PARINEETA. Director: Pradeep Sarkar. Players: Saif Ali Khan, Vidya Balan, Sanjay Dutt, Nabin Roy, Raima Sen, Rekha. Music: Shantanu Moitra. Theatrical release (UTV).

The runaway success of Devdas renewed interest in Bengali writer Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya. Produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra (1942: A Love Story, Mission Impossible), this version of Parineeta, based on Chattopadhyaya’s classic novel of the same name, captures the full flavor of an upper-crust love story steeped in nostalgia.

Delighting in the frothy urbanity of a bursting-at-the-seams Calcutta of the 1960s, the Chopra-Sarkar screenplay is an astutely clever reverse narrative that intrigues from the get-go. Two related upper-class families are linked by one intriguing figure: the shy Lalita (Balan), who is an orphan from one clan and is raised by the other. The household where Lalita is raised has for its scion Shekhar (Khan), a moody, gifted musician whose entire existence is summed up by his inability to express his inner lover. By circumstance of their interwoven, privileged lives, Shekhar and Lalita appear destined to end up together just when Girish (Dutt), a dashing young London-based industrialist, appears out of nowhere and connects with Lalita.

Director Sarkar gets kudos for holding together a deliberately paced plot and taking full advantage of a setting to remarkably recreate the Calcutta of the 1960s with the use of period clothing, antique cars, and even the music of that decade. Strategically lit dark-paneled interiors illuminate Shekhar’s self-induced angst while Rekha Nigam’s superbly crafted dialogue imparts a language that only secret lovers—and the viewer—are privy to. Added touches include the use of Bachchan’s voice for narration and extremely wise editing as the plot unfolds.

While both Khan and Dutt are commendable, Parineeta is really Balan’s show. Balan’s Lalita is a refreshing throwback to a time when elders were always respected and bellybuttons, of both men and women, were kept discreetly hidden. Her fleeting, camera-shy countenance, large expressive eyes, thick tresses, and fully tailored Punjabi-style dresses bring to mind the legendary Meena Kumari, who finessed the same role in Bimal Roy’s luminous 1953 version.

Musically, Moitra hits a bull’s-eye with the same precision that Ismail Darbar scored with his debut score for Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. The breezy Sonu Nigam-Shreya Ghoshal duet “piyu bole” is a great sing-along tune, while Sunidhi Chauhan’s cabaret number “kaisi paheli zindagani” is boosted by Rekha appearing in a sizzling gig that recreates Paris’s legendary Moulin Rouge nightclub.

Speaking of revival of the classics, after Parineeta, also on the drawing board are Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s re-telling of the 18th-century love story Bajirao Mastani, Akbar Khan’s mega-budget would-be epic Taj Mahal (face it, no movie with the name Taj Mahal in the title ever has a small budget), and Ashutosh (Lagaan) Gowariker’s enlisting Hrithik Roshan to play a young 16th-century Emperor Akbar romancing the ravishing Hindu princess Jodhabai in a yet-to-be-titled entry. The classics are alive and, as Parineeta proves, kicking.

Aniruddh Chawda writes from Wisconsin, on America’s north coast.
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