie's defense, it does try to get a reaction, but the filmmakers try much too hard. After an hour or so, you realize that all they have is a series of dramatic twists, loud conflicts, and a collection of songs to flaunt. It's a lot like watching a very long movie trailer. However, Armaan's Web site proclaims that the movie is "a family drama that allows us to explore the intimacy of human relationships." I must have missed all that between all the brain surgeries and car crashes.

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Armaan Rating

" Grim "

Rating: NR, 2003

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