Sept. 18, 2014: Women’s Rights, and Wrongs

Way back in March, in honor of International Women’s Day, I decided to get the girls together on several nights in the same week to see what the Indian cinema market had to offer on this theme, as it seemed they were making a particular effort.  It was a rather intrepid undertaking, going to see three films with women in the drivers seats, at three different venues within three days, and I thought I was up to it…but it may have been too much.

The first film we went to see was Queen at the Loehmann’s Cinema in Falls Church.  Pat and I went out in the cold snap and joined a faithful group of midweek theater-goers (it was a Tuesday) eager to find out what all the fuss was about.  I had never seen so many glowing reviews for a film, or more specifically, a performer as I had for Kangna Ranaut that week on Rediff.com, here’s an example.  I was really looking forward to watching it, and it didn’t disappoint.

Kangana Rules in QueenTo give a short synopsis, Kangna plays Rani, a lovely, yet very girl-next-door Delhi girl, quiet, modest, soft spoken, who we meet in the first days of her wedding celebrations. Along with Rani we meet her parents and her funny younger brother, Chintu and the rest of her family, and are ready to jump right in and join the party.  But, unfortunately it doesn’t last long, as her fiancée, Vijay (Rajkummar Rao), gets her to meet with him at a café, two days before the final ceremony…and calls it off!  Rani doesn’t rant, doesn’t rail at him, as one would expect, but she pleads with him, and when he still holds firm, sleepwalks through the next few days of the dismantling of her shaadi dreams.

The one thing she can’t let go of is her honeymoon to Paris and Amsterdam.  Lovingly planned to two of her favorite cities, taking that trip, even alone, is the only thing that might, she thinks, assuage the pain in her heart.  Her parents, helpless to do anything else for her, let her go.  The rest of the story is the adventures Rani has on this ten day voyage that has her discover a part of herself, find a strength that she never knew existed…a life without a man defining her.  This new freedom, while daunting at first, with practice, becomes a life-sustaining force for Rani.  She meets many new friends, sees new places and has volumes of new experiences along the way.

Lisa Haydon, Girl-WindPat and I both really enjoyed going along with her.  The performances were uniformly good, with Rajkummar being effectively swinish as the jilting boyfriend who comes to his senses, too late.  I’d seen him in sweet earnest performances in Talaash and Kai Po Che!  and had no idea that he could play scum so well… And the eye-opener of the evening for me was Lisa Haydon, who I hadn’t seen before, and she just captured focus in any scene she was in, blowing through Rani’s life in Paris like one of that city’s fabled April breezes.  She’s going to go places, I’m sure, and the resemblance to Angelina Jolie, doesn’t hurt.  But Kangna Ranaut captures our heart in every scene, whether crying after her first release of emotion with her first taste of alcohol, or dancing like a maniac on the club bar, or simply standing up to her louse of a fiancée.  She holds onto that girl at the center of the story and makes us feel it with her and root her on.  Two major thumbs up from us.  Sorry the trailer doesn’t have subtitles.  Couldn’t find one with them.

Continuing with India’s ongoing female empowerment theme, Kathy’s all jazzed up to see Juhi Chawlha opposite Madhuri in Gulaab Gang, about a woman (Mads) who fights for womens’ rights, literally and verbally!  So, off we went to Gaithersburg to catch this one.

Directed by Soumik Sen and pairing two of our favorite actresses, you’d think we would have loved this one.  I should have researched it more, though it’s been so long since we’ve had a good Juhi film, that we’d probably have gone to give her support, in any case.

Juhi Chawla the VillainessThe research would have shown me that what purported to be a based-on-real-life story had been drumming up lots of negative publicity and protesting by the purported heroine of the piece Sampat Pal Devi that didn’t bode well for the film.

A brief synopsis would tell you that Madhuri Dixit is playing Rajjo, a woman who is moved to establish an ashram in Uttar Pradesh to teach young local women how to read, support themselves and even defend themselves.  They live and work together in unity and peace (unless you count the fits of physical justice they deal out that have all the men in the area wary of the sight of pink saris coming at them), and Rajjo is encouraged by their future when an ambitious local woman politician Sumitra Devi (Juhi Chawla) comes to their ashram looking for the Gulaab Gang’s support in the upcoming election.  But Sumitra should have known that her less than noble goals would come out and you just don’t cross Rajjo’s gals, as any of the locals could have told her.  Juhi is fabulous, by the way…I’ll never take her at face value again…pretty can play devious and crafty, as well!  Brava!

Madhuri in FlightGulaab Gang dancingMadhuri is lithe and agile and suitably tough in her role, but I didn’t know how to take the film, as a protest or a comedy?  In the midst of a fight, here comes a musical number stopping all the drama.  And those sticks they are wielding are not dandia sticks, either.  They pack quite a punch, complete with martial arts style slo-mo.  I’m afraid the music didn’t make their message any more palatable to me.  I’d agree that women shouldn’t sit still and take all the abuse given them, but should they take action that make them just as brutal as the guys?  What with this and the equally iffy Dedh Ishqiya from January (Sorry, Nasseerji, you know I wanted to love it!) Left us with a sour taste in our mouths.  Thank goodness we’ve still got Irrfan to look forward to.

That would be Irrfan Khan, in The Lunchbox (Dabba – 2013). The “little crossover film that could” has Irrfan trading notes for food with an under-appreciated wife, not his, played by Nimrat Kaur.  But this slow-burning foodie favorite has been worth the wait for audiences and investors alike as it’s slowly earned it’s money back and is still playing at four theaters here in the US 29 weeks after it’s opening!  It’s an art house darling to die for.

The Lunchbox PosterThe short story: Nimrat’s character, Ila, is an unhappy housewife, trying to recapture her husband’s attention by her cooking, to not much avail. She gets advice on how to spice up her life as well as her food from the unseen “Auntie” upstairs (voiced by Bharati Achrekar). When Ila sends the newly flavorful dishes off to her hubby via the tiffin-wallah delivery boys, she waits hopefully for a change in his demeanor, but doesn’t get one. However, the next time she tries, she gets a thank you note, of sorts, from the man who actually received the food, Saajan Fernandes, widower and impending retiree (Irrfan, yummy, as usual, even when trying to hide his light behind the “moustache of middle age”).  The continuing errors of the tiffin guys give her the outlet they need for their unexciting lives.  The will she/won’t she tension of his appreciation and her need of it, keeps you nicely on the edge of your seat until the end.  Here’s a trailer.

Now, the SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen it, and intend to, don’t read the paragraph below.

As much as I liked the performances (Nawazuddin Siddiqui was adorable in this! So many faces this man has!), this film doesn’t merit the high degree of adoration the public seems to be giving it. The biggest problem I have with it would perhaps be solved by putting back in some of the length it feels like was there at one time. I’m all for women’s empowerment, but I don’t think that her character would have left her marriage with so little cause, in such a short span of time. She convinces herself that her marriage is over because her husband doesn’t like her lunches, and perhaps is having an affair? And she doesn’t even confront him about it, not once? Seems horribly abrupt, or perhaps we’ve missed a scene or two of spousal abuse. Never thought I’d be asking for that, but a cause like that would make more sense of her drastic solution, especially taking her child with her. I certainly wasn’t expecting a “make yourself happy, no matter who it hurts” ending worthy of Hollywood at its shallowest.

September 11, 2014: Krrish? KRUSHED.

Julie MKrrish 3 (2013): Stupidest. Movie. Ever.

Jenny K:  Didn’t you loooove Viveik [Oberoi]‘s pie-plate armor? NOT!!

Julie M:  Bad CGI, fight scenes that lasted WAY too long, and the most inane dialogue and plot devices ever. Hrithik [Roshan] should be ashamed of himself–and just as he was starting to make a name as a serious actor. This one made Ra.One look good, and that’s saying something.  The only reasonably entertaining part was in the beginning, where Krishna kept losing various jobs because he had to turn into Krrish and go save someone.

(and that’s all we are going to say about that)

June 21, 2014: Amitav Ghosh’s “The Ibis Trilogy” (or the first two-thirds of it)

Summer is the time when I go on reading jags, sucking in mainly historical fiction involving India that I don’t dare tackle during the year lest I lose control of my daily obligations.  It’s so pleasant to spend long days stretched out on the wicker sofa on my screened porch, drinking iced chai and imagining myself elsewhere and elsewhen.

 

Amitav Ghosh was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2008 for the first book of the tsea_of_poppies2rilogy, Sea of Poppies.  Ghosh’s 2000 blockbuster The Glass Palace had not been on my radar because it is set in Burma, a country and region that does not interest me; however, I have fallen so in love with Ghosh’s approach and style that I will also suck in Palace before the summer is out.

 

SoP is set in 1838 and is, as you might expect, about seafaring and opium and the wide variety of people involved in one or the other (and sometimes both) just before the First Opium War (1839-42).   The range of action is the well-traveled route between China, India and Mauritius, which at the time was a relatively new territory gained by the British from the French as a result of the Napoleonic wars and mostly consisted of sugar cane plantations worked by convicts and indentured servants from India.  However, the strength of the book is not its history (although it is impeccably researched and evocatively presented), but the characters who bring it to life.  Make no mistake:  despite what seems like  soap-opera plot twists this is not a potboiler—it is Literature.

 

We meet Deeti, an illiterate sharecropper in the poppy fields of Bihar; Zachary Reid, a mixed-race American ship’s carpenter promoted by necessity to second mate of an incomparable long-journey vessel, the Ibis; Neel Rattan Halder of Raskali, a Calcutta raja/zamindar made wealthy by acting as a middleman in the opium trade; Paulette Lambert, a French orphan raised in Calcutta by her botanist father; Jodu, her childhood brother-friend; Ah Fatt, half-Indian, half-Chinese and condemned to death; and my favorite character, Serang Ali, a crafty lascar (Indian sailor) who is the benevolent puppetmaster to all the other characters.  The importance—and, according to the evil British characters, the necessity—of the opium trade with China is what binds these characters together, and as their individual stories come together we get a holistic view of history that nobody learns in school.   An un-put-downable narrative ends with a cliffhanger of an action sequence; I recommend that you waste as little time between Sea of Poppies and the next installment, River of Smoke (2011), as possible; this is only so that you can successfully stay in the idiom and milieu of the period and not because the action is continuous in any way.

map_OpRoutes

In reading SoP I got an entirely new perspective on the region.  The first thing that comes out is that the early 19th century merchant culture was remarkably ethnically mixed and polyglot.  People in SoP converse in a mashup of Indian languages with French, English, Chinese and Portuguese thrown in the mix, and everything from food to clothing to ship parts has at least four different names, all used interchangeably depending on who is speaking. Ghosh even includes a glossary to help us figure it all out, and simply reading it from A to Z is worth an hour of your time.  Second, social position is everything to everyone in all cultures, always has been and always will be.  Ghosh is excellent at teasing out the nuances of who can talk to whom in what tone of voice in a way that goes beyond mere caste indications, and brings in details of everyone’s backstories to precisely place each character in their proper relationship to one another as a way to explain why things happen the way they do. Finally, why India meant so much to the British finally dawned on me:  probably because it’s an episode most historians of the 1970s and 1980s wished to skip over, it was never much talked about that opium truly financed the entire British Empire—India was turned into its (pardon the pun) cash cow.

River-of-Smoke-cover-682x1024

This theme was brought out even further in River of Smoke, which annoyingly ignores 90% of the characters so brilliantly drawn in SoP in favor of new characters who are, sadly, more one-dimensional for all that they are largely historically documented.  The action shifts to China, to the environs of Canton (including Hong Kong and Macau), from where the opium is smuggled into China and sold at exorbitant prices.  (oh, yeah, opium is illegal in China, as it is in the British empire as well)  Only two main characters from SoP reappear in RoS—Paulette and Neel, whose stories don’t overlap—but we meet an engaging new main character in Seth Bahram Modi, a wealthy Parsi trader from Bombay and Ah Fatt’s secret father.  Neel becomes his munshi (secretary) and through the pair we see the horrid (and rather dull) politicking among the British, who have been stopped from transporting their opium by the Chinese and are wracked with worry about the end of their world.  Good and evil are more carefully delineated in RoS but they are the inverse of traditional history:  the British and other Europeans are evil, Bahram is good, and Paulette’s sassy gay half-British artist friend Robin Chinnery is the only one who has any respect for the Chinese who, by the way, OWN THE FREAKING CONTINENT.  (sorry)

 

RoS is a story of men—it has to be, because China has prohibited any non-Chinese woman from setting foot on the mainland and keeps the fanqui (foreigners) penned up in a small ghetto in Canton, where they squabble and pose endlessly to the point where I hated them all and begged for their come-uppance.  Paulette, after showing herself to be a satisfyingly sparky heroine in SoP, is distressingly given very little to do in RoS and the female voice in this volume belongs to Chinnery’s stereotypically breathless manner.  A good half of the story’s unspooling is provided in the form of exhaustive letters from him to Paulette, which contrivance quickly grows annoying.  The only three-dimensional man in RoS is Bahram:  he is a man of strong Zoroastrian faith, looking for clear definitions of good and evil to guide him and not finding them; torn between his duty to his Bombay wife—knowing that all he is he owes to her family—and the freedom of living among men on the other side of the world; loving his half-Chinese son but ashamed to publicly claim him, to tell him or even find him; a shrewd businessman nevertheless socially beholden to the British, who are unaware of how much they owe to him and others like him, and scrambling for the smallest indication of their respect despite his immense wealth and indispensability.  Bahram is a metaphor for India itself.

 

Fort William, Calcutta, 1735

Fort William, Calcutta, 1735

I didn’t find RoS nearly as fascinating as SoP, but as a bridge volume to what I hope will reunite SoP’s characters and tell us how they manage in Mauritius (another locale that was never on my radar but is now fascinating me), it is still engaging.  The British get theirs (temporarily), at the beginning and end we get a peek into some of the original characters’ futures, and we continue to gain a much more nuanced understanding of global trade and its effect on ordinary people.  And once the trilogy is finished and if someone decides to approach filming it…hoo boy, with the right team it would be the accomplishment of a lifetime.

January 6, 2014: Guns and Six-Packs, Part II

Continuing from yesterday’s musings on muscles and mindless fun in the movies, with…

Julie M:  Dhoom 3 (2013)…wherein my eyeballs were drawn to Aamir and I was thoroughly bored with any scene in which he did not appear.Dhoom 3 POSTER

Plot summary: Our top-cop “heroes” from Dhoom and Dhoom 2, ACP Jai Dixit (Abhishek Bachchan) and his silly sidekick Ali (Uday Chopra) have been called to Chicago to help investigate a string of bank robberies at which inscriptions in Hindi have been found along with a clown mask.  They very quickly figure out who the robber is but they can’t understand how he does it and cannot manage to catch him.  Meanwhile, we learn the backstory of the robber:  he is Sahir Khan (Aamir Khan), who had grown up in his father’s (Jackie Shroff) Great Indian Circus in Chicago, but experienced personal tragedy when the circus was forced to close down for lack of funds, a situation exacerbated by the refusal of the Western Bank of Chicago to lend them any more money.  His plan involves robbing branches of that very bank to gain the funds to resurrect the Great Indian Circus and avenge his father’s ideas.  Aliyah (Katrina Kaif) is the dancer/heroine who is important to the success of the rebooted circus act.  The action of the film involves Jai and Ali tracking, chasing and outwitting Sahir in an attempt to bring him to justice, with a stunning revelation just before the interval that leads the second half into a completely different direction.  Take a look at the trailer. 

Jenny K:  I saw it with Pat on Christmas Day, and didn’t hate it!  Imagine!  And I was prepared to…after watching Dhoom (1), I figured that Dhoom 2 must have been some kind of fluke.

Julie M:  Nyah, nyah, I saw it first!  Not by choice…I made the error of going to see it on the Saturday before Christmas, in a major mall cinema (aka something to avoid), as part of a Meetup group that didn’t quite meet up.  So I saw it alone.

Jenny K:  Aw…it’s amazing how many Meetup.com meetings end up as solo events…sorry, though.

Katrina decorating the stageJulie M: Given the nature of the Dhoom films (of which I vastly preferred Dhoom 2) I didn’t expect much more than a bunch of action scenes, some scantily clad lasses a la Bipasha Basu in Dhoom 2, a star-of-the-moment slimmed to nothingness as the lead actress, a big hunky male star as the villain and a bad rap song.  In some ways I was vindicated, but in other ways I was very much surprised…most of them having to do with Aamir.

Jenny K:  I’d be interested to know how much of the change in tone of this outing from the last two films is because of AK’s influence, or because of the directorial switch.  Sanjay Ghadvi did the first two in the series (ostensibly tied up, at the time, in a contract to TV 18 Television) and it was given over to Vijay Krishna Acharya who had done dialogue on the first two, but is less proven as a director.

Pat and I both thought that where Dhoom 2 was a much more “good old mindless eye-candy fun” film, D3 tried for more but didn’t reach it. Its plot was very thin, and what there was was a pilfered riff on Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, which was a much more stylish movie.  Aamir seems drawn to Nolan’s projects, doesn’t he? The Ghajini/Memento treatment springs to mind. And once again, the inflating of the backstory doesn’t help the Indian version to skim along, at least I don’t think so.

Julie M:  I enjoyed the backstory much more than the front story.  Chicago was an unusual location for Bollywood to select, and it looked stunning in both the flashbacks and current timeline.  I found Jai and Ali dull to the extreme, not to mention the yawning plot holes about how they came to be called in and how they instantly figure out it’s Sahir who’s the villain.  And the ever-present motorcycles…gag me.  Although I did like when Sahir’s motorcycle turned into a jet ski.

Jet Ski TransformerJenny K:  Well, that stunt was right out of Jai’s first entrance in Dhoom 2, at least the shooting up from under the water part of it.  I found that bit really old hat.

The “yeah right” factor in the film, overall, is pretty high. Right up there with the “why bother” factor. Children aging twenty-plus years, while bankers don’t, at all. Adults holding personal grudges against impersonal institutions, in ways that don’t make sense. As you said, too many indistinguishable motorcycle chases for my taste. Why were Abhi and Uday even there? They didn’t do much good until the end, and then they didn’t foresee the literal cliff-hanger, and given the D2 end, you’d think it would be the first place his mind would go.

Julie M:  And they looked ridiculous in the opener, which was supposed to establish them as heroes.  Abhi and Uday more or less sleepwalked through their parts, to my mind.

Jenny K:  Aamir did a very nice job in his acting, as always…turning what could have been a cliché into a tour de force with the skills he displays. [spoiler] You almost never have a problem knowing which brother you’re looking at. Everything changes in his body language, his voice timbre, etc. to give us two completely different people. Not an easy thing to do. Has he done that before? I can’t remember, and I’ve seen most of his stuff. Better question, how has he avoided doing a twin flick this long?!? [end spoiler]

Julie M:  I figured that there had to be something about this role that made him agree to do it…he’s not the typical hero or villain, which meant there was a serious side to the entire story where he could do some real acting.  And we got it in spades in the 2nd half…I totally agree with all your observations and was mesmerized by what he was doing.

Sahir's disappearing apartmentI also like that he got to dance and be physical, which is not something he usually does these days. The scene at the beginning where he is buffed and waxed and wearing nothing but a derby hat, in this big empty apartment overlooking the great view of Chicago…what an entrance!  You knew he was not going to be the typical villain (although I did wonder where that apartment went, because we never saw it again through the whole movie).

Jenny K:  I also liked his musical and magic numbers, full-out, old-school
production numbers like this one.

You can see how hard he works to get just the right effect. He’s in great physical condition, pumped up to compete with the Salmans of his field, but thankfully, not so washboard-ab-like that he looked like a walking tank.  His physique seemed appropriate for the acrobatic work his job entailed.  He’s always been very graceful, and continues to show that here.

And though the chemistry with Katrina isn’t smouldering, as the Hrithik/Aishwarya version was, it worked where it was meant to.  I don’t even find the height difference between Katrina and AK that much of an obstacle. Tribute to his personal sang-froid.

Julie M:  Or lifts… Aamir’s tap dancing, while not technically accurate (yeah, they dubbed in the taps), definitely was energetic and he was committed to it.    It’s like he knew he couldn’t beat Hrithik’s dancing and decided to just be himself.

Jenny K:  Katrina’s skills weren’t really tested that much in this film. Her part is very small, and the numbers she does are good, but sort of easy thrills. She isn’t really there in the script other than that of “designated love interest”…even Jackie Shroff has a juicier role and he only does one real scene (even if it is done several times).

Julie M:  Yeah, but she was the requisite skinny babe, and even I could tell that there was a reason for her heavily accented Hindi, being as she is supposed to be quite Indo-American in this film.  I liked the ending, though…very female-empowerment, and really calls to mind some questions about her motivations throughout the film.  Did she know?  Was she manipulating?  Or was it some sort of homage/tribute?

I also enjoyed the updating and “flip” of the by-now traditional “Dhoom Machale” number.  In D2 it was Hrithik Roshan (the villain) in the opening credits, in D3 it was the girl (heroine-ish) in the closing credits. 

Jenny K:  So, overall, I’m not sorry I saw it, but wish they had gone a bit further to prop up the plot and be worthy of the painstaking work that Aamir put into it.  Oh, and I hope he burns that derby, very soon.  I find myself wanting River Song to make a visit with her six guns and fill the hat full of holes… “Derbies are cool, indeed…pow-pow-pow!”   Sorry about the Doctor Who non-sequitur.

Julie M:  It remains to be seen whether there will be a Dhoom 4, given the lukewarm (except for Aamir’s performance) critical response to D3.  Pity, because Dhoom 2 really was a lot of fun.

Jenny K:  Hmmm…I heard the box office reports, in India at least, were through the roof.  Sounded like that well ain’t dry yet.  Maybe GrandbabyB will do a cameo in the next one!

January 5, 2014: Guns and Six-Packs, Part I

Did you miss us?  In the flurry of holidays between Diwali and Christmas we saw two star hunks in two films…and not at home in front of our tvs, but in theaters, no less!  Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone in Ram-Leela and Aamir Khan and Katrina Kaif in Dhoom 3.  They generated such a flurry of words, that we’ve had to split it into two parts!  Enjoy the festivities with us.

Jenny K:  Kathy and I saw Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (A Play of Bullets:  Ram-Leela, 2013), and if I had just left at the interval, I would have said that SLB had gotten it all back, all that lushness that made Devdas a standout. It’s complete sensory overload, and he can make it all palatable. The trailer gives you an idea. 

Julie M:  I saw it too, with my friend/former student Kristy, who just loves big spectacles.  Should we do a plot summary?  I promise I’ll be quick…Ram (Ranveer Singh) and Leela (Deepika Padukone) are denizens of longtime opposing gangland clans who have all but taken over a Gujarati village.  If this sounds like the setup of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it is.  He sees her after he crashes a party at her house and falls instantly in love, they have a way cool balcony scene, they decide to run away together, her relative kills his friend, he kills her relative, and he becomes a wanted man.  And so on and so forth.  There are twists that make this film very Indian (her family’s don is her mother; he gets a masala-style, way overblown but very fun hero entry song a la Salman Khan,  and, true to form, the second half is almost a totally different story that takes Shakespeare to the “what if…” level.

Jenny K:  I wish I had known the translation of the title before I went into the theater…add to that, I was running a bit late and missed a ten minute chunk of the beginning, so I literally didn’t see the bullet-storm coming.  And so, for me, the second half just goes off on a violent tangent that changed my whole review of it. Now, I didn’t expect a happy ending or anything…it is a reworking and an updating of R&J, after all, but this overarching firestorm of violence is just too much.

I feel like SLB locked himself in a screening room, watching an endless loop of Gangajaal and Shakti and no one let him out for months! It’s changed his whole list of emotional colors in his paintbox…with all the problems I’ve had with him over the years, I’d always complain of overdoing the emotional and individual tragedy element.  He’d never be the director giving us those village-wide breast-beating, hair tearing revenge fantasies that I hate.  Yet it seems he’s into it now, and, true to Bhansali’s tendency to needless excess, he’s given us a film so relentless in its symphony of slo-mo jewels of shattering glass and varying liquids, that it overwhelmed the splendor he had worked so hard to get back.

Julie M:  It is super-violent, right from the first scene.  I wasn’t happy about that.  But I disagree that it was relentless. I found it to be very SLB-splendid even with the violence:  a visual treat.  I was totally satisfied, and having Ranveer and Deepika to look at for nearly 3 hours was just like the old days.

Jenny K:  The performances were definitely fun. Ranveer and Deepika generate some real heat onscreen, and have lots of loveliness of body, and often of face (on her part). Deepika is finally finding her groove in a big way. By the way, I ended up seeing it again, the whole of it this time, with Pat.

Julie M:  Totally agree.  Gotta say, it was the hottest, sexiest love story I’d seen in a while…talk about chemistry! And KISSING!!! I was shocked, but intrigued.  I would have preferred that he not have been bearded because I really wanted to see his lips. I’m still fanning myself lest I get the vapors. I’m still thinking about how Ranveer buffed up for this. He should do commercials for whatever program he followed, because…whew.

Jenny K:  Ranveer’s buffing was almost overdone for me. He reminded me of those weightlifters who can’t quite recognize their biceps and thighs as their own and so move very carefully and self-consciously. I actually found Khanji (Sharad Kelkar), Leela’s brother, more attractive in his bedroom scene with his wife…especially with that voice! I was quite impressed with Sharad throughout, and am definitely going to find more of his films. But I agree with you about the beard having to go…had a sort of Amish effect of flattening his chin out.  I, too, found their chemistry together to be very hot. Surprisingly so. Pat thought that Leela’s writhing on the bed in various scenes to be way too vulgar and western for her tastes. I didn’t like it so much in the “balcony scene” (a bit “too much, too soon”, there) but thought it was okay on the wedding night.

A big problem for me would have been eliminaed if SLB hadn’t felt the need to stick the “R&J Rework” tag on it. As a lifelong Bardmonger (literally one who sells the Bard for a living) that sort of challenge has me immediately poking holes in weak parallels…”Shouldn’t Juliet, at least, be just a bit more sheltered and innocent, and not quite so drenched in ‘Eau de Slut?'” And our Ram-eo, why the heck is he portrayed as an arrogant pornographer?

Julie M:  Well, we are talking the criminal underworld here. He’s an arms and porn dealer, she’s a don’s princess daughter who’s grown up with guns, seen her mother undertake all kinds of illicit activities and not batted an eye–plus her mother seems to have ignored her and allowed her to run wild in her gilded palace. And as for Eau de Slut…nobody is an innocent 14-year-old here: these are fully developed hormones running rampant in adults (well, maybe 20/25-year-olds).

Jenny K:  Just shows the weakness of trying to make it an R&J comparison in the first place, if all they can think of (I’m talking to both SLB and Vishal Bhardwaj, who does it a bit better) is making a transition between the moneyed upper classes of Renaissance Verona and a severely fictionalized whup-ass crazy blood-lusting Rajasthani underworld. Both may try to keep their princesses pure, both will probably fail (in a search for drama) but in R-L it seemed doomed from the git-go.

Julie M:  I find it interesting to compare Deepika’s two organized-crime-princess turns this year, Chennai Express and Ram-Leela. She wasn’t allowed to get horny in CE, only feisty, so she really turned it on here. I read that she was extremely embarrassed about the kinds of things she had to say and do in R-L, but man, it was like she was born to do them. Both characters were total fantasy and it worked.

Supriya Pathak as the don in Ram-LeelaJenny K: I like her turn in Chennai Express a lot better, even though in R-L she is an electrically visual presence.  In CE she was more likeable and sweet…I guess I just go for the safe in my heroines and sexy in my villainesses.  How predictable of me!

Speaking of deliciously evil, Supriya Pathak (Pankaj Kapur’s wife) is absolutely the perfect villainess…and mafia don. Revenge personified. But the inter-village hatred and plotting gets sort of confusing after a while.

Julie M:  I too got confused about the clan-warfare machinations midway through the 2nd half, and I’m not really sure how Ram and Leela decided [spoilers] that the only way to end it all was to kill each other, because that seemed a bit drastic to me. Still, it was R&J and they had to die. [end spoilers] And  for once I was mesmerized during every song. Not just the big dance numbers (of which there were THREE!) but even the slower ones. Just fascinated. I nearly fainted with all of those ladies during Tattad Tattad, and I loved how they used a variety of styles for the dance numbers (South, and Punjabi, and Bollywood). Priyanka Chopra Ram Leela Hot Item Song Photos

About the only thing that disappointed me–and I knew it would–was Priyanka Chopra’s item number, which only displayed how bad a dancer she was compared to Deepika and how plastic and bleached her face looked.

Jenny K: Poor Priyanka!  She dances better than I do (I haven’t seen her mambo, though, and mine’s pretty good!), and her acting is usually better than Deepika’s, at least so far.  Loved her in Barfi!, for example.  And Tattad Tattad was fun, but I think the person who nicknamed it “the dandruff song” had it right, seriously odd choreography!

All in all, I’d say, worth seeing, but if you’re gun-shy, I’d consider leaving at the break…who needs the extra hour and a half, anyway!  But for the other point of view, Pat said something along the lines of “three hours of my life wasted” and/or “I’d rather have my eyes gouged out than watch that again”.

Julie M:  I say stay.  I LOVED the entire thing, simply adored it, and felt that it worked, really WORKED. My friend liked it too—her first Bollywood film. I think I may have converted someone.

Nothing says Love like a Revolver

September 10, 2013: Kai Po Che! is not your usual 3-way bromance

Jenny K: When I read Julie’s reactions to her latest DVD, Kai Po Che!  (2013), I was flooded with waves of déjà vu…I know that sounded familiar to me, that plot…and it was!  I went to see Kai Po Che! at the theaters with my friend Pat back last February.  Julie was kind enough to dig up my original reactions so we can compare them…as follows.

Jenny K:  Sometimes I wish I research films more before I plunk down my hard-earned-paisa at the movie theater!  The trailers are right out there, but did I watch them?  No.  Check it out.

Not saying that I didn’t like parts of it, but I had skimmed the positive review in Rediff (planning to review it myself, so didn’t want to prejudice myself) and had seen the director’s name, Abhishek Kapoor (Rock On!) and the Chetan Bhagat tie-in…well, I went in expecting a Dil Chahta Hai/ZNMD buddy-comedy-drama about cricket, and didn’t get the sentimental feel-good film I expected.

What we expected

What we expected

Julie M:  I must say that I was expecting the same thing, based on that trailer which did seem to focus on the bromance aspect and the joyful title (a shout of triumph in Gujarati, from kite flying), and was a bit disappointed as well, but I still liked it for what it was…mostly.

What it's really like

What it’s really like

Plot summary: Omi (Amit Sadh), Ishaan (Sushant Singh Rajput) and Govi (Raj Kumar Yadav) are best friends from childhood, now all grown up and out of college but going nowhere. Their dream is to open a cricket supply store/coaching school, but they have no money. Omi ends up borrowing what they need–twice–from his rich uncle Bittoo (Manav Kaul).  The boys open the shop and it goes very well, but ironically, they start to drift apart just as they have made their dream a reality.  Omi is guilted into assisting Bittoo in his political ambitions, and finds that he likes the work and believes in Bittoo’s ultra-conservative Hindu party beliefs.   Ishaan discovers Ali (Digvijay Deshmukh), a young Muslim cricket prodigy and the son of Bittoo’s political rival, and he spends more and more time coaching him on the field and befriending him and his family.  Govi secretly takes up with Ishaan’s sister and in order to feel less bad about deceiving him (and to avoid Ishaan’s wrath:  he is very protective about his sister), spends less time around his friend.  Things come to a head when political feuds turn personal, and a final confrontation turns their mutual lives into a tragedy.

 Jenny K:  I was very off-put with Ishaan’s short-fuse, touchy character, at least until he started teaching Ali.  He kept acting as if everything was owed to him, the shop, the money to start the shop, success, everything, when all he had going for him was playing talent (so he says) and the arrogance of the young.  When he snaps at outsiders, and also his partners, I found it very hard to sympathize with his problems, at least in the first half…and in the second, the change in him comes almost too late for me.

Julie M:  That didn’t bother me so much.  I felt it rang fairly true that this washed-up (at age, what, 22? 23?) cricketer would have intense amounts of anger and feel the world owed him.  It’s not made explicit what derailed his career, but it makes sense that once he finds a protégé he would mellow out and feel that his life had purpose again.  He’s even willing to risk his friendships to keep that relationship going:  witness this scene where Ishaan steals money from the business in order to help Ali’s family rebuild after a devastating earthquake:  

Jenny K:  When the film went very political about two thirds of the way through I, not knowing enough of the local political subtleties, was rather lost about who was affiliated with whom, and why things escalated so quickly. I got the Hindu versus Muslim part, but I wasn’t sure if any of the three guys was, in fact, Muslim. Didn’t think so, but it might have made things clearer for me.

Julie M:  None of the guys was Muslim, but Ishaan was protecting Ali and had come to love Ali’s family.  He was acting in the family’s interests and that’s how he ended up where he did.  I had the same problem you did:  I felt that this final premise tearing our trio irrevocably apart seemed overly contrived and almost TV-movie-ish:  set up for the purposes of this narrative. Yes, I know it was an actual historical event but the narrative seemed squeezed in around it.

Kai-Po-Che PosterJenny K:  The actors, all relative newcomers, gave very realistic, affecting performances (Raj Kumar Yadav had done a nice bit in Talaash) but I felt the plot of the three life-long friends pooling their talents to start their business had been done better for me in Shuttlecock Boys, even though this film is more polished. It seemed to me that in stretching his scope as a director, Mr. Kapoor may have left the clarity and focus that he had achieved so well in Rock On! a film that I have watched several times, each time liking it more. Too much diversity of theme and intention is not always the best thing, especially in the shorter two hour format. Everything felt a bit thin and unsatisfying for me. I’d be interested to know how desi audiences took to it, or fans of the book.

Julie M:  Yeah, I thought that the fact it was taken from a wildly popular (but critically panned) Chetan Bhagat book would speak well to it.  Not as bad as that horror Hello that Bhagat wrote the screenplay for.  At least he surrounded himself with a team this time.

Jenny K:  Have you read The 3 Mistakes of My Life, the book this film is based on?

Julie M:  No:  I couldn’t stand attempting another CB book.  Not my style.  But his books tend to be humorous on at least one level, and this film had zero humor at all.  Only one brief scene where they all smiled simultaneously, and that’s it.

Jenny K:  Though I haven’t read any of Bhagat’s books, I’d tend to agree, having seen 3 Idiots, that this interpretation was abnormally solemn.  The songs brought some lift to the spirits, but not enough.  I liked this song, but it felt like one from DCH and sounded like a Shankar-Eshaan-Loy one from ZNMD 

Julie M:  It’s almost becoming a trope, three guys “coming of age” and facing tragedy, to the strains of singer-songwriter music.  I liked Shuttlecock Boys better—it just felt less self-conscious about being a Message Movie.

Overall I felt that KPC had a lot of potential but in the end just left me cold.  Because the action of the film was a giant flashback you know the ending–most of it, anyway–and once the political situation comes to a head you’ve figured it all out, and the denouement is almost boring.  Except for the final scene, which I felt was tender and perfect and brought me almost to tears.

I agree with you that the cast was excellent and it is worth watching for their performances, and to me, for Sushant Singh Rajput alone. And it seems that he comes by the cricket knowledge honestly:  his sister is a state-level cricketer!  He’s definitely one to watch.

Jenny K:  He sure is the flavor of the month, these days.  Did you see…he has a new movie out, Shuddh Desi Romance, that has been getting pretty good reviews. I’m planning to go see it, soon. 

Julie M:  I noticed that one too—made a mental note to follow it up in a couple of months, because by the time I get the time to go out to the theater it is likely to have left.

Aug. 19, 2013: 2JPK’s Party on the Chennai Express

Julie M:  OK…This was a special Filmi-Goris x 4 outing, with the much-storied Pat and Kathy joining Jenny and Julie IN PERSON for the opening weekend of Shah Rukh Khan’s latest, Chennai Express (2013).

In short: if you are a die-hard SRK fan this is something you will definitely enjoy. If you aren’t…well…

Jenny K: You can’t say you haven’t been warned.

Chennai-ExpressJulie M: Plot summary: Rahul (SRK) is a 40-year-old working in his grandfather’s Mumbai sweet shop, the grandfather who raised him after his parents died when he was a young boy. He’s not been allowed to go out on his own or get married, and he is the apple of Grandpa’s eye, so he’s been in a sort of prolonged adolescence his whole adult life. In fact, he and his two boyhood buddies are planning a secret bro’s vacation to Goa to scope out the lay-deez when Grandfather suddenly passes away. Grandmother tasks Rahul with taking the ashes ALL the way to southeast India–to G’pa’s ancestral village, it seems–in the exact opposite direction from Goa. He and the gang hatch an alternative plan that involves throwing Grandma off the trail by SEEMING to board a southward train–the Chennai Express–while in reality escaping at the next station to turn right around and go beachward.

Well, life throws Rahul a curve and he ends up “rescuing” Meena (Deepika Padukone), a Tamil don’s daughter, who is being dragged back to Daddy after escaping a forced engagement, only to find himself also dragged southward with her and her captors. Escape is impossible, as is Meena, so Rahul has only his charm and his wits (both in short supply) to try and get himself out of a number of scrapes, including a looming fight to the death with the seriously large dude Meena is engaged to, all the while accompanied by a very large urn containing Grandpa’s mortal remains.

Running for the trainThis is one slapstick film complete with mud-dunkings, comic car chases and misunderstandings arising from language barriers. SRK mugs his way through situation after situation with his trademark babble-banter that to me seemed to work better when he was younger, all the while somehow making the girl fall in love with him. Too slapstick for me in the first half; luckily the 2nd half finds Rahul eating some hero pills offstage and finally sacking up.

Jenny K:  Mud-dunkings and comic car chases are director Rohit Shetty’s oeuvre, as I understand it (Golmaal…need I say more?). Should we expect it to make sense?

Kathy K:  Yes, the plot is ridiculous and its 30 minutes too long (especially when they are beating SRK to a pulp), but as a die-hard SRK fan, he once again saved the show for me.

Pat B: I have to go with Julie on this one. There were a few humorous moments like when Meena makes the comment about Rahul being fifty (the look on his face was worth it)

Jenny K:  She actually said “having no mother for fifty years” right after he had said she died when he was eight…so I don’t blame him for looking aghast when she was saying he must be fifty-EIGHT!  It was funny.

Pat B:  And the DDLJ music playing while she is running for the train (and then the others running for the train)…I smiled and chuckled. But, the other overdone mugging stuff made me uncomfortable and I felt it was done for lack of a better script and more clever scenes.

Julie M: SRK was my least favorite part of the film; but there was plenty of other stuff to like. The scenery, for example, was fabulous. The two big dance numbers showcase all that is fun about Bollywood from about 10-15 years ago, particularly this one.

Pat B: Oddly, I wasn’t that taken by the big dance scenes. I liked the old style grandeur of them, but I just was less than impressed by the dance choreography. The one scene I did fall for was the beautiful romantic scene with the song, “Titli”, between the lovers. Stunning! (The one where Kathy tapped me on the shoulder and nodded her head….yeah, Shah Rukh was totally gorgeous in that scene).

Jenny K: You probably like “Titli” better because Farah Khan choreographed it, and it’s more Bolly-Traditional.  The “1-2-3-4 (Booty Shake)” number [at the bottom of the post] is Kolly-Traditonal, the whole way  — from the item girl, Priyamani (who I thought was fabulous!) to the choreographer, Raju Sundaram, who is Prabhu Deva’s brother.

The cinematography was really lush, I was especially seduced by the vistas at the top of the temple stairs in the scene right before Pat’s song begins (nice scene, acting-wise, as well) and the scenes of the tea plantations, almost as lovingly shot as in last month’s Paradesi. Despite the “Kashmir” title of Julie’s song, I’d bet they were the same fields in Paradesi, which were supposed to be in Tamil Nadu…if anyone bothered to report on locations. Bother.

But just like cotton candy, this movie has faded from my consciousness along with its fairly shallow sweetness. Nothing too offensive about it, except some of SRK’s wardrobe (what is it with all those spray painted waistcoats in the final number?!? Yuck!), yet nothing too memorable.

Pat B: Gone for me too, Jenny, except that one beautiful song and scene. I am so happy I saw that on the big screen. And the lushness does make me want to go to South India…great travel promo.

Kathy K:  What would have completed this vintage trip down masala lane would have been one or two more full songs.  Have you noticed how the new movies are getting away from these?  Sigh.  The film had a good item number, but the other songs could have been placed better.  It seemed end-loaded with dance numbers.

Julie M: I didn’t even mind the now-obligatory rap song over the ending credits.

I also liked a running gag wherein the two leads must communicate in Hindi through song to throw off the bad guys, who only spoke Tamil, allowed the audience to have fun recognizing classic Bollywood tunes. And I was impressed with Deepika Padukone, despite her casting as the typical feisty love interest that might have been played by Kajol back in the day, actually showed some acting talent.

Jenny K:  I agree. I think Deepika has matured in her performances quite a bit. Shah Rukh was charming in the second half but the first half’s humor, as I expected, was too broad for me and had a slightly annoying aftertaste to all of it. While I laughed at the “Now you have annoyed me so much that I have to go sit down” bits, when they kept repeating, I found myself thinking that this stuttering buffoon before me was an incarnation that Shah Rukh had left behind him long ago. Why did he feel the need to revisit it?

Chennai-Express OutfitsJulie M: I did not hate it and found plenty to like, but the ending and the EXCRUCIATINGLY LONG AND BLOODY fight scene ruined all my goodwill for this film.  Plus, I found the ending full of mixed messages. “Give your daughters agency, but let me have her only after I’ve successfully fought for her.” WTF? It would have made much more sense if Rahul had foregone the “we’re modern now” speech, fought the big scary dude for his own reasons [self-respect, etc.], won, and then said “By the way, Dad, I shouldn’t have had to do this to win your daughter if I was who she wanted all along.” I also feel that they did not sufficiently set up Rahul as an arrested-adolescent early in the film, which would have made the 2nd half make WAY more sense narratively (stepping up to be the next generation of manliness once Grandpa has died).

Pat B: I think it was a bad redo of the end of DDLJ.

Jenny K: But, as Pat would agree, half the enjoyment of the film was getting the audience to reference old SRK nostalgic classics like DDLJ in the first place (his last line of the movie before the credits was that title, wasn’t it?). But I go along with consensus that  the end fight could have been shortened or skipped altogether…I know the guys like that sort of thing, but I really felt that I’d seen it all before, substituting sticks for shovels. Check that scene out and see what I mean.

Plus, cinematically, there were some very odd effects.  Perhaps it’s just loaded with Tamil film references that I don’t know yet…like the credit song’s homage to Rajinikanth. I mean, those multiple shots of our hero from the feet up, as he is walking on glass…look awfully similar to this one, yes? Look at 1:00 and 1:20. All that slo-mo circular pan on RK, with him frozen in mid kick, just makes me wonder if his martial arts are, shall we say, augmented, a good percent of the time. Sacreligious, I know…

Julie M: I did like the “walking on glass” bit. It was so contrived and in such an obvious way that it tickled me, because they knew they were working with a trope.

So, all in all, it all added up to a meh-plus for me. Not something to search out, particularly, but fun if you have the opportunity. Wait for the DVD version; a big screen is not necessary for this one.

Kathy K: On a final note, just go to relax and listen to the wonderful audience laugh at the inside language, jokes and applaud when SRK comes on screen.

Pat B: It gave me great dreams that night. Move over, Gauri.

Kathy K: Of course, there are his eyes, lashes, nose, lips…… Ouch! Jenny just slapped me!

Jenny K:  Sorry…sometimes drastic measures are necessary.

When we began this, I thought we were all grown women….but, I guess, Shah Rukh can make women of all ages forget for a while.

By the way, don’t click the video if you don’t want to be singing the chorus for the next week.

 

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