Warning: This review contains some spoilers. Although no more than the Netflix summary, and the ending isn't given away.
Here is the Netflix summary of the 2006 film Baabul:
When his only son dies in a tragic accident, Balraaj (Amitabh Bachchan) does the unthinkable to pull his grieving daughter-in-law (Rani Mukherjee) out of a depression: He acts as matchmaker and urges her to marry a man who has long loved her in silence (John Abraham). While the rest of his family reacts in shock and anger, Balraaj knows that the only way for them all to heal is for his daughter-in-law to find love again.
Sounds promising, right? Some Hindu widows in India are relegated to a dreary existence of substinence living and perpetual "mourning" for their dead husbands. There are whole charitable ventures dedicated to their betterment. So of course I rented the film. We sat down to watch it, and it was full of surprises, although not really the kind that I like. Well, except this one: Balraaj's son Avinash is played by SAL. MAN. Khan, which I didn't know and was a nice surprise. (He actually does a pretty decent job in this film, although he looks super-tired... lots of bloodshot eye close-ups.)
I kind of expected the film to begin with a K3G-ish collage of black-and-white-happy-family-stills to establish their credentials as a loving couple/non-nuclear family unit. Haha! No! It starts before Avinash and Milli (Rani's character) ever meet! In fact, in one of those Superfantastic Bollywood Moments, they actually bump into one another in the airport as Avinash returns from an extended absence. His mom Shobhna (Hema Malini! yay!) welcomes him home with all due pomp and circumstance to appease his bombastic-yet-loveable elder uncle Balwant (Om Puri).
Avinash immediately sets up his office in his dad's company, Eros Jewelry (and LOL about that one--wait. Is that a real brand? I just remembered seeing it in the credits). He and Milli meet again. Balraaj offends Milli from the get-go so Avinash lies about his relationship with his dad. He "accidentally" meets her again later (although she calls him on it pretty quickly). Song picturization! Hilarity and misunderstandings ensue! Balraaj fixes things!
Milli and Avinash get engaged. They get married. They have a steamy song picturization involving lots of candles and paint smearing. They celebrate Karwa Chauth. They get (well, she gets) pregnant. Their son is born! He grows into an adorable little guy with glasses just like Milli's. He won't drink his milk, just like Avinash didn't when he was a boy.
Aaaand it was at this point I checked the time and realized that, holy heck, we were over an hour into this freakin' thing and where was the dead husband??? I want my dead husband! I want the movie I thought this would be and not the movie it actually is!
Um. In case you couldn't tell, I was pretty disappointed. The best parts of the film (and this is what probably will mark me forever as a sick, sick woman) are the parts wherein everyone is mourning Avinash's death. Milli going into the shower, facing the mirror, and watching the sindoor rinse from her hair part over her face like blood is a fantastic image, as is the moment when her little boy confesses his anger at his father for going to God without saying good-bye. Guh. TEARS. MANIPULATIVE-STORYTELLING-INDUCED TEARS.
As Milli gets more depressed and maybe a teensy bit delusional, Balraaj decides that, hey little lady, know what you need to pull you out of the dumps? A new guy! (I would also like to take issue with the concept that a woman needs a husband to have a meaningful life. I would have preferred to see her undergo a good round of grief counseling and maybe some art therapy followed by some technique teaching. Also an inappropriate fling with one of her art class students. Oh, okay, that would have been bad too.)
Anyway, Balraaj goes to Europe to find the guy who was obviously pining for Milli at her wedding to Avinash, Rajat (John Abraham's character). We see Rajat doing some Eurotrash-style gyration in a club song that goes on waaaay too long (although, I ain't lying, John looks really good). He tells Rajat that Avinash is dead and invites him to come back and woo the despondent widow (sounds like a romance novel title!).
Okay, I have to stop because I've just gone through two-thirds of the movie. It's ridiculous. I thought Hema-ji and Big B were extremely cute, and that Hema was underused--relegated mostly to playing the saasu-ma although some of that great onscreen chemistry with Amit-ji comes through during "Come On Come On." Rani looks really cute in her bohemian clothes before she becomes the demure good wife. John Abraham did a pretty good job of pining after Rani (although let's be honest, it's probably not that hard!) and I especially liked his reaction when he first sees her dressed up for a date with Avinash. Most of the songs were pretty forgettable, except for "Baavari Piya Ki."
Baabul is, in fact, an "issue" movie. It should come with a stamp that reads "Hallmark Gold Crown Presentation," or perhaps, "Lifetime Channel Original Movie" (Lifetime motto: "Television That Preys on the Fears of Women"). The lighting is soap-opera-ish and so is the plot. The all-star cast can't save the film from a too-long exposition and a too-rapid resolution that left me (and my husband) gaping, saying, "That's it?" Yeah, don't show a bunch of people losing their stuff over a particular issue and then wrap it up in five minutes with some heartfelt speeches. Just a storytelling hint to (runs to check Wikipedia entry) (runs to click on IMDB profile) Whoever You Are Who Wrote This Film!
I don't think it was worth giving up a spot on my Netflix queue for, but I could be wrong. I bet you liked it, Nicki, just for the fact that it had two of your favorites, hai na?