TAJ MAHAL 1989 REVIEW - By Kamal Pruthi

What is the true definition of love? If you feel trapped in a marriage and want to find love, do watch Taj Mahal 1989 till the last scene.

A visit to the 90s era

Going back to the times of 1989 in itself is a novelty. With the use of Lambretta scooters, reference of Karamchand detective serial on TV, old radios and steel torches in the background, paper weight, old coffee machine, circular dialer phones, use of plain paper letters, real exchange of telegram, cassette recorders, authentic use of PCOs, intentional close ups of cream rolls at the bakery shop and with many such things the film has got 10 out of 10 with respect to art direction. More than just placing the objects, efforts have gone into not just showing but living the 90s era thereby kindling the nostalgia in audiences who can relate with it. Although not always, for instance, in a DJ party scene, it was a great opportunity to play a 90s popular DJ song but the filmmakers decided to play an unknown English number, which at least I could not recognize.

Writing is a difficult job

Writer of Taj Mahal 1989 Pushpendra Nath Mishra is evidently an expert in relationships and sex and that is quite visible in the series. A boy complaining to his girlfriend when she turns up late on a date “Ye 20-20 minute wait karke jeewan nasht ho jata hai aur ye angad tumhe kab se drop karne lag gaya?” This is the real pain of young lover boys. The theatre background of the writer is also visible, be it a conversation about the play Hayavadan, Shakespeare or Safdar Hashmi and the likes.

While a lot of the 80’s stuff looked authentic, I don’t think college guys and girls ever hugged so openly and comfortably in that era and that’s something so completely not an 80’s-90’s thing. And that too in a city like Kanpur. Completely unbelievable.

Wrong packaging

The title of the film plays an important role in branding of the series and TAJ MAHAL 1989 as a title is not really convincing. By listening to the title I didn’t want to start watching the series. So in this case you can say the book is better than its cover. 1942 a love story, this film title has a nice melody to it. Taj Mahal 1989 on the other hand doesn’t give the branding melody to ears. PR and titling team should have chosen a better title.

Rashmi addresses his theatre instructor Abodh as “charming”. There has to be something special about that character, which is charming enough for the audiences as well.

If he was about to be, he had to be cast accordingly, though he is a good actor and does justice to his character as a flamboyant English speaker and accent trainer of the dramatics society.

Where’s the story?

Third episode and the storyline is still missing? The story is going completely haywire, from the personal lives of Baig, Sudhakar and then suddenly Bhaiyya ji appears from nowhere. University election, gun on the table etc.

In the beginning Taj Mahal 1989 doesn’t make much sense, still you keep watching it in hope of some essence. It completely tests your patience as there are hardly any exciting hanging points towards the end of the episodes, which make you excitedly jump on to the next episode.

The close up of the calendar in the university staff room doesn’t show the year. If you can tell the rate of the Old Monk, you can as well invest on printing the calendar of 1989. That small investment would have added a decent flavor to the era being projected. If the close up shots of cream rolls don’t go unnoticed, do you think your efforts of showing an old calendar would have gone waste? Yes, petty things in art direction matter. That’s attention to detail.

There are a lot of fans of the 90s era, as it was the era of transition of the old world charm into the nascent stage of technology, from telegram to landline phones, Black & white shutter TVs to color TVs, TV antennas on every terrace, tape recorders for audio cassettes, VCPs & VCRs for video cassettes, the floppy discs, Mario computer games and you know the list is long.

Background scores are complete incongruous

Looks like there’s a lot of experimentation happening these days in terms of offbeat background scores being used in the web series. In many of the scenes, the background score just doesn’t add any substantial value to the feel and complexity of the scene. Having no background score is even better than having a meaningless background score, which doesn’t compliment the emotions and essence of the respective scenes. It is like completely ruining the cake after baking it with care.

Obvious flaws

Purpose of bringing Sudhakar as the guest lecturer is not clear in the beginning until he appears again as the permanent lecturer only in the end. Drinking alcohol in steel glasses in candle light shows the lower middle to middle class choices. Mumtaz and Sudhakar as a live - in couple of the 90’s is such a bold thing to show.

Usually the key characters are introduced and established in the beginning but here the introduction of new characters is happening even in the 3rd and 4th episodes. The script writer should economically invent the characters in any story so that the audiences do not get distracted from the main plot. And that’s what is happening in Taj Mahal 1989. There are way too many characters who are weaving their stories further for no good reason. Although from the actors perspective it is good that they have enough work. And I as a reviewer wish all the actors involved good work.

But collage of scenes can’t be a story and scenes alone can’t form a story and that’s what you also learn from Taj Mahal 1989. Good thing is that the editor understood this reality before it was too late and brought the story back to the audiences.

Possibilities of survival

Taj Mahal 1989 had a huge potential to be a super hit series. Even if they re-release it with some meaningful background scores after skillfully editing it rather generously chopping a lot of stuff to make sense of the story, it will surely work. Two storylines, which are not directly linked with each other until eternity, trouble the minds of the audiences. And the editor has to take care of that.

In the very beginning of the series, there’s an excitement in cards for you, which fades away in some time as the multilayered stories delve deep, very deep.

At one point of watching Taj Mahal 1989, you decide that it is not really making any sense. No power in dialogues to retain your attention. A film can’t really be a collage of montages and scenes without serious interconnections, conflicts, problems and solutions. Honestly it is easier to write reviews of series, which have some substance in them. Forced content becomes visible after a point of time. Audience can see and understand forced content.

Scenes worth mentioning

Divorce scene at the court and Akhtar crying like a 5 year old school boy looked like a character of the slapstick comedy Khichdi...didn’t really fit well. It was entertaining but unrealistic and looked completely fake. Nobody cries the way Akhtar cried.

The scene where Akhtar insists that he wants to talk to his wife but not eye to eye is a unique way of presenting negotiation between a husband and a wife, never ever seen before. At the most, in such scenes many actors have said “Moonh udhar karo or tum apni aankhe band karo”. Conflict of differences of hobbies in a married couple is interesting where the wife loves to watch films in cinema halls and the husband loves Ghalib, theatre, shayri and other such artistic pursuits.

The hospital scene between Sudhakar and Sheeba is also really meaningful. So, practically all the meaningful scenes started appearing from the 4th episode onwards. Par itna intezar kaun karta hai bhai saheb aajkal?

Theatrical cast creates wonders

Casting by Shikha Pradeep has depth and is therefore powerful and each and every character fits well and performs well.

Casting requires a lot of new pairing and human experimentation and casting directors with a clear sight see two good actors performing and gelling well with each other much before the actors even know each other in real life. Who had imagined Neeraj Kabi and Geetanjali Kulkarni as a perfectly imperfect middle class husband wife pair? Or even Sheeba Chadha and Danish Hussain as a live in couple? Casting requires trust not only in skills but instinct as well that the pairings will work well.

Geetanjali Kulkarni as Sarita Mam, a boring physics teacher is class! If you watch Tata Sky theatre on TV, you must have seen her performance in the world renowned play Piya Bahrupiya, which is quite memorable. Theatre actors bring a unique flavor to their performances and that is a reality. Popular for reviving the Storytelling art form Dastangoi, the Dastango and Quissago Danish Husain as Sudhakar Mama makes his first entry on screen with élan. While Danish completely delights the audience with each and every dialogue, he looks completely Muslim, which is contrary to his Hindu character who marries a Muslim prostitute. While Danish has started getting his due in the film industry as a character actor, he must think beyond his black sherwani looks to encash on the variety of characters he can play and very well deserves.

While all the casting directors and directors know that Sheebha Chadha can play intensely with her silence, irony is that hardly any dialogues were there for her in the beginning and one starts thinking, whether she is there just to grace the screen? Sheeba is steadily making strong footprints in the film industry with her portrayals of a rich and elegant mother in Badhai Ho to a sabziwali prostitute in Taj Mahal 1989, which are quite contrasting characters and depict the range of an actor’s versatility. Only theatre actors of her caliber can do justice to such a huge range of characters, what she has played so far.

An end worth waiting for

The honeymoon trip before Akhtar and Sarita decide to divorce and the happy ending of the 6th episode would completely melt your heart. Akhtar and Sarita reconcile as the ideal middle aged couple and present the image of a super common husband-wife, who you see every day.

In terms of the story, Taj Mahal 1989 is quite scattered and takes time to be woven together towards the end. There’s so much happening at the same time that at times you lose touch with what to concentrate on. New characters are popping up like soap bubbles every now and then. Their storylines keep spreading further for no reason. The script could be crisper than what it is now.

You watch it for all its goodness. Taj Mahal 1989 is still a glass half full.

Kamal Pruthi aka Kabuliwala is an actor with 21 years of stage experience. With more than 300 solo stage shows to his credit in all over India and countries like Poland, Germany, Bangladesh and Hungary, Kamal is widely known in the stage circles for his works in the field of Theatre and Storytelling as an art form. A multi linguist, Kamal has so far acted in 9 languages and directed 13 plays as a Theatre director. Apart from acting in short and corporate films, Kamal writes web series, songs and film reviews. Super cheerful, uncomplicated and humble soul, Kamal is open for possible artistic works and would be happy to receive your message or call on 91-8861907362.

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