Sunday, April 24, 2011

Tum: My Pledge of Love - Not Quite The Bollywood Experience

There is brewing strife in the small, but progressive town of Alipur in Karnataka in south India. A prodigal son, a half breed, is coming home to tend to the affairs of his recently departed father. Ravaan (Robin Padilla) has been away from his father’s homeland for so long. For years, Ravaan has preferred to stay in Manila where his mother hails; living the life of a devil-may-care playboy. But coming home to India is heart breaking, considering he came too late to see his dad get buried (they belong to the minority Muslims living in India where 80% are Hindus). Islam doesn’t allow long wakes.

Along with his sorrow, Ravaan, the elder of the siblings, is to inherit a fortune: a trucking conglomerate, a cement business, a logging company, and 10,000 acres of farm land in Alipur. But there’s a catch, he has to marry this obdurate lady who’s handling the Noble School, the sole property he cannot own. In typical Hindi fashion, half-Filipino and half-Indian Ravaan is pre-arranged to marry Miss Linda Dimatumba, a once-lost soul who has volunteered for social work in rural India.

Ravaan’s dad was so taken by Linda that he treated her like his own daughter. But there is a hitch: Linda (Mariel Rodriguez) is Catholic, while Ravaan is Muslim! In order to keep the school, Linda concedes to the whim of the old man as long as she gets to keep her religion and keep the school. Such marriage is possible. After all, even the Prophet Mohammad married a Christian; why can’t Ravaan? But not everyone is happy with the union.

Though the couple had a rough start, relentlessly bickering over stuff, they soon fall for each other’s charm, and the spark between them is palpable on screen. But fairy tales (like this one) isn’t always ushered by smooth roads. Seeds of dissention have been planted by Ravaan’s immediate family who believes that the prodigal son doesn’t deserve the riches he is acquiring. It doesn’t take long before Linda is kidnapped. Would Ravaan find Linda before it’s too late? Would their romance mimic the bittersweet sorrows of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his eternal love for wife Mumtaz? I’ll give you a good guess.

Director Robinhood Padilla’s “Tum: My Pledge of Love” is a technicolor romp into Bollywood enchantment, and as such, it is replete with lavish ministrations and ambition. The canvas is really perfect for Padilla’s narrative: it is a chopsuey of romance, drama, musical, action and whimsical fantasy. Unfortunately, Padilla’s technical know-how doesn’t quite approximate his unmitigated ambition.

The narrative is haphazardly written and imprudent. I was made aware that south India (as this is set in Karnataka) is still largely Hindus, only 12.2% account for the Muslim population of this state (mostly the northern areas, Bangalore, Mangalore, Mysore, and the border towns to Kerala). From Karnataka's close to 53 million populace, it has 6.5 million muslims.

Padilla chose to highlight the perspicuous schism between muslims and the rest of the population, which is really a disservice to the peace-loving muslims of Karnataka. Indian muslims, in this movie, are regarded as plot-hungry, power-grabbing savages. For a more inveigling take on the Muslim-Hindu clan wars, check out Aparna Sen’sMr. & Mrs. Iyer”. The plot line in “Tum…” is borne out of a very active imagination than anything that mirrors reality. A case in point: when AJ Falcon starts courting Gita (Queenie Padilla), a Hindi girl working at the Noble School, a throng of locals trooped to Gita’s house carrying hatchets and daggers, you would think that the Indians still live in the 12th century. Yes, they still have arranged marriages, but they don’t disembowel courting foreigners, do they? Indians are very hospitable to visitors.

Another set back is its overly preachy tone. In random strokes, this movie tackles equality in wages, harmony between religious differences; philosophy of help (“You don’t give people fish, but teach them how to fish instead.”); principle of Captain of the Ship (“If you obey your imam, you obey your prophet.” Huh?)

The bharat ceremonies: Ravaan marries Linda.

Queenie Padilla registers well on screen and she looks believable as a Hindi girl, even her Indian English accent is impeccable which can’t be said about his father. Robin Padilla charms as the swaggering protagonist, but you would think that the 80’s and the 90’s have taught him to shed off his matinee idol posturings. Moreover, who ever told him he could pass for a half Indian has to be taken to the guillotine? There is not a centimeter in him that is Indian – from his facial features, his eyes, his gait, his manner of delivery, right down to the cellular level of keratin on his hair and nail bed. Does he appeal to his audience? You bet he does, he’s an A-lister after all, but this hardly gives credibility to being Ravaan.

Mariel Rodriguez looks ravishing as the headstrong Linda. The movie pans around her like a screen goddess, even allowing her to shimmy around people and on rocky hills like some Bollywood star. Unfortunately, Mrs. Padilla is still too raw as an actress, you sometimes cringe when she is made to deliver lines that overwhelm her capability. But don’t fret. She gets “A” for effort. After all, you can’t deny her palpable chemistry with Padilla. They look rapturous and very comfortable together. Mariel helps out with its costume and make up, making the production almost dreamy and a visual delight.

Another plot device implanted for Queenie’s sake is having not two, but three guys competing for her affection, which further muddles her story more than having a Hindi father who’s displeased of AJ’s constant presence in their house. And isn’t Queenie too young to be this hefty? This isn’t a Sharon Cuneta movie, is it?

An Indian heir? A cowboy? A Pinoy action star? A matinee idol? Or all of the above?

The seige!

Padilla, after watching several Bollywood and Telugu Films, patterns his ouvre as such. Notice the “acknowledgment” flashed at the start of the movie, typical of Indian films. Notice the occasional lurches of musical-dance numbers that started with Mariel Rodriguez (wearing a saree) successfully “singing”, swaying and dancing on a train with a bunch of kids; Robin Padilla singing “Ipagpatawad Mo”, “Ikaw”, and the rousing finale of VST & Company’s “Awitin Mo (Isasayaw Ko)”. I admit to stomping my heels, as these numbers do inspire a hearty swerve and a smile. When I saw the “bad guy” Abdul Kareen dancing up a storm with the rest of Alipur's 17,000 people, I was tempted to stand up and shake my booty as well. But such flights of fancy don’t a good movie make. Not when earlier in the movie, you see a Ravaan riding his horse like this suddenly turned into a cowboy flick, then in the midst of a siege, Ravaan single handedly exterminates a whole village of bad muslims!

On the whole, the flick suffers from too much ingredient. An over enthusiastic director is prone to such mistake spoiling his cinematic broth in the process.

I am not sure Robin Padilla is aware that he demonized the muslims to thicken the plot… then he pedantically preached about Mahatma Gandhi’s culture of non-violence. This, coming from a runaway playboy who left India for years in favor of Manila’s more worldly allure. “Tum: My Pledge of Love” isn’t without charm. The finished product looks like it’s a passionate work of someone who is enamored with India. Scenes from the Taj Mahal and Mysore Palace are a sight to behold, but this isn’t a travel documentary, is it?

And before I forget, “Taj Mahal” is clearly pronounced with a “J”. Nope, it isn’t “Tah Mahal”. Right, Ms. Venus Raj?

The baddie is its graceful choreographer (left); and Gita's Hindi father (right).

Mariel and Robin: A fetching couple.

Guess who is featured in the real website of the Noble School of Alipur?

Every inch a movie star, but not a centimeter is Indian.

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