November 21, 2015: Of Flights and Fancies

We love international travel. It’s so improving. Plus you get to watch cool movies on the plane. Julie saw not one, not two, but three recent Hindi releases courtesy of Lufthansa.

Julie M: Finally got to see three new-ish films, none of which ever made it to my local theaters. Two were worth it, one was not. Let’s dispense with the “not” first: Tanu Weds Manu Returns was a giant snooze-fest that made me actively hate characters I was not 100% fond of the first time around. We catch up with the nebbishy Manu and self-centered Tanu as they are making each other miserable in England four years after their marriage. She commits him to a mental institution and proceeds back to Kanpur to scandalize her family with her wild city ways; he gets released and takes up with a 19-year-old Tanu lookalike in Delhi, who happens to be half-promised to Tanu’s old boyfriend. Everything spirals down from there: an ill-advised engagement, a baby of secret parentage, and a snarky law student add up to a horrifyingly cringe-worthy series of events. By the time (spoiler alert, as if you needed one) Tanu and Manu reconcile, you really don’t care anymore whether those two crazy kids can make it—you just want it all to be over.

Jenny K: I am so jealous…about the international travel, and the leisurely watching of movies while in flight, even if they are mediocre. Sorry to hear it, though, as I usually like Kangana Ranaut (the charming actress from Queen) and R. Madhavan. However, I’d heard bad things about TWM and its apparently lamentable follow up, and have successfully avoided them.

Julie M: On the other hand, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is a fun addition to the growing body of modern Hindi thrillers. It’s 1943 Calcutta, India has major problems with war, the British, and opium, and Bakshy (Sushant Singh Rajput) is a very young, aspiring private detective. He talks his way into an assignment to find another young man’s missing father and stumbles into a complex situation involving spies, scientific discovery, international terrorism and (of course) murder. The plot involves double- and triple-crosses, a Mata Hari-like vamp, a helpful (or is he?) British military man, and a Watson-like sidekick/pal. The filmmaking is atmospheric and visually very detailed, Rajput is a very convincing wet-behind-the-ears detective, and the door is admirably left open for future adventures. And we know there will be more: the character, created by Bengali author Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay, was beloved in Indian popular literature from 1931-1970 and has been the protagonist of many other films and television serials, both based on the books and not. This movie (despite the liberties taken with the chronology) serves as both an origin story and a concept reboot and the character combines the coolest traits of Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Sam Spade. I’m already hooked.

Jenny K: Now, I’m sorry I missed that one. You make it sound like a good bet…even if you may have enjoyed it strictly on the visuals of young Mr. Rajput. A favorite of yours, as I recall from earlier reviews.

Julie M: And then we come to the third film, Salman Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan. I am not a huge Khan fan (the last few films of his I saw were horrendously bad and he seemed to be aging poorly), but I found this portrayal of an uncomplicated, not-especially-bright guy just trying to do the right thing to be quite entertaining although there was plenty of eye-rolling at the obvious tugs at the heartstrings.

Jenny K: Now, I did see this one! And in a theater, too! I have been, like you, not one of Sallubhai’s biggest supporters, but every so often he does pull off a winner, even for me. How can you resist the self-mocking Bodyguard and its crazy, shirt-phobic drainpipe? You have to see the scene to believe it! And Salman does get credit in my book for being one of the only stars who still supports the multi-song format any more. I really miss the seven songs per show days.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan 2Julie M: Khan plays Pawan (nicknamed Bajrangi), a devotee of Hanuman who has recently lost his father (a hilarious backstory has him dropping dead of shock after Pawan finally passes his exams after eleven attempts) and is trying to make money to buy a house so he can marry his girlfriend Rasika (an underused Kareena Kapoor). Pawan’s happy life is turned upside-down when a lost, mute little girl (Harshaali Malhotra) attaches herself to him. He knows she belongs somewhere and as he gradually finds out more about her—much of which is disruptive to his simple and narrow world—he vows to return her to where she belongs. In the process he has to deal with completely unknown situations in the best way he knows how: by being himself in a world that seems not to know how to deal with him.

This tale, and the way Khan spins it out, seemed to me to be very old-fashioned. The story is in the traditional format of past-setup, present day, LONG flashback, and moving forward, with the post-interval action more serious and carrying the seeds of controversy. Pavan’s world is almost a fantasy, with bright colors, friendly people and traditional pastimes. His relationship with Rasika unfolds like the first half of every Bollywood movie, with a “meet cute” and hate turning to friendship and then love over a montage of scooter-riding and travel-photo Delhi adventures.

Jenny K: But aren’t those good feelings and the basic sweetness what’s been missing from Hindi films recently, with all their goondahs and drug lords? I know I’ve missed them, heck, the lack of heartwarming films and romantic musicals in western filmmaking is what made me turn to Bollywood in the first place.

Bajrangi BhaijaanJulie M: That’s what I mean! I was never bored and the director made me care about every character. Pawan takes the shocking revelations about “Munni” in stride (she can’t speak! she eats meat! she’s a…MUSLIM!!!), which is supposed to be a testament to his innocent nature, should have made me laugh out loud but given the setup seemed only natural. The trope of a small girl teaching lessons to a grown man about acceptance of difference, and then having him teach others, is standard in “film-festival” films but seemed fresh here. The reporter character played by Nawazudin Siddiqui (what is it about that guy—I love him in each and every one of his roles!) had a suspiciously fast turnaround from “get the spy” to “let’s help this guy,” but somehow it made sense. And the overall message of people being people, not countries or political beliefs, is just simple enough to work. And of course, I, along with everyone else (I assume—I was watching it on a small screen on the back of the airplane seat in front of me!), teared up at the end despite myself.

NawazuddinJenny K: Nawazuddin is one of my favorite actors working today, a dusky Jude Law with many more guns in his acting arsenal (sorry, Jude, you’re still delicious).   In the past five years, especially, he’s done a wide variety of characters. Dekh Indian Circus has him playing the mute farmer in a remote country village with poignancy in every silent glance. Kahaani turned the tables completely in a darkly edgy role as the driven police detective (is he complicit in the crime, or not?). Then in Talaash, he’s a haunted criminal who makes you sorry for him even while you thoroughly condemn his decisions. And in Dabba/The Lunchbox, his touch with light comedy brings a glow to this unlikely bromance with the equally wonderful Irrfan Khan. Truly unique performances in every role he attempts, an actor’s actor.

Julie M: An old friend unfamiliar with Bollywood but much involved with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict saw this movie and crowed about how wonderful it was and how many lessons it had to teach us. I’m glad that this film had the intended effect on someone—but I also wish it was a less formulaic film.

Jenny K: At least someone out there is attempting to teach the lessons, I say. Even if it wasn’t completely successful, or was too heavy handed in places, I feel that this film touches more people than it turns off. My sometimes cynical pal, Pat, said it was the best film she’d seen all year and I chatted on IMDb with a woman in the Midwest somewhere who wandered into BB in her local multiplex, almost as an accident, as her first choice had sold out, and came out uplifted and with a budding love of Indian film! That’s a winner in my book.  Salman Khan, take a bow!

Bajrangi Bhaijaan 3

January 3, 2015: So meta it’s menacing

Julie M:  Happy New Year!  Trying to catch up on some films missed over the last couple of years.  Let’s start with Filmistaan (2013), which is one of those films, like Khosla ka Ghosla, that is “small” and you have high hopes for, but unlike KKG, Filmistaan ultimately disappoints.  Here’s the trailer; unfortunately, it is without English subtitles.

The plot is intriguing: Sunny (Sharib Hashmi) is a film buff and wanna-be Bollywood actor, but he is too dark, dumpy and graceless for the hero roles he craves and not nearly talented enough for the character roles his looks might suit. He scrapes a living by doing assistant director work, and on such a job for a documentary film in Rajasthan near the Pakistan border he is mistakenly kidnapped (they were trying for one of the Americans on the crew) and dragged across the border to a tiny village controlled by the menacing gang.  This song sums up the action so far.

Held until the gang figures out how to capture their real target, he befriends Aftab (Inaamulhaq), the owner of the house in whose living room he is imprisoned. Aftab makes his living by smuggling pirated Bollywood movies into Pakistan and selling them on the black market, since they are banned in the country–this makes him a pariah in the village, but a necessary one, because he keeps the police supplied and in turn they ignore the gang’s criminal activity. The two discover their mutual passion and bemoan the fate that tore their region apart when the two peoples are virtually identical in language and customs.

Out of friendship Aftab decides to help Sunny escape, and they try various filmi-style scams on their jailers Mehmood (Kumud Mishra) and Jawaad (Gopal Dutt).

The plot has numerous comic possibilities, only a few of which are attempted. One of the more successful ones is when Sunny fascinates the village by supplying the dialogues when the sound goes out on a screening of Maine Pyaar Kiya. Another hilarious moment is when Sunny ends up directing his own ransom video when his captors discover they don’t know how to operate the camera they have borrowed to make it. There are numerous film allusions–frequently in conversation Sunny or Aftab will start a famous line and the other will finish it–which for a film aficionados is ticklishly funny, and the bond between the two characters is well developed and heartwarming.  Unfortunately, these moments are too far between, and much screen time is taken up heavily promoting the moral of the film–that the enmity between India and Pakistan is ridiculous and destructive–delivered in earnest speeches at various points by Sunny or Aftab.  The escape scams aren’t mined nearly enough for either their satiric, comic or dramatic opportunities, and so fall flat. As an independent film it is done well, but like most independent films it hits its message too heavily (particularly in the second half, which drags) and forgets that, as a movie about the binding power of entertainment, it too must entertain.

Verdict: B-.

November 11, 2014: Happy New Year (er, Veteran’s Day)!

So here it is:  the Happy New Year post!  Jenny and Julie both saw this one, and had some very different (and somewhat unpredictable) reactions.

First, the trailer:

Julie’s plot summary:  The action begins in the glitz and glamour of Dubai (city of lights, apparently!), at the World Dance Championships, where the Indian team is mysteriously missing.  Then we zoom backwards in time about six months to a mud-wrestling pit, where, in glorious slo-mo, we watch a buffed and ripped small man and a large, bald and slightly blubbery man whale on each other, until, from the left and right, water comes in to spray the mud off the small man to reveal…Charlie (Shah Rukh Khan), our lead and narrator, and apparently a professional fighter (you can bet that will come in handy later).

Jenny K: Oh, I actually missed the first fifteen minutes, so I missed the mud wrestling scene…that must have been what Kathy was giggling about.  But nothing about Dubai attracted me…the film actually worked on me as an anti-travel plug for the city. Too darn prefabbed and uber-glitzy for me, by half.

Julie M: Out of context in the beginning—yeah, but I didn’t mind it so much later.  Anyway, Charlie has an axe to grind:  his father (Anupam Kher) was framed by Charan Grover (Jackie Shroff) for stealing a fortune in diamonds and is imprisoned, and after 8 years the opportunity to avenge him has presented itself. He gathers a handpicked team to pull off the caper of the millennium:  Tammy (Boman Irani), a lisping safecracker, irresistible to the ladies but with an unfortunate side effect of extreme stress; special effects expert Jag (Sonu Sood), who can go ab-to-ab with Charlie but is deaf in one ear and sensitive about his mother; Jag’s nephew Rohan (Vivaan Shah), a painfully shy, teenage hacker extraordinaire; and drunken simpleton Nandu (Abhishek Bachchan), who seems to have no redeeming qualities except his physiognomy, which isn’t particularly handsome but is usefully familiar—a dead ringer for Grover’s son (double-role!).

Jenny K:  Oh, is that was Jag’s line of work was…must have missed that, too.  Thought he was just on board as “Ab Competitor” for SRK’s scary new torso.


Julie M: Despite their flaws (character and other) the team actually has the skills to pull off the heist, except the most important part: they need to learn how to dance, and fast.  Enter Nandu’s childhood friend Mohini (Deepika Padukone), a high-class bar dancer with a predilection for hearing men speak English, whom they engage to whip the boys into good enough shape to become a contender to represent India at the World Dance Championships in Dubai.

Why is this necessary?  Coincidentally, the contest is being held at the same hotel where the loot is being safeguarded and they need to be contestants to make the plan work.   Through a little hacker magic they end up where they need to be, but they immediately anger the reigning dance champions, the North Korean team (whaaaaa?), not to mention Charan, either of whom has the power to turn Charlie’s well-laid plans to vapor and take our little gang out for good.

Jenny K: I thought that North Korea was chosen, because it’s the only isolated power that isn’t currently in popularity with enough of the world to raise objection.  Who knows…Synopsis behind us, on to the reactions.  I was afraid that you, being the more serious minded of the two Filmi-Goris, would find it tediously frivolous and full of holes, plot-wise. Even I did, somewhat, and spent lots of time distracted as SRK’s blonde streak moved about his hair from scene to scene. Not to say that I found nothing interesting about it, but I could have missed it and not have been at all bereft.

Julie M:  Frivolous and full of holes, sure, but definitely not tedious.  I had a great time!

Jenny K:  SRK looks good, and is in top charming conman mode.  Deepika is lovely and a wonderful dancer, again. Boman is comedy pro, as usual, but I was distracted by the accent he chose, that one that I call the “paan-in-mouth” one. Abhi used it in Bunty aur Babli once or twice, but I don’t like a full movie of it. Jackie Shroff makes a smooth, if underused, villain, and I was glad to see him back. Abhi has the comedic double role that you mentioned, and he pulls it off pretty well, but it was really very slapstick, which, as you know, always leaves me rather cold. Sonu Sood is given the thankless role of comic muscle-bound sidekick, a la early Salman Khan…not much more to say about him than that, I’m afraid. Vivaan Shah was better in 7 Khoon Maaf, but didn’t fall on his face.

Julie M: I liked the way the direction played with Sonu Sood’s abs and the typical Salman Khan “oops, I’ve lost my shirt” bit that always seems to happen in his films.  I always find that the most charming part of a SK film.


Jenny K:  I also didn’t like that they keep trying to mix their genres so much, trying to give all SRK fans what they want from him. You could see all Farah’s influences in there, having Shah Rukh be Tom Cruise in MI 4, Brad Pitt in Ocean’s Eleven and Jackie Chan in multiple films, then putting bits of all of India’s favorite SRK classics in there, too. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi with its dance team competition, bits of the Don franchise, touches of the charm and romance of K3G and KKHH, but without Kajol to help pull it off. I just wish Farah had picked a genre and knocked it out of the park, as I know she can, rather than trying to give us thin multiples, none of which really succeed.

Julie M:  I see your point, and checked all the references too, but I read it as parody.  In fact, I found so much parody in the film that may or may not have been intentional, but it was still funny. The comedic bits (the repetition of “the two things you need to know about X”, for example, and the knowing wink about the “intro” numbers for each, including the intro of Abhi’s character which was way too much like the way Ranveer Singh’s characters have been introduced in his last couple of films) varied for me from slightly humorous to fall-on-the-floor laughing, but overall were pretty funny, particularly as the film went on. But Abhi did not handle the comedy as well as we know he can (Bunty aur Babli, Dostana), although it was OK for someone who doesn’t know how good he can be, and the dance numbers, although very glitzy, were uninspired until the very last one.

abhishek bachchan happy new year

Jenny K: Actually, you reminded me about that “two things” bit….I thought it sounded familiar to me at the time, what with BigB doing a lot of the intoning, and I think I’ve tracked it down to these quotes from Bunty aur Babli, that they are saluting in the HNY film. “There are two types of people in this world…”  I’d have to see the movie again to be sure, but I’d bet that they were very close to that pattern.

Julie M:  I bet you’re right—but to introduce the characters, it’s very effective.  We learned to expect hilarious character flaws. With all the setup, the possibilities for comedy are endless, and pretty much all of them are employed.  Gravity-defying and farce-filled fight scenes?  Check.  Fart jokes?  Check.  Pratfalls?  Check.  Awkward dance moves?  Definitely check. (Look for a brief but enthralling flash of Prabhu Deva as one of the dance teachers who give up on them before they find Mohini.)  In lesser hands this could have been wince-inducing, but I think Farah Khan excels at directing zany comedies filled with varying levels of parody and multiple winks at Bollywood (and SRK in particular) tropes old and new.  The result, I found, was hilarious.  I left the theater feeling happy and entertained and satisfied…for about three hours, until all the plot holes came home to roost and I started to realize that although there was a lot to like, and ultimately yes, I did like it, there were some issues as well.

Why bring Jag into the gang when there are absolutely no special effects aspects (aside from some really bad disguises) to the plan?  How can Mohini—admittedly poor and desperate for the money her bar dancing gig gives her—take 6 months off to train a bunch of losers, even if one of them has great abs and speaks fluent English?  Charan is clearly a smart, suave guy: how could he overlook the ONE detail that allows a plan like Charlie’s to work?  And why, oh why, is the music, peppy as it is, so freaking DERIVATIVE?

The key to enjoying a film like this, clearly, is not to think too hard about it. Leave your brain at the door and grab the popcorn.

October 25, 2014: A Commotion and a Verdict

Finally, in our Akshaye Khanna mini-film-fest, we come to Hulchul (Commotion, 2004), where Akshaye’s romantic heroism is blunted by slapstick comedy to the point where he becomes a caricature of the handsome leading man.  Akshaye plays Jai, the youngest son of virulently misogynist patriarch Angarchand (Amrish Puri at his eye-poppingly gruffest) at war with the family of Laxmidevi, a strong-minded matriarch (Laxmi).  The two wealthy families would do just about anything to ruin each other, and when Jai’s family disrupts the brilliant marriage scheduled for Laxmidevi’s granddaughter Anjali (Kareena Kapoor), her family vows to get even.

Jai and Anjali, college-mates and bitter enemies, are each instructed to pretend to love the other in order to cause rifts within the other family. Cue hilarious faux-romantic love ballad, which is pretty cute:

When they eventually realize that they are being used as pawns for everyone else’s revenge, they fall in love for real and want to marry.  Their only hope for happiness, it seems, lies in convincing at least one of Jai’s bachelor brothers to defy Angarchand’s strict “no women” dictum and get married first.  Will it be Shakti (Arbaaz Khan), ever loyal to his father?  Or Kishan (Paresh Rawal), a sworn celibate?  Or will it be Balram (Jackie Shroff), whose one attempt at marriage years ago started the whole feud to begin with?  Supporting performances by Arshad Warsi as Lucky, Jai’s hapless best friend, and Suniel Shetty as Anjali’s hotheaded but ultimately sympathetic uncle Veeru round out the all-star cast.

There are so many things to hate about this movie, starting with the fact that Anjali is introduced as the best law student at the college and then, after her engagement falls apart, she is turned into a bubblehead.  In typical Bollywood fashion, we are asked to believe that the 30-year-old, balding, heavy-faced Akshaye is an innocent college student.  (Kareena gets a pass—she was only 25 at the time)  Most of the slapstick is reserved for poor Lucky, who falls out of trees, gets dumped into a pot of boiling glue and is tossed around by tall, strong men as if he were a beach ball.  And—worst of all—the romance between Jai and Anjali comes flying out of nowhere, and their chemistry is so bad that Jai’s frequent uncomfortable looks seem perfectly justified.

Still, the story is cute enough not to stop watching, there is enough winking at comedy-drama tropes (can you say Weekend at Bernie’s?)

to cause smiles of recognition, and I can never get enough of Jackie Shroff.

Akshaye, sorry to say, is the unfunniest thing ever in this film; fortunately, he’s more often called upon to be the straight man than to provide the yuks.  Here’s an example of what passes for a funny scene:  Jai and Kishan infiltrating Anjali’s family compound in the guise of a cow.

If you insist on seeing it, at least it’s free and subtitled on YouTube:

Verdict on Akshaye:  C to C-.  Play your own age, buddy.


So what have I learned?  I admit to an adoration of Akshaye’s father Vinod Khanna, a frequent bromantic pairing with Amitabh Bachchan. But my opinion of Akshaye still stands:  his work is uneven (good = Border, Dil Chahta Hai and Tees Maar Khan; OK = Aa Ab Laut Chalen; not-so-good = everything else, including the otherwise excellent Taal, where he reminded me of a limp dishrag), his hair is mostly terrible, and for some reason he strikes me as an actor who doesn’t quite know what to do with his hands, or with himself when he doesn’t have a line—there’s that unsure awkwardness about him that a better actor can turn to advantage and which he does not seem to be able to accomplish often enough.

I also find it funny that just as we were starting this challenge, one of our mutually favorite bloggers, Filmi Girl, wrote a post about Akshaye wherein she calls him a “terrible hero” and praises his TMK performance.  I love it when people agree with me.

October 22, 2014: More Chin, More Hair

We continue with our Akshaye Khanna mini-film-fest with another early one, thankfully this time with a FilmiGori’s favorite leading lady.

Aa Ab Laut Chalen (“Come, Let’s Go Back”, 1999) has Akshaye as Rohan, a good-looking, educated, upstanding young man who leaves behind his widowed mother in India as he searches for gainful employment and riches in America. Dazzled by a cousin’s success, and then betrayed by the same cousin upon arrival, Rohan reluctantly takes a taxi-driving job, where he meets the shy, beautiful Pooja (Aishwarya Rai). Pooja has her own problems: arriving in the U.S. at the invitation of her brother, she finds out that his ulterior motive is to marry her off to his boss so he can get a promotion. Rohan gallantly swoops in to rescue her, takes her back to his rooming house, and finds her a job so she can earn a plane ticket back to India.

After a while Pooja falls in love with him, but to Rohan Pooja is just a friend. In fact, Rohan has made a number of friends of good character who love him, but he is blinded by his primary goal: to get a green card and get rich.

He figures he can do both by marrying Loveleen, a sexy, wealthy NRI of decidedly non-traditional outlook, and sets to courting her while Pooja does everything she can to quash the romance.

When his friends point out that he is neglecting both Pooja and his Indian values, Rohan angrily leaves to move in with Loveleen. The broken-hearted Pooja takes a job as companion to a sick, older and supremely wealthy man, Balraj (Rajesh Khanna), who comes to see her as a daughter. Will Rohan come to his senses, or is he forever ruined by the glitz and glamour of America? Can Pooja forget Rohan and honor her new “father” by marrying his son, as he wishes? And ultimately, what is the definition of “home” and “family” and is it possible to get everything you want without losing yourself?

Akshaye does very well as the innocent, well-bred young man and even as you roll your eyes at the message that comes crashing down on your head at every opportunity, he is quite mesmerizing whenever he is onscreen—and, again, he dances!

Rai, unfortunately, has very little to do except bat her eyes and serve as a pawn in the game of others; Pooja is so unworldly that she doesn’t claim her own desires until it is too late. However, her endearingly awkward (fake-awkward, of course—we know that she dances like a dream) moves as she tries to break up a beachside date between Rohan and Loveleen makes for such a classic scene that it can be lifted from its context and still work perfectly.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film borders on the predictable and obvious despite the attempted comic relief of the Sardar and Iqbal characters, Rohan’s landlords/roommates, who are nicknamed “Hindustan” and “Pakistan” because they are always at each others’ throats. Another 1999 pairing of Ash and Akshaye, Taal, is much more subtle in its messages and with real human drama in all its complexities—and therefore more successful as a film despite Akshaye’s reduced screen time and, as I noted before, blah performance.

Aa Ab Laut Chalen is available free on YouTube.

Verdict on Akshaye:  B.  Good job with mediocre material, and an almost-negative character somewhere in the middle.

Next time we will leap to the relative present with 2004’s Hulchul.

October 18, 2014: Akshaye Khanna Film Fest, part I: Introducing Chin and Hair

The FilmiGoris differ on their opinion of Akshaye Khanna, with Jenny continually trying to convince Julie of his swoonworthiness and Julie refusing to see him as someone other than an awkward, dimple-chinned hairpiece (although they both loved him in 1997’s Border and Julie loved his over-the-top performance as an Oscar-hungry actor in 2010’s Tees Maar Khan, which Jenny has not seen because it stars her “allergy” Akshay Kumar—another divisive actor in the FilmiGoris’ world).  So Jenny has challenged Julie to watch three previously unviewed Akshaye movies of her choice and cultivate an appreciation.

Julie:  Mohabbat (“Love,” 1997) starts a run of early films with Akshaye as the handsome hero—and I grudgingly admit that he really is handsome here, with his chiseled jaw, cleft chin and (in contrast to later years) well-behaved hair.  Actually, the pool scene kinda grossed me out with all the hair…

In the story, Rohit (Akshaye Khanna) rescues the young, wealthy industrialist Gaurav (Sanjay Kapoor) from a gang attack by beating up the gang leader.  The two strike up a bromance, with Gaurav offering Rohit a job in his company and the merry Rohit serving to unclench Gaurav’s somewhat stodgy nature.  Unbeknownst to each other, both are in love with Gaurav’s sister’s best friend Shweta (Madhuri Dixit), an aspiring young singer/dancer.


Gaurav’s move is to secretly support her career (yeah, that will get her to notice him), while Rohit sweeps her off her feet with drama, fun and romance.   For her part, Shweta treats Gaurav like an acquaintance (gee, wonder why?) but is completely infatuated with Rohit (duh), whom she agrees to marry.   Her inattention to Gaurav doesn’t keep him from fantasizing, though.


It’s only a matter of time before Gaurav learns (coincidentally, moments before he plans to reveal to her that he is her secret benefactor) that Shweta the one to whom his best friend is engaged.  Recognizing the depth of their feelings and wanting them both to be happy, Gaurav simply walks away rather than confront them.

The very same evening that Gaurav decides to back off, the gang finds Rohit and attacks him, stabbing him in the stomach and throwing him off a precipice right in front of Shweta.  Gaurav feels guilty, Shweta loses her voice with the shock, and Gaurav’s sister, learning of Gaurav’s feelings for Shweta, suggests their engagement to cheer up Shweta and make her brother happy. Shweta agrees to marry Gaurav and there is hope that she is finally getting over Rohit, although she still hasn’t spoken.  Trouble soon comes in the form of a handsome car mechanic named Tony Braganza (Akshaye Khanna), a Rohit lookalike whom Gaurav hires to try and shock Shweta back into speaking…but will the ruse actually work?  and why is Gaurav suddenly getting dizzy spells?

Madhuri and Akshaye are rarely paired on film and it is easy to see why.  There’s just no chemistry between them despite her fancy dancing and his good hair and smoldering glances.  And his supposedly “melting” glance left me cold—reminded me of a hurt puppy, and not in a good way.

However, the film is still fun to watch with its more or less even balance between comedy, romance and drama, and between Madhuri’s talent and Akshaye’s rather manic youth, the songs are energetically performed (if slightly generic).


The last third of the film is, unfortunately, so dramatic that it’s hilarious…and one of Shweta’s costumes in Gaurav’s dream-sequence song will make you giggle uncontrollably. Still, if you come across it, give it a try.  It’s available free on YouTube, with subtitles.


Verdict on Akshaye:  So-so.  Not as good a performance as in Border.  Fun to watch him dance, though.

Tune in later in the week for the next film in the mini-festival, Aa Ab Laut Chalen (“Come, Let’s Go Back,” 1999).

October 6, 2014: Burma and beyond

What is an “epic?”  A book that is long and big?  A film that is intense and all-encompassing (and also long)?  A story that teases out anything and everything about the human condition?  Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace (2000) is an epic, but it is not long (less than 500 pages in the paperback edition) and it is not all-encompassing.  It is the very intimate story of three intertwined families representing three Asian cultures, Indian, Burmese and Malayan (Malaysian), and their individual and collective fates from 1885 to 1996.



The story begins in Mandalay, when Rajkumar, an orphaned Indian street kid, glimpses Dolly, a young servant in the household of the Burmese royal family, as the latter is being escorted out of Burma by the British.  Their brief interaction burns in his mind and he structures his entire life from that point on assuming that they will meet again and join their fates together.  He becomes a teak baron and boldly sets off to India to find her and bring her back to Burma.

Photographer:  Felice Beato, c. 1885

Photographer: Felice Beato, c. 1885


This romantic tale is the foil to the story of Uma, a Bengali woman joined in a proper, practical marriage to an Anglo-Indian civil servant sent to watch the Burmese royal family in their exile; her life and that of her birth family makes the Indian side of the story.  The third side of the triangle is the tale of Matthew:  he is the son of Rajkumar’s Sino-Burmese business partner and mentor, who returns from his American education with a Scandinavian wife and sets himself up as the owner of a rubber plantation in Malaya.


A Malayan rubber plantation, c. 1930s

Teak harvest using elephants, 1925

The second generation of these absorbing families is where the real meat of the story comes:  their friendships, romances, business alliances and decisions set against the backdrop of two world wars tell you everything you need to know about the human condition.

It is epic because it is the story of ordinary people caught between cultures and nationalities, defining themselves by their economic pursuits and their relationships with each other, being buffeted by decisions made endless rungs above them, and never losing hope or confidence in their own lives and futures (well, one does, but even that makes some weird sense). But The Glass Palace is no potboiler:  what in lesser hands could be just another tale of love and loss set in an exotic location (one from column A, one from column B) becomes truly glorious in the hands of a gifted storyteller.


Indian army troops in Burma, 1944


In trademark Ghosh style, each detail is meticulously researched and all historical facts are unerringly accurate.  If you want to learn about how teak is harvested or how rubber is grown and tapped, this is the place to find out.  If you want to understand the precise workings of a small Malayan village, you’ve got it here.  If you rub your hands thinking about precisely what sparked the revolt of elite Indian army units against their British masters, go no further.  It is the delicate balance struck when the realistic detail of everyday life meets sweeping historical saga, when the view from a hospital window is described more precisely than the fall of an empire, that creates the drama and pathos of a true epic.

The Glass Palace, Mandalay, Burma, c. 1885

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