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November 13, 1998


Western Union Money Transfer

The 10-million rupee man

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf

Love, guilt, duty and a rags to riches story. If those oft-repeated themes show up again and again in Hindi cinema, Pardesi Babu does nothing to rock the boat. But hey, it's worked again.

Raju Pardesi (Govinda) from Kanpur makes his way to Bombay after being kicked out of his house by stepmother Kaiki. He steps off the train, the quintessential Bollywood yokel, simple but of sterling character.

He has no friends in the city barring Harpal Singh aka Happy (Satish Kaushik), who is from his village and who now works at a placement agency.

Happy organises a small place for Raju to live in. But there are some ground rules that landlady Mai (Shashikala) has laid for people in her chawl: She won't have any alcohol, cigarettes or women on her turf. And if the rules are broken, she warns Raju, he's out on his ear.

One night when Mr Pardesi comes home, he finds a woman asleep on his cot. Brought up in rather conservative surroundings, he is certain that this is one of those ghastly women about whom he'd heard oblique mention of at school.

But Chinni Malhotra (Shilpa Shetty) clarifies she's like just any other girl who flees a fate worse than death -- namely bridegroom wannabe Naren (Mohnish Behl) -- on her wedding day.

She stays in the same room, wearing a turban and beard by day, and taking off the foliage to become a woman again by night. Of course, she also finds time to make a play for the hero in between.

In the same chawl, there is something that passes for a scientist, one who has come up with a formulation that apparently removes all that's toxic in tea. But he has no money to market his product.

Raju is facing a similar shortage of funds but finds out soon that it's very hard to get a job, because either his moral standards are too high or his education qualifications too low.

Finally, he gets a job selling tickets on a ticket counter at an illegal free-style fighting stadium. But being the mushy chap he is, he gets all upset when one fighter gets beaten up. And enters the ring himself, to deliver retribution. No surprise he does, and so becomes a fighting star.

But that not being what he is paid for, the bosses hand him the sack. That is also about the time the landlady finally discovers Chinni resident in her chawl. So Raju is again shown the door.

Jobless and homeless, he wonders what to do when he learns that Chinni is suffering from abdominal pain -- it's all right, it's appendicitis. He rushes her to hospital but the doctors tell him she can be admitted only after he deposits Rs 5,000 for an operation.

So Raju returns to the boxing ring determined to squash his opponent. But the rules have changed. The owners, for their own reasons, say he'll be paid Rs 15,000. So he gets thrashed to within an inch of his death and get admitted in the same hospital as Chinni.

Chinni realises she loves Raju. And vice versa. But Chinni's father steps in at the right time to place his own condition, that Mr Pardesi will have to prove himself by earning Rs 10 million in a year. The impetuous young man accepts the challenge, then realises it's far beyond his limited skills and decides to quit the city altogether.

He is all set to board a train to Kanpur when he accidentally switches bags with a passenger. And just after the exchange, a thief tries to run with the briefcase. Raju regains the bag and checks the contents to reassure himself. And he finds Rs 1 million within.

Of course, being the honest mutt he is, he tries to hand the bag over to the police, but finding them too corrupt for his liking, forgets the Kanpur trip altogether. He goes back to teams up with the scientist with the safe tea formulation and sets up a company, Kaiki Tea, named after Raju's stepmother. But since buying tea, cleaning it up, and selling it again, makes it darned expensive, they decide to set up a factory in Darjeeling.

That is where Raju finds an inept servant Karuna (Raveena Tandon) who, despite smashing all the china she can, isn't sacked. Naturally, she wants to this accommodating Pardesi babu for a husband. But Raju's got his one-track mind, with his mind set on the Rs 10 million he needs to win Chinni.

After a year, the Rs 10 million is made, and Raju is all set to go and throw it before that snob, Chinni's dad. But Karuna is inconsolable.

Raju soon learns from a doctor there that her father lost his life savings of Rs 1 million at a Bombay railway station when he'd gone to the city to fix a bridegroom for his daughter. Even the house Raju is living in now was Karuna's before calamity struck.

Raju feels guilty and becomes uncertain whether to return to his first love or marry Karuna, who lost everything because of an incident where he played a crucial role.

Overall, despite the surfeit of cliches, it doesn't annoy you the way other films of the same type do. The only trouble is that Govinda, who has been accepted as a hero for the light-hearted flicks, is doing a serious role this time. There are a few comic scenes, but, overall, the film is solemn in mien.

Even Satish Kaushik, ordinarily quite good at providing humour, couldn't manage it. Had director Manoj Agarwal concentrated more on the funnier aspects, as the Govinda-Satish Kaushik duo did in Sajjan Chale Sasural, it might have provided some respite.

The songs and lyrics from Anand-Raj-Anand are passable, with only one song worth remembering, It happens only in India.

Raveena and Shilpa have acted decently well but their roles don't provide much scope anyway. Overall, despite lacking in substance, the film is just about watchable.

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