Lockdown Classics: Light, Frothy & Bindaas and Rangeela

Bindaas is the word that comes to mind when describing Urmila in Rangeela. Gyrating sensuously to AR Rahman’s seductive sounds, Urmila scorched screen, setting audiences’ collective libidos on fire

Lockdown Classics: Light, Frothy & Bindaas and Rangeela

Subhash K Jha

Rangeela (1980) made Urmila Matondkar a star. The minute Urmila Matondkar screamed Yaeee re yaeee re zor nagake nachee re in her micro-mini Manish Malhotra outfit that left everything to the imagination, she was a certifiable star. Urmila, who had done half a dozen inconsequential films before Rangeela, never anticipated the typhoon that her character whipped up at the box office.

Playing the middle-class Mumbai girl Mili(the protagonist’s name was a furtive tribute by director Ram Gopal Varma to Hrishikesh Mukherjee), Urmila rocked the box office and shook up every definition of how the conventional heroine conducted herself on screen. Bindaas is the word that comes to mind when describing Urmila in Rangeela. Gyrating sensuously to A R Rahman’s seductive sounds, Urmila scorched the screen, setting the audiences’ collective libidos on fire.

The plot was a cleverly cloaked fairy tale. Girl dreams of stardom, is secretly loved by the street hoodlum Munna (Aamir Khan) but is swept off her feet by the nation’s heartthrob Raj Kamal (Jackie Shroff, playing an amalgamation of Rajesh Khanna and Kamal Haasan).

Mili’s life at home is portrayed with a lightness of touch that Ram Gopal Varma(RGV) never seemed to achieve in his subsequent films. In fact, RGV’s cinema leaned progressively towards dark blood-soaked themes of gangsterism.

The delight he derived in serenading the artless joy of first love or the first flush of success or for that matter, the first dance of effervescence as Urmila’s native joie de vivre jumped out of the screen, remains contagious to this day. In his later films, Ramu invested his energy into the dark region. He sold himself ‘ouch’.

Rangeela is RGV’s lightest film to date. Its unmistakable power-source can be traced to Urmila’s fidgety constantly-restive performance that invites audiences’ adrenaline level to take a high-jump. She epitomises the yearnings of the young Mumbai girl with a strong family support-system to see her dreams through.

‘Family’ also means Munna (Aamir Khan), the tapori in yellow pants, knitted vests, stubborn stubble and cocky caps. It would be seriously wrong to call Munna a goonda. He is more the neighbourhood rowdy Rathore in anything but khaki. Arguably the finest performance of Aamir’s career, Munna gave Aamir a chance to let go, to simply have fun with a part without bothering with the earlier and future history of the character. The scenes where he coaches Urmila to memorise her dialogues for her shooting the next day, show the actor’s gaze melting in unrequited love as he gets ‘in character’.

Aamir actually played the all-giving Chandramukhi from Saratchandra Chatterjee’sDevdas with a sex change. He didn’t have to perform a Mujra to entertain love. The lovelorn looks when Mili isn’t looking (she has her eyes trained at a distant dream) kept Munna’s character on the level of a street-smart lover-boy without reducing him to a caricature.

Munna’s hurt, when Mili excitedly walks off in the middle of a lunch date to be with the superstar, was so palpable, we were inclined to shake Mili by her shoulders and point her to the obvious love that flowed out of Munna.


Interestingly, films set in the film world were known not to work at the box office. Guru Dutt’s Kagaz Ke Phool had nearly killed the filmmaker’s self-esteem. Then there were Vijay Anand’s Tere Mere Sapne, Meraj’sSitara and Rituparno Ghosh’s ShubhoMahurat. After Rangeela, RGV’s Mast which was also set in the film industry bombed, as did Sudhir Mishra’s Khoya Khoya Chand and Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance.

Rangeela was another experience altogether. The excesses of the entertainment industry were harnessed into telling a tale where it was okay for the wannabe screen-queen to overnight replace the tantrum-throwing leading lady. Rangeela is about wish fulfilment. Urmila gets stardom. Aamir gets Urmila. The superstar Jackie Shroff gets left behind. You can’t have a love story without a broken heart.

While the songs and dances were uniquely evocative and erotic, scenes from the film industry were deliciously tongue-in-cheek. Neeraj Vora as a sozzled gate crasher pretending to be an influential producer who beleaguers Urmila at a party, the finicky director Steven Kapur (Gulshan Grover) who threatens to pack up at the smallest pretext, the tantrum-throwing heroine (Shefali Shah), the harassed film producer (Avtar Gill) quoting box office figures to lull his own insecurities, the faithful father-like star-secretary (Ram Mohan)…these are all figures from the film industry.

Rangeela is a celebration of unalloyed innocence. The fun quotient was not thrust on the plot. It flowed freely and smoothly from the actors’ own enjoyment of the material that was served up to accentuate the contrast between dream-like aspiration and harsh day-time reality.

Lockdown Classics: Light, Frothy & Bindaas and Rangeela

Photo courtesy- Twitter
Photo courtesy- Twitter

My homage to Hollywood

Ram Gopal Varma

“I came to Rangeela after making a couple of dark films like Shiva and Raat. But beforeRangeela, I had also made two very frothy Telugu films – Govinda Govinda andKshanam Khanam. So, it wasn’t as if I suddenly swerved into the romantic musical genre.

To me, Rangeela was a homage to two of my favourite Hollywood films, The Sound Of Music and Singing In The Rain. The choreography was inspired by Singing In The Rain.

The Sound of Music was the first film I had seen which had no antagonist. I consciously avoided negative characters in Rangeela. It was set in very real situations. We shot in a real middle-class house to show Urmila and her family’s lifestyle.

Aamir’s character was based on a street goonda I knew in Hyderabad…When Inarrated Rangeela to Aamir, he immediately agreed. He is an incredibly passionate performer.

Was Steven Kapur based on Shekhar Kapoor? I heard Shekhar and Vinod Chopra have been arguing since then whether it was one or the other. When they asked me, I told them to keep guessing.

As for A R Rahman, you need a lot of patience to work with him. He works at his own pace. I like doing things yesterday. He likes doing them day after tomorrow. I didn’t have the patience.

So, after Rangeela and Daud, we never worked together again. Rangeela worked. Daud didn’t.

There’s no way we can predict these things. I’d like to do another film in the Rangeelagenre.

(As told to SKJ)

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