Last Updated: Mon, Nov 15, 2004 07:34 hrs

Starring Akshay Kumar, Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Amrish Puri, Anu Kapoor, Paresh Rawal

Rating: **

A star is born! As the predatory social-climbing seductress who can go to any length to satiate her lust for life, Priyanka Chopar rocks the scene like never before.

Her character, appearance, demeanour and moralities are all inspired by Demi Moore in Barry Levinson’s Disclosure. It would be no exaggeration to say that with this one complex characterization Priayanka proves her worth… and Moore!

After having burnt their hands with a vengeful car in Tarzan: The Wonder Car Bollywood’s resident thriller-tycoons Abbas and Mustan go back to what they know best: the evil within. Whether it was Arbaaz Khan in Daraar, Shah Rukh Khan in Baazigar, Akshaye Khanna in Humraaz or Akshay Kumar in Ajnabee, the directorial duo have always delved into the dynamics of human diabolism.

After going grey with the ebony Bipasha Basu in Ajnabee, Abbas-Mustan go gloriously black with the sultry Priyanka Chopra.

Ripping clever pages out of Disclosure the directors construct a yarn that raises sexually seething questions which are new to Hindi cinema.

Why must the male always be held responsible for clandestine happenings between men and women? Can’t a man be an object of sexual harassment even in a patriarchal society like ours?

Taking on what is a patently passive part Akshay Kumar upturns all definitions of screen machismo by subjecting himself to all sorts of humiliating ‘crass’ examination in the courtroom where he accuses his lady boss of sexual exploitation.

Akshay takes off his shirt. But in the most embarrassing position possible… in the courtroom to reveal love marks.

Courtroom sequences are Abbas-Mustan’s forte. Paresh Rawal and Anu Kapoor as the two lawyers are in splendid form. Their gift of the gab is put to great use. And though we often find the narrative getting submerged in verbosity–not to mention the over-layered songs shot in chic postures-the quips and retorts, often of a highly sexual nature, flow out in a caustic cascade.

The comic interludes in the first few reels are purely puerile. You wish Abbas-Mustan would desist from focusing on peripheral sub-plots. A Hindi film needn’t be a full —meal thali replete with papad and pickles. If Aitraaz had avoided the ‘dishy’ digressions, and if the narrative had focussed only on the issue of gender-reversed sexual harassment, this film would’ve been a cut above what it is.

Not that it lacks in engaging passages. The flashback which constructs a relationship between the white-collar worker and the wannabe femme fatale in scenic Cape Town is shot in a style seldom seen in our films.

Kareena Kapoor’s part as the wife who stands by her accused husband right into the courtroom, has been substantially fleshed out in comparison with the original where the wife was far more shadowy. In a role that requires more conviction than glamour, she appears a trifle miscast and awkward, but comes into her own in the climactic courtroom sequence where she dons the lawyer’s coat to bail her husband out.

Shades of Bipasha Basu’s role from Raaz help give Kareena’s part its fleshy underbelly. But the film is undoubtedly a triumph for Priyanka Chopra. With half a smile, a twitch of her lip and a movement of her eyebrow she seems to slip into into her man-eater’s role with captivating carnivorousness.

After watching her breathe life into what was earlier on known as the vamp’s part I can only say…Babe, you’ve come a long way since Madhubala’s Anarkali in Mughal-e-Azam!