Bollywood Throwback: Revisiting Aamir Khan & Rani Mukherji’s ‘Ghulam’ 20 Years Later

[Photo Source: Vishesh Films]

I’ll keep it simple: Films like “Ghulam stump me.

Declared a Superhit by Box Office India in 1998, the action-drama film starring Aamir Khan and Rani Mukherji grossed 200 million rupees. It saw Khan in a role that was quite familiar to him at the time — a rough, good-for-nothing kind of boy whose chance meeting with a girl stirred up the morals buried deep in his heart. It was also Mukherji’s first runaway mainstream success, having made her debut in the year prior with “Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat” (you may vaguely remember someone blowing up a kitchen and running onto the lawn screaming — this is that film).

[via Giphy]
The plot of “Ghulam” is simple enough: Orphaned Siddharth “Siddhu” Marathe (Khan) is an amateur boxer running with the wrong crowd. He spends most of his time committing petty thefts with his friends or running odd jobs (Read: Delivering threats) for his brother’s boss, the neighborhood don. It is on one such job he meets Alisha (Mukerji), a rich girl fallen in with a biker gang (I promise that this is relevant to the plot), and eventually her brother, a hotelier who has left home and is fighting against our don Ronnie.

Long story short, Khan unknowingly lures his beloved Alisha’s brother to his death, and it is this guilt that causes him to go against Ronnie and change his ways.

Straight up, I agreed to watch this movie for Mukherji. And while she looked great, it only took five minutes into her screen appearance for me to consider turning off the film. For those who don’t know, high-pitch voice actress Mona Shetty dubbed Mukherji’s voice in this film, and I swear I would not have made it through without the three glasses of wine I consumed while experiencing this unique torture.

I suppose two decades ago nobody knew better, but Mukherji’s voice quality is unique. It’s sensuous in a way that’s hard to put your finger on, husky but light, full of the right notes and emotions. Shetty, on the other hand, gets the job done. And Mukherji’s right to say her voice “did not suit the character,” after all Alisha ate up only a third of the screen time and spent most of it crying, screaming, singing songs, or kissing Siddhu’s neck.

Still the film brought us some important moments of 90s cinema, including the iconic “Aati Kya Khandala” and the infamous “Dus Ki Daud” sequence. While other songs in the film performed better in its immediate release, “Aati Kya Khandala” has stood the test of time and, full disclosure, was the only time I managed to give this film my full attention.

“Dus Ki Daud” on the other hand, seems to have been forgotten by the general public despite being all anyone could talk about after the film was first released. The sequence takes place approximately 30 minutes into the film and features Khan (yes, actual Aamir Khan) running toward an oncoming train, rolling off the track at the last second in a daredevil display of his masculinity.

Fun fact: In order to “get the shot,” he actually filmed the scene himself, basically cementing this film in Bollywood trivia for life.

Despite my misgivings, the film, like most of Khan’s work, seemed ahead of the curve, albeit still packaged like the rest of its contemporaries. A copy of Marlon Brando’s “On the Waterfront,” (also remade into the 1988 “Kabzaa”), “Ghulam” fails in trying to do too much.

For me, the plot stretches too long and is riddled with unnecessary details like Mukherji’s biker friends (complete with effeminate comedic gay stereotype “Dickie”) and drunkard dad. Most noteworthy is the role of Khan’s father, essayed by Dalip Tahil, as a freedom fighter with a murky past. Though his father’s narrative is what allows the film to break away from the cookie cutter structure of other films in this time, it also overshadows the present-day plot of the film. The “British are gone, but bullies remain” moral seems far too heavy-handed and sours in today’s time, where these people themselves are the bullies.

[Read Related: Bollywood Throwback: Looking Back at ‘Duplicate,’ 20 Years Later]

My take? Take 10 minutes out of your day and watch “Aati Kya Khandala,” and, if you need some early Mukherji in your life, head over to “Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat — it might be full of senseless melodrama but at least the girl’s got her voice. And if you haven’t yet seen “Ghulam,” don’t worry, you’re not missing much.

By Priyanka Gulati

Priyanka Gulati is a writer, bollywood fanatic and hazelnut coffee lover. When she’s not swiping the burgundy lipsticks at Sephora … Read more ›

‘The Romantics’: Revisiting the Legacy and Grandeur of Yash Chopra With Filmmaker Smriti Mundhra

The Romantics

If you are a South Asian, born in the ’80s or the early ’90s, chances are your ideas of love and romance are heavily influenced by Hindi films — that first gaze, the secret love notes, that accidental meeting somewhere in Europe, over-the-top gestures and dancing around trees. While reality may have been far from what was promised on reel, you still can’t stop pining over a hopeless romantic, with chocolate boy looks, chasing you across the earth and many universes; in the life here and the ones after. Somewhere deep down, you still dream of that possibility despite your husband sitting and sipping his morning coffee right next to you. And much of the credit for weaving this dreamland, that we can’t resist happily sliding into, goes to the legendary Yash Chopra. Award-winning filmmaker Smriti Mundhra’s docu-series, “The Romantics,” that released on Netflix on February 14, chronicles Chopra’s prolific career; offering an illuminating look into the highs and lows of his journey, his unblemished vision for Hindi cinema and sheer love for filmmaking. 

I wanted to look at Indian cinema through the lens of it being a major contributor to the global cinema canon and Yash Chopra seemed like the perfect lens to explore that because of the longevity of his career and the fact that he had worked across so many different genres. His films, for so many of us, defined what Hindi cinema is.

— Smriti Mundhra

As “The Romantics” unveils, in a mere episode — a challenging feat in itself — Chopra did experiment with multiple genres as a budding filmmaker, initially under the shadows of his elder brother B.R. Chopra. From the religiously sensitive “Dharamputra” and the trendsetting “Waqt” to the action-packed and iconic “Deewaar.” It wasn’t until later on in his career that he set a precedent for a Hindi film having a wholly romantic narrative; though “Waqt” did offer the perfect glimpse into what would go on to become Chopra’s cinematic imprint. And then came “Chandni” which ushered in a new era for Hindi cinema; defying the formulaic approach to box office success and making love stories the golden goose.

In the words of more than 30 famous faces, a host of archival videos and interviews, and personal anecdotes, audiences get an extensive insight into the life and career of Yash Chopra and the evolution of his vision through the business acumen and genius of his polar opposite son and a famous recluse, Aditya Chopra. “The Romantics” is not a fancy portrait of a legendary filmmaker but an exploration of what goes into making a successful film family and a path-breaking production house. As viewers, we not only get a peek into the making of a fantasy creator but also learn of the many failures, hurdles and uncertainties that the business of filmmaking comes packaged in, the impact of socio-political shifts on the kind of content being produced and demanded, and just how much control we have as an audience over the fate of the film and the filmmaker.

For both the uninitiated and fanatics, there are some interesting revelations like Shah Rukh Khan’s lifelong desire to become an action hero as opposed to a romantic one and the creative conflict between Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra on the sets of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge” — a project that, surprisingly, did not seem too promising to the latter. Mundhra penetrates deep into the family’s history and industry relationships evoking some really candid conversations; almost as if these celebs were eagerly waiting for their moment to speak. With one appraising interview after the other, it’s a panegyric that does border on being a tad tedious but there is enough depth and fodder in there to keep one hooked. Kudos to Mundhra for managing to achieve cohesion despite there being more than enough material to chew on. In the process of bringing this project to life, Mundhra also ends up achieving a number of milestones: one that the series features the last of actor Rishi Kapoor’s interviews and two, it brings Aditya Chopra, who, it appears, can talk a blue streak contrary to popular belief, to the front of the camera after almost two decades. The moment when he puts the nepotism debate to rest by referring to his brother’s catastrophic attempt at acting is quite the show-stealer.


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At some point during the four-episode series, you might question if it’s fair to credit the Yash Raj family for being the only real changemakers of the Hindi film industry and for picking up the baton to get Hindi cinema the global recognition that it has. But then there is no denying the Chopra clan’s body of work, their ability to understand what pleases the crowd and their commitment towards growth and progress amidst changing times and technology — Yash Raj Studios is in fact the only privately held and one of the biggest, state-of-the-art film studios in India. Chopra’s career and legacy are in no way under-lit that Mundhra can claim to throw new light on with “The Romantics.” But what she really has on offer here are sheer nostalgia, some fascinating discoveries and an ode to a cinephile and his art with a bit of fan service.

In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Mundhra discusses why it was so important for Chopra to be the subject of her docu-series, her own learnings during the series’ research and creative process and her accomplishment of getting Aditya Chopra to talk, and that too, at length.

By Nida Hasan

Editor by profession, writer by passion, and a mother 24/7, Nida is a member of Brown Girl Lifestyle's editing team … Read more ›