This week, Hollywood rolls out Aladdin, a mega-budget live action version of its 1992 animation classic. Surprisingly, this story from the Arabian Nights (over-simplified to appeal to kids), could have been a Bollywood favourite, but remained largely ignored.
In 1952, Homi Wadia made Aladdin Aur Jadui Chirag, starring Mahipal and Meena Kumari. Then, in 2009, a quirky modern-day reworking of the story was attempted by Sujoy Ghosh making his debut as director. The idea was wonderful, the film, Aladin (minus a ‘d’), too clever for its own good, not so, in spite of Amitabh Bachchan playing Genie.
The review had stated, “The film begins promisingly, with the action set in a fictional town of Khwaish (wish), that looks deliberately fairytale-ish, with lovely mansions and cobbled streets. (That the interiors look stuffed with Chor Bazaar fake antiques is sympomatic of the film-- it gets just that much right, and so much wrong.)
Here, the unfortunately named Aladin Chatterjee (Riteish Deshmukh) spends his life running from bullies who keep forcing him to rub lamps. Aladin is in college, he has a bag on his back at all times and wears a red sweater with an 'a' on it. Such a nerd is asking to be ragged. Then Aladin falls in love with new college girl Jasmine (Jaqueline Fernandez) and as if by magic, he gets The Lamp, from which Genius the Genie (Amitabh Bachchan) appears. His 'look' is something between his Jhoom Barabar and Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna get-ups -- in short too garish.
“Still, so far it's bearable and Genius does the usual magic stuff like turning Aladin's guitar into a frog, that will amuse kids. All this is CGI and quite well done, but the point of the whole exercise is the three wishes, and when it comes down to business the story fails. Aladin stutters some silly stuff, because all he has on his mind is Jasmine.
“The villain has to enter at some point, and Sanjay Dutt as Ring Master rolls in with his menagerie of freaks, including a masked girl who spews fire (must be the most unfortunate debut in cinema, a girl gets to slink all over Sanjay Dutt, but her face remains hidden). There is some gibberish about a comet that can bestow great power.
“But by the time the climax comes around, the viewer has been subjected to a hell of a lot of boring song-and-dance (Aladin tera bheja hai khali types), with the genie doing most of it. Surely Amitabh was not tempted to do this film just to wear ghastly costumes and dance? Riteish Deshmukh, usually so good with comedy, has to wear one prune-faced expression. And the newcomer Jacqueline Fernandez just comes up with her dazzling 'full battisi' smile whenever asked to face the camera.”
The film tanked at the box-office too; luckily for Sujoy Ghosh, three years later, his career-boosting Kahaani came out for damage control. Amitabh Bachchan obviously forgave and forgot that dud and starred in his Badla (2019) which turned out to be a hit. Proved that talent often reveals itself even without a magic lamp.