Ram-Avtar (Sunil Hingorani, 1988)
The first half of Ram-Avtar is GENIUS. Nonsensical, irreverent, hilarious GENIUS. The plot, in that first hour or so, introduces us to Sangeeta (Sridevi) who owns a factory that is constantly being threatened by the local goons, headed by Gunduppa Swami (a bizarre, and yet, quite funny Shakti Kapoor). To protect the factory, she employs Avtar (Anil Kapoor), a man famed for his lethal fighting skills to act as a kind of security guard – but when he arrives from a neighbouring village, it turns out that though he is famous for his fighting, he’s also famous for his drinking. He literally gets thrown off the bus in an alcoholic stupor…but once he meets Sangeeta it’s not long before he falls for her and gives up the booze in the hopes of impressing her.
At the same time though, Avtar’s childhood friend, Ram (Sunny Deol) arrives back in India, meets Sangeeta, and – SURPRISE – falls madly in love with her too. Only, lucky Ram, Sangeeta actually returns his affections.
The problem is that if you’ve ever seen a Hindi film about the power of male friendship, EVER - and it’s a shame I didn’t have time (or the stomach) to cover Dosti: Friends Forever - you’ll know that the bond between Ram and Avtar is super-strong.
Ram, being the child of privilege, is accustomed to giving all that he has to Avtar, the child who comes from a poorer background. So when, at the end of the first half, Ram and Avtar discover they both love the same woman, you can guess where the film is headed.
Sigh. And it all started out so promisingly.
The first half of Ram-Avtar had me laughing so hard in cracktastic awe, my face and sides were ACTUALLY hurting. There’s just so much weird nonsense going on, between Shakti Kapoor as Gunduppa Swami, the leader of the local goons, looking like this:
and speaking in a voice I cannot even begin to describe;
Anil Kapoor’s various HILARIOUS antics as lovelorn alcoholic Avtar (and omg THE SANDWICH SCENE! I just about died);
the novelty of seeing notoriously shy Sunny Deol play a cocky lady-killer, and steam up the screen with Sangeeta (Sridevi);
MARCONI the “Italian” date-rapist who hangs out at the fair, putting the 70s Indian equivalent of Rohypnol into sherbet;
a team of motorcycle riding baddies called The Bald Gang;
Sunny Deol playing the violin obsessively;
EVEN ON HORSEBACK!
finally getting to see THIS extremely homoerotic screenshot in context,
and Sunny Deol peeing into a radiator. SERIOUSLY.
BUT THEN IT ALL GOES HORRIBLY WRONG.
Just as you are thinking “Man, this film is AWESOME!” it does a complete 180 on you and becomes cracktastic in that other way. The WTF, oh my god, are they actually serious? way.
SPOILER ALERT TO THE MAX:
So what happens is that when Ram realizes Avtar loves Sangeeta, he reverts back to his childhood behaviour of just giving his friend whatever he wants, and decides to sacrifice his own happiness for his friend’s happiness , manipulating the circumstances so that the marriage that was to go ahead between Ram and Sangeeta now occurs with Avtar as the groom. REGARDLESS OF THE FACT THAT THERE IS IN FACT ANOTHER PERSON WITH FEELINGS INVOLVED IN ALL OF THIS.
HER NAME BEING SANGEETA.
And from this point on the film spirals down and down and down into emotasticness: while I am a big fan of romantic longing looks and thwarted love sometimes (like in this film); I’m not so much a fan of this particular kind of melodrama where everyone is unhappy and continue to torture themselves and each other with no satisfying ending in sight. It got to the point that, I swear, I WAS HOPING THAT EVERYONE DIED HORRIBLY IN THE END. Because they all deserved it.
Basically – from the awesome first half, where Avtar is a drunk, but an endearing, lovable drunk, and Ram is cheeky and cocky, but not an asshole, and Sangeeta is an independent woman running her own business by herself and taking no shit from anybody, in the second half all the characters turn into HORRIBLE, UNLIKEABLE IDIOTS. Ram starts pretending to be a douche-bag, faking that he’s sleeping around to make Sangeeta hate him;
Avtar believes the word of a goonda over his own wife, no questions asked, AND WORSE, compares her chastity to A STAINED TIE.
WHAT AN ASSHOLE. And Sangeeta?
Well, thank god the film actually has Sangeeta speak up for herself, when she discovers how her marriage to Avtar came to be. She asks what right either of them have to put their friendship above her feelings – they treat her as a third party to the whole thing, just some afterthought, like “oh, Avtar can marry her then” with no regard for the impact of making this decision FOR her or what she actually wants: what she wanted was Ram, because she loved him and he loved her.
Um? NOT DONE IT? Told Avtar you were already in a relationship with her and that he'd have to man up and deal with that? Been honest from the start with Sangeeta and told her Avtar had a crush and that it was a bit...awkward? ANYTHING BUT ARRANGE TO HAVE HER MARRIED OFF TO YOUR BEST FRIEND, BASICALLY ENSURING THAT EVERYONE ENDS UP UNHAPPY, ASSHOLE?
BUT THE QUESTION IS NEVER ANSWERED. Nor is any real explanation given for why Sangeeta would want to stay with an asshole like Avtar when any person in their right mind would PUSH HIM DOWN THE STAIRS. No-one ever learns.
The only saving grace is that the ending of RamAvtar returns to ridiculous cracktastic glory – stupid enough to make me say out loud “THIS IS RIDICULOUS” and start laughing hysterically at what was supposed to be deeply tragic.
But this is a largely bad film, which is something I didn’t think I would say after the gloriousness of the first half. It’s the weird-ass material that wrecked it for me; Anil, Sunny and Sridevi deserve, and are capable of so much better. I dislike it for the same reason I dislike Chandni - it starts out awesome, and then goes all WTF I DON'T UNDERSTAND THESE PEOPLE AT ALL in your face.
Here. I hate ending on such a downer. Have this song, my favourite part of the film, because watching Sunny and Sridevi together is one of my favourite things in the world: