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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

MAIN HOON NA. Director: Farah Khan. Players: Naseerudin Shah, Shahrukh Khan, Sushmita Sen, Suneil Shetty, Zayed Khan, Amrita Rao, Kiron Kher. Music: Anu Malik. Theatrical release.

For Farah Khan, whose dance moves have graced numerous box-office hits, getting behind the camera had to be especially risky. At stake was her reputation as the most sought-after dance-director in Hindi films. When all’s said and done, Khan’s directorial debut Main Hoon Na works magic with the dance sequences and the comedy, but misses the mark on the action-adventure it desperately also wants to be.

Ram Sharma (Shahrukh Khan) is a highly-trained Indian army commando working under the watchful eye of his military-hero father (Naseerudin Shah). A dastardly terrorist attack results in Ram confronting his most challenging undercover work. In a tongue-in-cheek turn of events, Ram enrolls in a Darjeeling boarding school to accomplish two overlapping missions. First, Ram must protect the comely college beauty Sanjana (Rao) from the clutches of vengeful masked terrorists. Second, Ram must locate his half-brother Laxman (Zayed Khan), estranged from him due to a long-standing family riff. While on campus, a new task emerges in the form of a lovely teacher (Sen) to whom Ram becomes attracted.

Director Khan is a master at staging sumptuous dance numbers, and that hard work clearly shows. The attention to catchy footwork that gave rise to Khan’s popularity as choreographer (Koi Mil Gaya, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Monsoon Wedding, Dil Se) is again evidenced here. From the on-campus romp “Jaise pawan chale,” to a thumping disco-qawwali “Tumse milke” to the dim-all-the-lights romance of the title track, the tunes form a seamless wave of musical euphoria. Main Hoon Na is not only music director Malik’s best offering in a Shahrukh Khan film (Asoka, Josh, Baazigar) but also Malik’s best overall work since Fiza.

Beyond music, there is the comedy. The good thing about the laugh-out-loud physical gags—most at the expense of a boarding school teacher with spit incontinence—is that they are hysterically funny. The bad thing is that the sight gags are borrowed. The single funniest moment in what amounts to Shahrukh Khan’s tour of musical duty is, alas, borrowed from The Matrix.

Director Khan actually has a neat fractured-family story to tell. Some of the plot gets lost in the sometimes-frantic attempt to combine action-adventure with comedy and romance. This overlap leads to a fraying at the edges and needlessly stretches the finale. Also, there is little explanation provided as to why the highest-ranking military officer in India goes into a television studio with no bodyguards. Plot credibility is also tested in Shahrukh Khan playing a 30-something college student with hots for the teacher.

What may haunt Farah Khan in the long run is the impression that Main Hoon Na acts, feels, and at times looks like a Yash Chopra or a Karan Johar film. While that sustains Main Hoon Na as Khan’s rookie filmmaking debut, it may not sustain a lasting career. Still, given the shortage of sizable box-office entries in 2004 to date, Main Hoon Na may yet go places.

Aniruddh C.

Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.