The theme of the ventriloquist whose dummy acquires a life of its own has served as meaty drama in such classics as “Dead of Night” and “Magic.” In “The Doll,” the latest from Bengali director Goutam Ghose, and his first Hindi-language feature, the idea is the basis for an obsessively weird romance with political overtones. Pic is handsomely produced and contains interestingideas, but its length, greatly augmented by the usual clutch of songs — which are important for Indian auds but basically time-fillers — militates against Western acceptance outside the fest circuit.
Set in scenic Goa, which is spectacularly photographed by the director, the film kicks off by introducing the aging Hamid (Pran), an itinerant ventriloquist who does an act with his female doll, Urvashi. When Hamid is stricken with throat cancer, he trains his assistant, Johnny (Mithun Chakraborty), to take his place. Johnny, who is adored by Rosemary (Nandana Dev Sen), a lissome young woman he keeps at arm’s length, modernizes Hamid’s act and is soon a hit on the vaudeville circuit, but finds himself taken up by devious politicos fighting an election.
Rosemary is understandably frustrated because Johnny spends more time talking to Urvashi than to her (he calls it “rehearsing”), but when called upon to put across the politicians’ party line, Johnny is unable to give Urvashi a voice. It’s his moral crisis, but the politicos respond by beating him up and smashing Urvashi to pieces.
Ghose sees the pic, with its echoes of “A Face in the Crowd,” as a metaphor for India’s film industry, which is also at times plagued by political connections. The writer-cinematographer-composer has fashioned an interesting but prolonged and unsophisticated pic that builds slowly to a contrived ending.
Dev Sen is a lively presence as the eager Rosemary, which makes Johnny’s constant rejection of her an irritating plot device. His obsession with his doll is never very convincing. Nor are the machinations of the politicos.
Production credits are of a high order, with the lab work slick.