April 6, 2013: A Devgan Duet ~ Ajay and Sonali

Finally digging to the bottom of our cinematic leftovers, Julie looks at two titles pairing Ajay Devgan and Sonali Bendre, both serious films in which Sonali looks stunning and Ajay is sensitive.  We’ll see which one is better…

Julie M:  Finished Zakhm (Wound, 1998). A political weeper, if there is such a thing!

Jenny K:  Well, what would you call the last Republican run at the White House?

Julie M:  Plot summary: Ajay (Ajay Devgan) is a successful songwriter with a beautiful wife, Sonia (Sonali Bendre). There are numerous religious riots going on. Sonia is pregnant and is preparing to leave India and return to London to raise their child in what she perceives to be a safer environment, while Ajay is committed to India and wants her to stay. As she packs to leave Ajay checks in with his brother Anand (Akshay Anand). He is worried that their mother, who lives with them, has not returned from the temple. Anand is a ranking member of a fundamentalist Hindu political party led by Subodh (Ashutosh Rana). Just then there is a news report that an elderly Hindu woman has been attacked by a Moslem youth mob and set on fire outside of a temple: on a hunch Ajay finds the hospital and yes, it is indeed his mother.

Jenny K:  Oh, yeah, I remember that scene now…made me cringe, very painful.

Julie M:  While he waits on news of her condition he flashes back to his youth–he seems to be around 12 or so–and we learn that his mother (Pooja Bhatt) was the beloved mistress of a well-known film producer Raman Desai (Nagarjuna Akkaneni), who cannot marry her because of his mother’s strenuous objections–she threatens to set herself on fire whenever he mentions it. Nevertheless, they still find time to be together, as is shown in this lovely number.

When Raman’s mother forces him to marry another woman, it sets off a chain of events leading to the exposure of a secret that rocks young Ajay’s world and directs the course of not only his life, but that of his mother and brother as well.

Back in the present, Subodh, with the help of a corrupt and compliant police officer, is plotting to use the imminent death as a political tool while Anand keeps trying to kill the one member of the mob that has been taken into custody. When the mother does pass away, the hospital is the scene of both family and political drama as Anand learns of this secret and has a decision to make about his mother’s final journey.

A heavily dramatized and unabashedly heart-tugging story of the impact of hatred and bigotry on individuals, Zakhm nevertheless is mesmerizing to watch. Ajay Devgan is great at being stoic and emotional at the same time.

Jenny K:  Absolutely…I miss the days when he used to do strong and relatively silent, you’re mesmerized by his eyes and his intensity, even when he’s crazy, like in Deewangee(2002).  He can even have that effect on the viewer, when he does moody and silent in films like Qayamat: City Under Threat (2003), which I can’t recommend for anything (it was pretty darned bad in oh, so many ways), but his almost totally silent portrayal had me frequently in stitches as an ex-con who is broken out of prison against his will, and is doing a job for some other criminals, just so that they will leave him alone!  Wish I could find a clip…ah well, looking back through it (youtube has it unsubtitled, in parts) I’m not sure what, exactly I found funny, except in overdramatic scenes like Neha Dupia, Ajay’s old flame, calling him back from the brink of death. . Basically, I just miss Ajay Serio-Tragedy Man, over his more recent avatar as Zany-Comedy-King.  Bleh.  His comedy talents have almost always seemed more effective as straight man, to me.  Oh, well, what do I know?

Julie M: Anyways, back to Zakhm, Sonali Bendre is stunningly beautiful but really only has two scenes, neither of which she particularly shines in–the whole sub-plot involving her could easily have been left out, as the impact of the film would still have worked if Ajay had been single. I understand that this film was a personal tribute from director Mahesh Bhatt to his own mother, whose story parallels that of the plot of the movie.

Zakhm is available free on YouTube, although without subtitles.

Jenny K:  Aside from that mother in the hospital scene, but it’s not really coming back to me.  I watched it quite a few years back. Maybe I have a four hundred movie ceiling, and now they are starting to push the older ones out as the new ones come in! I like Pooja Bhatt…particularly in Border with Akshaye Khanna. In your clip she reminded me a bit of Shabana Azmi.

Julie M:  Pooja was AMAZING in this. Just perfect.

[a week later]

Julie M:  Finished our second Ajay Devgan/Sonali Bendre pairing, Tera Mera Saath Rahen (You and I Will Stay Together, 2001). I must say, I ended up surprised at the ending because I would have predicted something else entirely. Here’s the trailer.  

Plot summary: Raj (Ajay Devgan) is your basic nice guy in his late 30s, hardworking and single, whose life centers around taking care of his severely disabled younger brother, Rahul (don’t know who played him, sorry). Rahul has cerebral palsy, and although he is 15 he is the size of an 8-year-old with the mental age of a 3-4 year old: needless to say he is completely dependent on Raj, and they make a great pair

We are not told the circumstances of how Raj inherited this duty, but basically parents are out of the picture. They live in a close-knit apartment community, all of whom love Rahul, and they are particularly friendly with the next-door neighbors, the crazy and dramatic Guptas. Suman Gupta, the grown daughter, has a significant crush on Raj but he just considers her a friend.

Jenny K: Starting to come back to me now…for some reason I thought that this was a remake of something, but I can’t find any reference to that.  Maybe I’m thinking of that Main Aisa Hi Hoon (2005) from I Am Sam (2001) remake, with Ajay, Sushmita Sen and Esha Deol.

Julie M:  One day Raj’s ex-boss introduces Raj to his niece, Madhuri (Sonali Bendre), with a view to the two of them marrying. They hit it off and Madhuri gets along well with Rahul, so they do a lot of stuff together. Love grows, but when Madhuri suggests that Rahul is getting too big and strong for Raj to handle and might be better off in an institution Raj breaks off their friendship. Meanwhile, Suman takes off with another boy, of whom her family does not approve; she ends up pregnant and back at home after he leaves her.

Raj and Madhuri are miserable without each other. When she plans on returning to Delhi, he realizes he wants to marry her and places Rahul in a rehab institution for both his own good and according to Madhuri’s preference. Whether this is the best thing for everyone is the subject of the rest of the story.

Spoilers (highlight to read): I knew that putting Rahul in an institution would not work–not just from Rahul’s perspective but from Raj’s. In the film it comes out that Raj is dependent on Rahul for his own sense of identity; also, it makes sense that once Rahul is out of the picture Madhuri would realize that everything she loves about Raj stems from his relationship with Rahul. What surprised me, though, was that after Raj told Madhuri that he was taking Rahul out of the institution and therefore could not marry her under her draconian conditions, Madhuri came back to Raj and agreed to take them as a package deal. I could have sworn that the beautiful and worldly Madhuri would fade into the sunset and Raj would end up with the goodhearted, but pregnant and tragically abandoned, Suman, who had already proven that she was up to the task of dealing with Rahul. Their families would take down the wall between their apartments and be one big happy clan. But no: Suman stays fallen, because apparently in India it is not allowed for someone who got pregnant out of wedlock to have a happy ending with the man she loves. And I guess in 2001 it highlighted the “new” condition of families taking care of and loving disabled children, where in an earlier era they would have gone right into an institution from birth. [end spoilers]

Ajay Devgan was great as the torn Raj. Sonali Bendre was gorgeous as usual and thankfully had a better role in this than in Zakhm, but still was called upon to do little more than look beautiful and appear in two romantic song picturizations. It was so weird to see AD as a romantic hero in the songs when he is far from it in the rest of the film…  

Anyway, yet another movie where Ajay puts someone he loves in an institution but regrets the decision and decides to put his own life aside to take care of the loved one. The other one was You Me aur Hum with his wife Kajol as the victim of early-onset Alzheimers. Only he could pull it off without it looking ridiculous or maudlin. I give it a Meh+: overly melodramatic for me, but for someone else it is probably OK and they would even enjoy it.

Jenny K:  Thanks for doing all the heavy lifting on this post Julie…not that you minded much when it was Ajay, I think.  I promise I’ll do more active watching for the next one!

February 13, 2013: Good cop, good cop

Our catching up continues…in the last months of 2012 we watched several films with good cops (two of them Aamir Khan!) and couldn’t help comparing them.

Julie M:  Finally finished Zanjeer (The Chain, 1973)…awesome film! Had everything: love, revenge, gangsters, fight scenes, and Amitabh Bachchan, looking hot in a police uniform. It doesn’t get much better…here’s the trailer, unfortunately not subtitled: 

Plot summary: Young Vijay (isn’t his name always Vijay in these things?) Khanna witnesses the murder of his parents one Diwali and as he grows to adulthood, his nightmares are haunted by an image of a man on a galloping white horse for some unfathomable (to him) reason. We know why, though…because the murderer was wearing a chain bracelet with a horse charm. Raised by a sympathetic cop, Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) becomes a police officer, known among his peers for his unorthodox ways and steadfast dedication to wiping out crime in all its forms, which often gets him into trouble with his higher-ups. At a new posting he befriends, and reforms, the local gambling boss Sher Khan (Pran) and saves Mala, a damsel in distress (Jaya Bhaduri), although the actual amount of distress she was in is doubtful, since she’s pretty good at knife-handling. Here’s the meet-cute scene between Vijay and Sher Khan. 

Jenny K:  Did you ever see Amitabh in the film Dev? He and Om Puri have a great good cop/corrupt cop duel in that one, and it has the added benefit of being one of the few movies I couldn’t fault Kareena in!  BigB isn’t quite as young as in Zanjeer, but I think I prefer his older avatar in any case.

Julie M: I’ll take him any way I can get him…but so very handsome when young and that drunk scene in Satte pe Satta always cracks me up and makes me fall in love with him all over again…anyway, Vijay also receives anonymous phone calls alerting him to when shipments of tainted liquor are brought to town, and he becomes a local hero to all except for the criminals running the hooch, headed by a crime boss named Teja (Ajit).

After Teja menaces Mala and she barely escapes with her life, Vijay rescues her (again) and places her in protective custody with his brother, where she gradually loses her “street” ways and falls in love with Vijay. As the case against Teja grows, Vijay gets more and more determined to wipe him out…until the day he himself is framed for bribery, thrown in prison and gets kicked off the force. He knows Teja is behind it, and grudgingly accepts Sher Khan’s help to trap Teja into a final confrontation.

I love this scene where Sher Khan expresses undying bro-hood with Vijay:  Pran not being particularly graceful, it has that awkward yet mesmerizing improvisational quality of Tevye’s big number “If I Was a Rich Man” from Fiddler.

Despite some totally ridiculous hand-to-hand combat, Zanjeer is a mesmerizing picture of a man who must reconcile his past and present and somehow exorcise the bitterness from his soul in order to be truly happy. I highly recommend that people do a BigB marathon by watching (in this order) Zanjeer, Deewar and Sholay (although I was not a fan of Sholay personally, it’s important to see); it’s a wonderful snapshot of what makes Amitji a star and how he defines a cinematic generation.

Since this was so perfect I’m not sure I want to see the upcoming remake, although seeing Sanjay Dutt as Sher Khan would be terrific. Prakash Raj as Teja, Priyanka Chopra as Mala, and hunky Telegu actor Ram Charan Teja as Vijay (confusing) round out the remake cast. It looks like a very faithful update, down to the songs even, which makes me wonder why it even has to be done.

Zanjeer is available free on YouTube with subtitles here.

And speaking of squeaky-clean ACPs…

Julie MSarfarosh (Martyr, 1999) was definitely a treat! Great performances all around, with standout roles played by Aamir Khan and Naseeruddin Shah. I can see why you bought this one…combines your two boys into an irresistible experience.

Aamir Khan is Ajay Singh Rathod, a squeaky-clean ACP newly arrived in Mumbai with a tragic backstory that made him drop his dream of being a doctor to devote his life to wiping out crime, particularly terrorist-related activity. Rathod is good–too good–his reputation precedes him and the bad guys in town scramble to cover their tracks. Nevertheless, with luck and skill he manages to penetrate an international gun-smuggling ring that reaches deep into the ISI–Pakistan’s version of the CIA. Meanwhile Rathod is dealing with his higher-ups’ prejudice against his man Salim (Mukesh Rishi), a Muslim whom they suspect to be sympathetic to the terrorists, the sudden reappearance of his college crush Seema (Sonali Bendre), and an unexpected friendship with his ghazal-singing idol Gulfam Hassan (Naseeruddin Shah) facilitated by Seema, who is his agent in Mumbai.  The action of the film centers on Rathod’s outsmarting of the criminals and bringing them to justice, but rather than being about one guy’s quest it’s almost an ensemble piece with some really outstanding performances.  And the guy gets the girl in the end.

Things I loved:

1) you meet and get to know Ajay in a sweet homey setting, kissing his Maa, playing with his nephew and getting all excited about scoring tickets to see Gulfam perform, then flash back to his college relationship with Seema as “Ajay Singh”, all the while seeing scenes of brutal terrorism in the present day. You think, OK, this ordinary guy is somehow going to be involved, maybe he’ll get kidnapped by the terrorists and end up saving the day, when BOOM, in almost a throwaway scene you learn that he is in fact the feared “Rathod” that all the goondas have been discussing, and just like that, Aamir’s face suddenly gets more mature, more serious, and you just know that he is going to be the hero in more ways than one. This is his Raakh character, only with a badge.

2) They get Aamir wet–not just wet, but DRENCHED–in the obligatory erotic love song. I mean, wow. Aamir just doesn’t do that in his later films. You’ve already fallen in love with him because of his character, and now this? It’s almost too much to take. 

3) Naseeruddin Shah. He gets two great speeches, one in each half of the film, and delivers them perfectly. But why (spoiler alert) did his character have to bite the ear off a baby goat?! ew. (end spoiler)

4) Gritty realism without gratuitous violence. I read that they did a lot of research on the actual cross-border arms trade and many of the details are scarily accurate.

5) Mukesh Rishi. He overacts in one scene, but otherwise I liked the presence of this giant–or maybe relative giant, because Aamir is such an elf. Apparently he was in Koi…Mil Gaya and I didn’t notice him.  Here’s his big scene with a bit too much intensity: 

So I guess my overall opinion is YES YES YES! I understand a Sarfarosh 2 may be in the works…with or without Aamir…???

Sarfarosh is available free on YouTube, in 16 sections, with 1 commercial per section. (sorry)  Here’s part I:

 

Oh–and about the title–still trying to figure out who the martyr is. Is it Ajay, who destroys his youthful dreams in order to defend his country? (spoiler alert) Is it Gulfam, who kills himself in the end so as not to destroy his own reputation (which Ajay seems to have protected after his death anyway)? Is it Salim, who alienates himself from other Muslims to do what he thinks is right, which is protect Ajay and India? (end spoilers)  Lots of martyrs in this film.

Jenny K:  Perhaps the title is a more generic “Martyrdom”? With all those examples, I’d bet it is. Glad you liked it. It’s always been one of my favorites, and I’d have bought it, even if I hadn’t been trying to own all of Aamir’s films at that point in my mania.

I really think that Sonali Bendre is lovely in this one…a real vision. I’m surprised he hasn’t done more with her. I also love the cinematography, especially the shots of the camels in the desert.  (aside to readers:  we review two more films with Sonali Bendre in a future post)

Julie M:  “Martyrdom” would be “Sarfaroshi” or is that more like “Sacrifice”? patriotic song Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna from The Legend of Bhagat Singh and similar. Maybe the title is more like “Sacrifice,” then.  Ajay sacrificed his personal desire, Gulfam sacrificed his nationality (remember he was upset that in Pakistan he was always a refugee).

Jenny K:  Speaking of cops, I can’t believe that I haven’t reviewed Talaash yet!  What a delinquent I am!  I saw it the first weekend out, and it was a really effective piece of suspense film making.  Here’s the trailer.  

Julie M:  I know, I was supposed to see the same weekend as you, but sorry, I got sick!

Jenny K:  Aamir Khan plays another noble police inspector, Surjan Singh Shekhawat, who  is standing against all corruption.  Could we expect anything less?  But he’s suffused with an air of melancholy, that we discover is caused by the death of his young son in a boating accident.  Both he and his wife Roshni (Rani Mukherji) blame themselves for relaxing their vigilance and letting him die.

Work is the only thing that distracts Surjan at all, and it begins to put more and more distance between himself and Roshni, especially when he begins investigating the death of a famous movie star in a crazy, apparently drunken, car crash.  To Surjan, the details just don’t add up, and he begins digging into the sordid underbelly of the red light district, looking for clues.  He’s helped by the proverbial hooker with a heart of gold, Rosie, (played by Kareena Kapoor) who nurses Surjan along the path to the right answers, and heals him, as well.  But things just aren’t as they seem…not at all.

Julie M:  She’s a hooker AGAIN?  Wasn’t Chameli enough for her? I guess she didn’t have a heart of gold there, but still.  

Jenny K:  The performances in the film are uniformly good, particularly Aamir’s and Kareena’s, who establish a palpable chemistry that I haven’t seen between them before…and I don’t see often with KK, at all.  Props to her, she knows just how to strut it and burn with a teasing warmth that captures Surjan and doesn’t let him drop the case, even when he knows he should, to keep his sanity and his marriage.  There’s a tangential plotline with a poor denizen of the brothels, Tehmur, played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who is in love with one of the whores, and he is determined to free her, at any cost.  Nawazuddin, as you know, is one of my favorites…though why he plays so many crippled characters, I’m not sure.  Got to get The Gangs of Wasseypur and see whether that one is a stronger personality.  I loved him in Kahaani as that semi-corrupt police inspector and he just burned up the screen.  He doesn’t, in my opinion, ever give a bad performance.

Julie M:  I don’t have enough experience with him to say whether he is one of my faves, but I loved him in Kahaani, so I will take your word for the rest!  Although Gangs of Wasseypur is not on my list.  Anything with “Gangs” in the title I avoid on principle.

Jenny K:  You definitely should see Talaash though. Even if I don’t like AK’s moustache in it, hides too much of his face for me, but it actually made Pat like him more. She says she can now see him more as a husband than as a boyfriend-type. I like him any way he comes, and it’s nice that he doesn’t seem quite as angry as his more recent films have portrayed him. I particularly enjoyed seeing Rani on screen again. It’s been too long!

Julie M:  Found it on YouTube but without subtitles.

January 9, 2013: Stand By Your Man

Julie M:  Clearing the decks from 2012, we found a few movies we watched but never discussed.  We’ll take them in logical groups…starting with this one, in which we compare two older movies and a more recent one, where women refuse to give up on their guys.

Jenny K:  Oooh, I feel all Tammy Wynette…got to preserve my objectivity…so, the question is, do the men deserve it?   Usually not.

Roja Movie PosterJulie M:  Let’s talk about that after we go over the films!  While riding the exercise bicycle this week I watched Roja (1992), with the charmingly innocent Madhoo at the tender age of 20. I found it sweet and old-fashioned, a story of stand-by-your-man-until-the-terrorists-return-him that we see so often. [snork]

Jenny K:  Nothing will carry you through the pedal-miles like a classic ransom movie, I always say…

Julie M:  Roja (Madhoo) is a naive and sheltered village girl, given to play and girlish plotting to marry off her older sister Lakshmi (Vaishnavi) to the eligible city bachelor Rishi (Arvind Swamy) who has come a’courting. But the best-laid plans go wrong… Lakshmi confesses her love for another, and to save her family’s honor Rishi pretends that she rejected him and proposes instead to Roja. Within a day she is married and must learn to live with this stranger and his mother in the big city.

Just as they have gotten used to each other and shyness is turning to love—i.e., in about a week–Rishi is sent to Kashmir on a secret government mission and takes Roja along. Unexpectedly, and before her very eyes, he is kidnapped by terrorists (aka Kashmiri freedom fighters), who want to use him as a hostage against the release of their brutal and imprisoned leader. The government’s policy of “no giving in to terrorists” is unacceptable to Roja, and she begins a campaign of pestering, weeping and going over everyone’s head to try and get them to effect the exchange.

Will Roja ever see her beloved husband again? Will the terrorists kill Rishi if their demands aren’t met?  I really enjoyed the fact that the whole “terrorist” definition was blurred.   This scene was a bit disturbing, though.

Jenny K:  This was the first movie I saw Pankaj Kapur in (Liquat).  He’s a given for any director who needs a multi-layered interpretation.

Julie M:  Mani Ratnam direction, lush scenery both in Tamil Nadu and Kashmir, heart-thrilling music by AR Rahman before he became superfamous, and one absolutely superior song.

But I prefer the Tamil version.

Romance, drama, politics…everything one could want! After so many modern-kid romances it’s nice to see something with old-timey values, nationalism and a female star who isn’t size 0 and/or nipped and tucked beyond recognition (sorry Genelia, Priyanka and Deepika). Enjoyed it very much although I thought at first I wouldn’t, and I think I’d like the undubbed Tamil version better because of the language. Thanks for the recommend!

It’s available free on YouTube, subtitled,  in 13 parts. Here is Part One.

Jenny K:  I’d give odds that Rahman writes the music with the Tamil lyrics in his head.  They always “sound” better, if you know what I mean.  Not that I understand either well enough to really judge, but…I’m glad you liked Roja!  Early Mani Ratnam films are particularly nice. They, literally, don’t make ‘em like that any more.

Julie M:  Even though the title was her name, they gave approximately equal screen time to the kidnapped Rishi and Roja’s efforts to get him back.

[a couple of weeks later…]

Parineeta Classic: Meena Kumari and Ashok KumarJulie M:  Old love stories are the best, aren’t they? I watched the Bimal Roy film Parineeta (The Fiancee, 1953) over the past few days, and somehow, even though it was from 1953, it felt fresh. And this was my first extended experience with the luminous Meena Kumari and the fabulous screen chemistry she had with Ashok Kumar.

Jenny K:  Didn’t I lend you Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, yet?  Guru Dutt directed her in one of her most iconic roles!  Lots of undeserved female devotion in this film, too.  It would fit right into this week’s theme, but, no spoilers!  Definitely in the next shipment, you’ll love her in that one.  It’s on Youtube for free, but the captions are really odd. 

Julie M: In Parineeta, Lalita (Meena Kumari) is an orphan living with her uncle and his large family of all daughters. The middle-class family has recently fallen on hard times, her uncle having mortgaged all he had in order to marry off his eldest daughter and now unable to pay back the loan. The loan is held by his wealthy next-door-neighbor, a professional moneylender, whose family is longtime friends with Lalita’s uncle’s brood. The moneylender secretly does not want the loan repaid, as he wants to collect on the house and give it to his recently returned son Shekhar (Ashok Kumar), who is of marriageable age (as is Lalita).

Lalita and Shekhar’s neighbor-friendship turns to love and a secret promise to marry.  Here’s a clip of the moment just after Shekhar playfully places the bridal garland around her neck; ironically, her little cousin is at the same time commanding all to participate in a mock bridal ceremony for her dolls. 

Jenny K:  Wow!  The lyrics to that song sort of sum up Lalita’s entire outlook on love and marriage, don’t they?

In the novella the movie is based on, by Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay, that little girl would have been a more likely Lalita than Meena.  The girl in the story was thirteen, whereas both Shekhar and Giren/Girish were schoolmates, both 24.  So when Shekhar drops the garland playfully around Lalita’s neck and then kissed her, would it be unreasonable for her to think she was married?  This was written in the early twentieth century when child marriage was still legal in India.

Julie M:  Oooh, good point.  Not having read the novella I didn’t know that. It did seem awfully weird that Lalita would assume that she was already married when even Shekhar didn’t think that.

Parineeta Updated: Vidya, Saif and SanjuJenny K:  Knowing that adds much more sense to the story than any of the adult behavior in these movies, yours and the 2005 version that I rewatched recently, starring Saif Ali Khan, Vidya Balan and Sanjay Dutt.  Even given its shift to the 1960’s, the plots are very similar.  Please continue.

Julie M: Just then another handsome and wealthy–but lower-caste–young man, Giren (Asit Baran), enters the picture. Giren falls in love with Lalita and offers to give Lalita’s uncle the money he needs to pay off his debt, then when Shekhar’s father becomes enraged at his plans being thwarted and cuts off contact, offers to move the entire family to one of his homes far away. Lalita’s uncle is grateful and half-promises Lalita to Giren in marriage. Lalita feels she cannot refuse, and Shekhar picks a fight with her, saying she has allowed herself to be sold. After they have left his marriage to another girl is fixed by his family while he pines for Lalita, realizing that his own actions have driven her away but seemingly helpless to do anything about it. 

Jenny K:  In the 2005 version, Lalita (Vidya) helps to confuse the matter by nobly/idiotically keeping most of her family turmoil away from sensitive musician Shekhar’s (Saif’s) tender ears.  She thought he wouldn’t be able to stand it if he found out what a louse his father was. Seems Daddy Dear had hatched this major plot to turn the neighbor’s immense if neglected haveli into a “Heritage Hotel” when he foreclosed on the unsuspecting family.  Ignorance of her motives, plus confusion over her marital state,  makes Shekhar’s mistakes more forgivable… if still stupid.  And it does give them an excuse for a wonderfully poignant love song in the latter half of the film.

Julie M:  Will family honor and gratitude win out over true love? Will Lalita ever stand up for herself? Will Shekhar finally grow a pair and claim his original bride? You pretty much know the answer (no, not really and yes but not in the way you think) but how it plays out is heartfelt.  Giren is a real stand-up guy and under normal circumstances Lalita would have been perfectly happy to end up with him, and why she holds out for the volatile and coddled Maa’s-boy Shekhar is beyond me. Still, if you buy into the entire premise it’s a fascinating movie and provides a good look into Indian culture and values.

Jenny K:  Guess we’re just looking at things through today’s eyes, but am I wrong, or isn’t the ever-hesitating rich boy lover a staple in Bengali literature and film…can we say Devdas (same author)?

Julie M:  You know, the entire time I kept thinking Devdas but thought I was crazy.  Thank you for confirming my mania.

Jenny K:  And Rabindranath Tagore was full of stories of unappreciated, lonely wives/widows as in Choker Bali, put on film in a faithful if plodding version by Rituparno Ghosh starring Aishwarya Rai.  And how’bout  Paroma by Aparna Sen!  The beautiful melancholy must seep into the Bengali blood along with the humidity of the Hooghly River.

Julie M:  I think you’re on to something with the Bengali cultural comments.  The 2005 version of Parineeta went to great extremes to locate the story in Bengal right from the first shot…with Amitabh Bachchan’s lovely voice…

Comparing Roja and Parineeta is fairly obvious.  Both of them have heroines who refuse to give up on their men, believing that they will come back to them.  Things don’t seem to have changed in India in the 40 years between these movies…women are given in marriage against their will, strangers fall in love, and so forth.  Financial difficulties in 1953 turn into terrorist threats in 1992, and Roja is more active in removing the obstacles between her and her true love while Lalita seems content to just wait things out, confident that eventually her love will return to her.  So I guess there has been some progress after all.

Roja Rescues Her Man
Jenny K:
  Well, I’d hope so, but professional victimization always seems to come back in fashion, even in today’s supposedly more modern times.  In my own life, I’ve seen too many women believe the fiction handed down to them that they can’t cope without a man.  Thank God for Bryn Mawr, and my parents, of course…that I was slower to feel that pressure, but you always have to keep telling yourself and your daughters that, to keep it fresh and in the forefront.

Poor little orphan Lalita didn’t have much of a chance to change her fate, and she just lucked into a happy ending at the last minute.  She had a better option with Sanjay’s Girish, but was already “wedded” to her choice by then.  Hope it worked out for her after the final reel.

But with all the inherent flaws of literary adaptation, I did like Saif and Vidya’s version.  It’s a lovely period piece, with great warm shots of Kolkata.  Plus the acting is uniformly good.  It was Vidya’s first film, and she more than held her own with Saif and Sanjay.  Sanju’s part was smallish, but his Girish is a lovely guy and is quite endearing in this, particularly at the “meet cute” as the supposed electrician.  And, though I have been notably tough on Saif Ali Khan in his attempts at assaying a romantic role, in this one he does very well.  Perhaps I just like him more in an angry role than as a callow youth or a funny Romeo.

Julie M: In the 1953 version I’m not sure she really “lucked” into anything.  She seemed to have a bit more agency than luck—in fact, there’s a very Roja-anticipatory scene at the end.  Spoiler alert:  Lalita actually refused Giren so he marries her sister/cousin.  We find that out at the same time that Shekhar does, and it’s a delicious twist that almost makes the whole film.  (end spoiler)  I tend to agree with you on Saif; his romantic roles are best when he’s not set up as the romantic hero but cast as the Giren-ish character.

Jenny K: Or in an all out villain role like the Iago role in Omkara…a Saif tour de force!

Ending on a non-sequitur…Version 2005 has an item number with Rekha in it, onstage at the Moulin Rouge (seems it’s a multi-city franchise), that still irritates me, eight years after I saw it in the theater. Another uncredited musical lift…this one from Louis Armstrong’s “A Kiss to Build a Dream On.”  Why this is still happening?  Use it if you like, but why not credit it? Shame on you, Shantanu Moitra.

Rekha vs. Satchmo:  Compare

Nov. 29, 2012: Thanksgiving for the Parade of New Films — PART II

Okay, now that we’ve had a few days to digest our holiday film feast, Julie and I are back with Part II of the new reviews.  It seems like I’m spending an inordinate amount of time at the Loehmann’s Cinemas in Falls Church, VA, even for me!  I’m blaming it on Kathy and Pat for enabling me…and Shah Rukh for refusing to age, and continuing to ensnare us, year after year in those fathomless dimples of his.

Jenny K:  Well…finally over my latest crazy costume deadline, and I decided to celebrate by going out to see the latest food comedy out there in Hindi Movieland, Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana (2012). It had me thinking two things…one, why does everyone in this film remind me of someone else (not necessarily in a bad way) and, two, where can I get some hot parathas after this movie lets out!!! Every third shot has someone flipping the bread over on the griddle, over an open flame and someone slathering ghee all over it!  It’s a crime they don’t have any Indian food at the concession stand…I’m hungry!  And that may be partly inspired by our star…Kunal Kapoor has his first solo starring hero role since his debut in Meenaxi.  Here’s the trailer, with optional subtitles.

Julie M:  Oooh, baby, food AND Kunal Kapoor?  Let me at it!!

Jenny K:  Kunal does a nice job in a slightly quiet role, and only falls short a bit in the dancing aspect (as exhibited in the final number over the credits, particularly). Madhuri must have been riding him like crazy in Aaja Naachle, because I didn’t notice a particular lack, in that one. He’s cut his long hair and shaved his beard, and though I thought I would miss them, he’s quite dishy in this new look. Sort of a cross between Aamir and Hrithik, if you can imagine that.

 

Julie M:  Mmmm…tasty…but I like Kunal’s long hair and slightly scruffy look he’s known for better than this, dishy or not.  It about killed me to see Don 2 and he had cut his locks for that one!

 

Jenny K:  Kunal plays Omi, a sad sack, would-be player who steals money from his family and goes off to make his fortune, supposedly, in London, but when the story starts he’s come back with his tail between his legs, and an NRI-Indian mob boss who he owes money to, hot on his trail. He tries to get more money from his family while making them think he’s changed his ways and become a hot young lawyer back in LimeyLand. His grandfather, played by Vinod Nagpal, who reminds me a bit of Pankaj Kapur for some reason, has had a stroke or something and no longer remembers his relatives or, more importantly, the recipe for his famous chicken khurana which made his restaurant thrive. Of course, Omi’s return is central to the rebirth of the family fortunes, but it takes a reaaaaaly long time to get there.
Kunal’s leading lady Huma Qureshi, has been in a few films lately,  (Gangs of Wasseypur, Trishna) but this seems to be her first try at romantic comedy.  She plays the role of Omi’s young love, Harman, who he left behind and she’s gone on to become a doctor.

Harman is now engaged to Omi’s adopted brother Jeet (Rahul Bhagga), but neither one of the engaged pair seem particularly enthused about this turn of events. Huma is a nicely rounded beauty, who oozes intelligence and a shy sex appeal that sort of harks back to the early Kajol charm, say in DDLJ. She depicts her resistance to Omi’s return and the gradual crumbling of her resolves in a very believable way. I look forward to seeing her again.  Here’s the video of the title song.

 

Julie M:  That’s kind of a big topic:  “Who is the Next Kajol?”  You like Huma, I like Genelia, and for a while there Anushka Sharma had some possibilities.  At least we know it’s not Priyanka Chopra, right?

 

Jenny K:  Kajol has a much more girl-next-door quality than most of the new girls have, and that Priyanka isn’t really shooting for, is she?  I sort of thought she was gunning for the Next Madhuri or the Next Aish, at best…however, her performance in Barfi! may be showing her aim for more substance over the glamour angle.

 

Julie M:  We’ll reserve judgment until we see her performance in the upcoming Zanjeer remake, where she plays the role made famous by the feisty Jaya Badhuri (Bachchan).  Although substance that’s not…more about that when we review the 1973 original.

 

Jenny K:  Where Luv Shuv’s concerned, I think that the plot had a few too many extra characters for clarity, and a few dead-end red herrings that made me go “Really?” too often.  Although the script could have benefited from at least twenty minutes off of it, I enjoyed the end result. Especially liked the pagal Uncle Titu played by Rajesh Sharma, who I feel like I’ve seen before, and I must have in The Dirty Picture, but can’t really place him. Here’s a nice article on him.  

When watching this sort of unfortunate final-credit item number, I just kept wishing that Javeed Jaffrey had played the gangster in this one…someone in the number should know how to dance.  Liked the soundtrack, though, by Amit Trivedi.

Julie M:  LSTCK looks very sweet, kind of Today’s Special vibe-y and very indie-feeling. EVERYTHING is at my local theater but I have no time to go!!! I don’t know about Jab Tak Hai Jaan, it’s gotten mixed reviews but it would be nice to see SRK in a Yash Chopra film again.

Jenny K:  I’m going to see JTHJ with Kathy and Pat tonight, I think. I’ll let you know where I stand.

[the next day…]

Jenny K:  Well, I survived the evening, and enjoyed Jab Tak Hai Jaan (As Long As I Live, 2012)…somewhat. Nice being out with the girls, but even they, who are the ultimate SRK fans, seemed a bit underwhelmed.  Paraphrasing Kathy’s verdict, “Good, of course, but I’ve seen it before, and done better.”  We all sort of felt that Veer Zaara had that thwarted love thing pretty well perfected for director Yash Chopra, and wondered why he wanted to have his last film seem like a slightly watercolor version of that earlier film.

SRK looked pretty good, but I think that his own personal digital effects company may have de-aged his face a bit for the first half when he was supposedly playing 28.

I liked the look in the second half, at “38,” almost better, though with the amount of gray hair in the stubble, I’d think that 38 was a kind estimate. He is in good shape, pretty buff, not too buff or too skinny, both of which we like him to avoid. His performance was the strongest in the movie, charming and touching without overacting.

Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma were both pretty and endearing leading ladies. Neither had the Kajol certain-something in the chemistry with him, but certainly not as bland as all the reviews have said.

Katrina sort of danced him off the floor in the following number, “Ishq Shava,”  though it has more impact during the actual scene.  This clip has been edited down from about three separate sections of the number, in the dance hall, on the ship and outside the dance hall on the dock. It’s a much longer number and has more drama, especially at the beginning where SRK is encouraging Katrina’s character to “let it all out” and finally be herself. She dances with at least three other guys before he joins her, and you can’t take your eyes off her. Kat may not be a flawless actress, but no one should say she can’t dance.  

Julie M:  I don’t think she’s as bad as everyone says.  Maybe because my first experience with her was in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, which you said was an unusually good performance for her, but really, she’s no better or worse than any of the other beauty queens out there now.

Jenny K:  The thing that may bring the audience out in droves is Shah Rukh’s first on-screen kissing…yep, at the ripe old age of 47…he’s given in. Maybe not open mouth kissing, they still block those shots with the back of Katrina’s head, but definitely several lip on lip shots, where he seemed not to be able to get enough of Katrina.  Each time he made the plunge there was an audible “OOOOhhhhoooohhhhh!” from the audience.  Even the young college age guys were hooting and laughing a bit.

My main reaction was “Why, and why now?”…maybe it was a business decision. I can almost hear his wife, Gauri, who’s often an executive producer on his films, brainstorming with him, “What can we do to put people in the seats?…old fashioned romance, separated lovers, FABULOUS shots of Ladakh scenery, all sorts of visual reminders of DDLJ, a bit more skin, and, yes, Shah Rukh, you’re going to have to follow Hrithik’s lead and lay on the lips…I know it’s tough, but, heck, your lips are twice as big as HR’s so you should get twice the hoopla, hai na?”

Julie M:  !!!! OK, you’ve got me.  Gotta see this.

Jenny K:  The negatives are all on the writer’s side, I’m afraid: the plot…big holes, especially in the second half, and the length. Anushka (so cute in Band Baaja Baaraat, and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi) did as much as she could, but the plot had her playing the “door-prize role” Preity Zinta rather perfected in Dil Se… and the writers chose to have him pine and whine, as usual, for his old “ideal” girl.  My hopes for a more healthy ending were dashed. In addition, my stand on three hour films is weakened when it doesn’t actually advance the story. Note to Aditya Chopra: you really needed to credit the writers of The Hurt Locker for a large chunk of this movie.

Julie M:  I didn’t see The Hurt Locker.  Can you expand on that…is it a direct rip-off, or did they actually write some of it?  Pardon my lack of currency here.

 

Jenny K:  Well, no, not a slavish copy, of course.  The original would have been too unrelievedly depressing for the audience SRK usually draws.  But both deal with a man who is so cavalier about his own life that he can defuse bombs with complete cool and apparent disregard for his own safety (no special suit, very little back-up, if any, etc.).  They both come on like Army Supermen…Shah Rukh, of course, does it with a tight black tee, dark shades and a cool motorcycle.  Bet Jeremy Renner wishes he wrote that last one into his contract!

Next time, we’ll see what Aamir Khan has up his sleeve with Talaash!

Nov. 27, 2012: Thanksgiving for the Parade of New Films – Part I

Since the Navratri/Diwali/Thanksgiving/Christmas rush of holidays is in full swing, we’ve thought it justified more trips to the theater, or at least a push to see more recent releases. Bollywood seems to be shaking itself out of some of its old stale tropes and harking back, nostalgically to some of the things we’ve missed.  Very appropriate for a post-Thanksgiving post, I’d think.  In fact, we’ve gotten so much watching done, that we’ll have to split these new film reviews into two parts, and leave Julie’s older, classic film voyaging for another post. 

Julie M:  Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya (I Fell in Love With You, 2012), which I watched on DVD, was cute, somewhat. It’s not the type of film I would see if it were an American production, because it’s rather predictable, but there were some moments, mainly having to do with those funloving Punjabis.

Mini (Genelia D’Souza) is an educated and spirited girl stuck in a small Punjabi village, where her father Bhatti (Tinnu Anand) has gotten moderately wealthy running an autorickshaw business. She has also, somehow, gotten a Canadian passport, and between the wealth and the green card she is a very eligible young lady indeed. Bhatti wants her to marry the spoiled and lazy, but quite handsome, Sunny (Kartar Cheema), the son of a somewhat wealthier neighbor; however, Mini wants to have a bit of adventure before she settles down. She reluctantly agrees to the marriage to please her father but is all the while trying to hatch an escape plan.

Enter Viren (Riteish Deshmukh), one of Bhatti’s drivers and a hardworking young man whom Bhatti has just cheated out of both his dreams and his life savings. In a drunken fit, Viren crashes Mini and Sunny’s engagement party to give Bhatti a piece of his mind.  In the commotion Mini sees her chance:  she forces Viren to “kidnap” her, then phones Bhatti with a “ransom” demand, telling Viren that he can keep a share of the proceeds as repayment for what her father cheated him out of while she uses the rest of the money to escape.

Jenny K:  Sounds familiar but promising…I’ve liked Riteish more and more, especially since seeing him hold his own with Amitabh in Aladin a few years back.  And Genelia was very cute (almost too cute) in Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na with Imraan.  And, I heard that Riteish and Genelia got married back in February….Perfect type-casting for a cute romance.

Julie M: I’m not sure whether the film release pre-dated or succeeded the wedding, but they’d been together for a very long time before they made the film, which makes the romance film something of a vehicle for both of them. 

Anyway, Viren, bowled over by her audacity, agrees and they find a vacant house to hide out in for a few days while Bhatti gathers the funds. Of course they start to fall in love while having adventures like crashing a wedding, scrounging for cash and going through the obligatory “who sleeps where” tamasha in their purloined residence. The wedding-crash scene was  predictable but still fun.

On the day of the ransom payment they go to the rendezvous point and…both of them get kidnapped for real! by the notorious kidnapper Chowdhary (Om Puri), who proceeds to demand additional ransom from Bhatti.

Is this enough adventure for Mini or has it gone too far? What will she, and everyone else, do when she finds out that Chowdhary, to everyone’s surprise, is Viren’s father?

Jenny K:  All this fake kidnapping stuff this year, this and Barfi!  What is it?  This year’s annual theme at the screenwriting college?

Julie M: Genelia D’Souza has the rubber face, cute mannerisms and mischievous grin made famous by Kajol and is the perfect bubbly girl. Riteish Deshmukh does an excellent “confused” face, which he deploys with regularity over the course of the first third of the film. Their couplehood is inevitable but it’s fun to watch it come together, and who could hate two such pretty people. Not one, not two, but THREE love songs that are mainstream and predictable fill the soundtrack, and there is a glitzy and obligatory-feeling item number with Veena Malik.

There are plot holes all over the place (for example, it’s never explained how she got her Canadian passport, and Chowdhary’s gang is too bumbling for it to make any sense how he got so wealthy; not to mention an absolutely inane turnabout in the last 15 minutes due to a pretty stupid “serious” speech by Chowdhary) but what do you expect from such an obvious vehicle for these two stars. Om Puri’s talent is wasted in his role, which I hate to see.

All in all, not a terrible way to pass the time if you happen to come across it, but it doesn’t break any new ground and you may find yourself checking your watch somewhere in the middle of the second half. Cute date movie if you’re 17, and for us oldsters, Riteish takes his shirt off which is always fun. I give it about a third of a thumbs-up. There is a completely illegal DVD rip on Daily Motion, with Part I, here.

P.S.  I thought the Sunny character seemed familiar…according to what I read, Punjabi actor Kartar Cheema (making his Bollywood debut in TNLHG) modeled his character on the Kajol character’s spoiled and mean fiance in DDLJ. Except in this one he’s not mean, just lazy and not very bright.

Jenny K:  They could do worse than copying DDLJ, except that stupid item number with the fat opera singer in “Paris”…shudder

The first of my string of movie outings was for the long-awaited comeback film for Sridevi, English Vinglish (2012). Kathy, Pat and I hit the local cinema to catch it the first week. Well, all I can say is, what a great way to come back! I can’t believe it’s been over ten years since her last major film! She’s 49 this year, but is still so lovely. Raising a family seems to agree with her. Here’s the trailer.

It’s a bit of a one joke plot with Sridevi cast as Shashi, the long suffering Indian wife, who, through one thing and another (life, mostly), hasn’t pursued her knowledge of English past the rudimentary stages in school, and her family taunts her with it almost daily. A joke, as they see it, quite hilarious, but she becomes more and more depressed that even her husband and kids don’t give her the respect she deserves.

Shashi’s trepidation becomes greater when she has to go to New York City for her niece’s wedding, reuniting with her older sister who is raising her daughters in America all on her own after her husband’s death. Shashi’s in NYC with three weeks to kill before the wedding and decides that enough is enough…she’s going to take a crash English course and surprise everyone. The scenes in the classroom, filled with a multi-culti mix of misfits is not particularly subtle, or believeable from an educational aspect, but the camaraderie and charm of the characters learning together and from each other is rather nice. You can see some of it in the “making of” clip, here.

Julie M:  Did you see Educating Rita?  Sounds somewhat like that one.

 

Jenny K:  Same genre, of course.  I loved Educating Rita, especially as it introduced me to Julie Walters.  But this plot wasn’t about falling in love with her teacher…in this film, an impossibility, as the teacher here was the worst performed role in the film.  And her education doesn’t break up her marriage as in ER, it strengthens it, in a traditionally happy ending at the wedding in NYC with her family.  

Well, happy for everyone except her fellow student, Laurent, from France, who has developed quite a serious crush on Shashi. Poor boy. I’d love to comfort him, myself, if I were given half a chance. He’s played by an actor named Mehdi Nebbou…half Algerian, half German, but all adorable. Definitely a thumbs up film, see it if you can.

AND, I went off tonight on the spur of the moment jaunt with Pat after work to catch Life of Pi (2012).  Not to tempt you out of your vow of complete home video supremacy, Jule, but Irrfan Khan has a much larger part in it as the Adult Pi, lots more face time for him than I’d expected…and what a face, sigh….Pat and I debated (but not for long) about the extra expenditure for 3D.  Worth it!  No, not just for Irrfan-gazing at seeming-finger-tip-reach, though that may have been enough, I grant you, but with tigers menacing, zebras charging, whales leaping overhead and flying fish flinging themselves at our hero willy-nilly, it was well worth the extra few dollars for the heavenly view on a big screen.  Not officially an Indian film, but with all the scenes set there, and some very fine Indian actors (Tabu! and Ang Lee’s new find, Suraj Sharma, as Young Pi does a phenomenal job in his debut role), I thought that it is a necessary mention here.  And a trailer.  

[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7WBfntqUoA]
 

In a day or two, we’ll be back with two more of our recent viewings, Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana, and Shah Rukh’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan, so, stay tuned, we’ll be back!

October 9, 2012: A Midlife Catharsis

Jenny K:  I know I’ve been on a jag recently, touting the charms of the almost-thirty set of heroes, so now I want to put on the brakes and celebrate the possibility of age appropriate (read “Over 40”) romances.  They are out there, one just has to hunt for them a bit…and some of them are worth the extra trouble.

First on my list of Netflix “Meant-2-Watch” films, was Main Aurr Mrs Khanna (2009). I remember hearing about this film in connection with Aamir and Kareena, something about Aamir dropping it for reasons unreported.  Having now watched it…I don’t blame him at all.  Here’s the trailer. 

Now, our hero in this one, Salman Khan, is definitely over 40, deny it as he will, but his heroine, Kareena Kapoor…not exactly an equal match, shall we say.  Salman plays Samir Khanna, who falls in love with an un-surnamed orphan, Raina (Kareena) and in the unexplainable attraction of woman to goofy-man-child, she marries him. Maybe it’s just because he offers her his last name for her missing one. Almost immediately we cut from their “idyllic” married life, to the effects of job-loss on Samir’s ego. He tells her she must go back to live with his parents in India (why?), and leave their home in Melbourne, because the only place he can get a job now is in Singapore, and his ego can’t seem to bear her sticking by him and watching him struggle.

She, of course, resents his settling her fate without a word to her, and she digs in her heels at the airport and just doesn’t get on the plane. She vows to stay in Australia and wait for him, and somewhere, somehow, she’ll get a job and support herself. Brave girl…sniff sniff…With Salman all but out for the middle three-fifths of the film, Raina must find another savior, and turns to a random cafe-wallah, played by Sohail Khan (who also directed this fiasco) who falls instantly in love with her and vows to win her confidence and love. Even though he knows she’s married and in love with her husband. Creep.

Julie M:  Salman and Kareena.  Hmm, an odd couple indeed.  I never thought they went well together, even in the superhit Bodyguard.  Well, probably a good thing that they spend most of the film apart, then.

Jenny K:  The rest of the plot doesn’t really need to be summarized. You’ve seen it all before, yet I must remark on how calm Salman/Samir seems when he gets the news that in order to stay in Australia without him…

Stupidity Alert…..I mean spoiler alert…spoiler alert…yeah right….

Raina agrees with her new friends that she must lie to her host country and all concerned and marry Sohail so she has her valid work visa. Never mind that she’s ALREADY MARRIED?!?!? Not that they “did anything” of course…even though we’ve established that Sohail’s character has very sketchy morals in the first place.

A few good looks for Salman after he gets over being a goofy kid and dons a saintly mystique along with his bad luck…and a nice song…by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan are pretty much all that recommend it. Skip.

Julie M: Sohail Khan…that’s Salman’s brother, right, the one whom you hate and whom I didn’t think was so bad in Hello, an otherwise execrable movie? Maybe he just looked good in comparison to the drivel that was the rest of it.

Jenny K:  No, I definitely don’t recommend Main Aurr Mrs. Khanna. Yes, Sohail is Salman’s brother, but if I have to watch one of them, Arbaaz is always more watchable, though he seems to specialize in psychopaths. The only film that I’ve enjoyed Sohail in was an extended cameo he and Arbaaz did in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, which if you haven’t watched, you should. Imraan Khan’s first film. Sweet. Youtube here.

Julie M: Salman with a ponytail…LIKE. Like a LOT.

[a few days later]

Julie M: I’m back! Because I could not get out to see either Rowdy Rathore or Joker, I decided to get a silly Akshay Kumar comedy fix with Singh Is Kinng (2008). It actually was pretty good–escapist, and at times laugh-out-loud hilarious. As a taste…here’s the fantastic number in the beginning of the film that reaffirms how wonderful Akshay’s movies can be.

Punjabi villager Happy Singh (Akshay Kumar) is a sweet, helpful, well-meaning man around whom things tend to go horribly wrong, to everyone’s dismay and Happy’s obliviousness. Here’s the opening scene that establishes Happy’s character as a disaster in a kurta. 

After a number of years of Happy’s causing (comic) mayhem and destruction the villagers decide to move him along, and concoct a ruse to send him to Australia (what is it about Australia?) to retrieve the long-absent son of the village headman. Trouble is, this son is Lucky “The King” Singh, a notorious and brutal don (played by Sonu Sood, whom we see far too little of past the first third of the film), and Happy would be lucky to get away with his life. Problem solved, the villagers think.

So Happy departs with his friend Rangeela (Om Puri), whose only value to the endeavor is that he knows English, only there’s a mixup at the airport and they end up in Egypt, not Australia. While they are waiting for their correct flight Happy wanders off to sightsee and ends up saving a young woman Sonia (Katrina Kaif) from a robbery, and spends the day with her. Of course he falls in love with her, but since they are off to Australia he will never meet her again. Or will he?

Jenny K:  Same gender/age scenario, again!   I know it is almost a given in today’s Bollywood (and the rest of filmdom), that our forty-something hero is immediately irresistible to any and all twenty-something females, but can’t there be (somewhere!) a similarly-aged female object of their desire?  It’s getting more and more frustrating from my point of view.  Sorrry, baaack to the Kinng.

Julie M: May I point you to a little movie you sent to me called Cheeni Kum…anyway…

Jenny K:  [backpedaling] Heck, Jule, the rules don’t apply to Amitabh!  It’s a given that he is still attractive to any and all female age groups, as is Naseerji…sigh…okay, okay, go on with the synopsis.

Julie M: Upon arrival in Australia they look up Lucky and go to convince him to come back to see his dying (so they think) father. Lucky and his entourage give them the brush-off and that is that…Happy and Rangeela again find themselves in a foreign country with no luggage and waiting for their plane home. They get separated and Happy meets Rosie (Kirron Kher), a down-on-her luck florist originally from a village near his, who takes him in, feeds him and gives him a job to earn his meals. Enjoy this clip of the meeting between Happy and Rosie: Kirron Kher is the best “cool mom” in Bollywood. 

During his first task he runs into Lucky and the gang, and through typical Happy circumstances a skirmish with a rival gang breaks out and Lucky becomes paralyzed. Another mix-up or two later and Happy ends up taking the kingpin’s place as the head of the organization. More mix-ups, and it turns out that Sonia is Rosie’s daughter, Rosie has to pretend she’s wealthy to impress Sonia’s fiance (Ranvir Shorey), and they all move into Lucky’s mansion where the gang members (including Lucky’s nearsighted and half-deaf brother Mika, played by Javed Jaffrey, and hanger-on Udaas, played by Yashpal Sharma) have to pretend to be servants.

Suffice it to say that the pretenses lead to hilarity, character development ensues, there is an attempted coup and Happy spreads his happy sweet magic over everyone. The climactic scene (yes, there is a chase) is actually pretty funny, not too overdone as tends to happen in Indian comedies.

Jenny K:  Ah, well, I knew someone had to like this film.  It was a pretty big hit when it came out.  I saw it in the theater.  And though it didn’t bug me as much as, say Bewaafa or Waqt, SIK left me pretty cold, as per usual.  Glad you got something from it.

Julie M: I think I was just in the right mood.  Akshay Kumar flashes his winning smile all over this one, which of course I loved, and looks great in a turban. Heck, in this he looks great in everything: in both Punjabi village clothes (which on him look like designer duds) and the actual designer clothing he wears when he assumes the King role.

The combination of comedy and action is, if not perfect, at least proportional with no comic-action scene lasting too long, as is often the case with this type of film. Katrina Kaif’s bad Hindi is excused by having her character grow up in Australia, and her two item numbers are pleasant enough if generic–nothing smashing, she looks cute, let’s move on. Beautiful scenery in Egypt and Australia, and for once the requisite love-among-the-ruins song actually makes sense. Best thing about it is that they are dancing in front of Deir El-Bahri, my favorite Egyptian mortuary temple, and in the Karnak temple. Doesn’t make any sense since they were supposed to have landed in Cairo and Luxor/Valley of the Kings is like 300 miles away, but I give them credit for at least not randomly zooming over to Switzerland.

Javed Jaffrey plays a double role as Mika and as Sonia’s fiance’s father; in a clever nod to the dual-role trope, all of the characters recognize the resemblance but it does not become part of the actual plot. A rap duet between Akshay and Snoop Dogg over the closing credits is mediocre at best, but Javed is his own playback singer in one number, which is unfortunately rap-based but not at all annoying for that.

Verdict: an extremely pleasant time-pass if you are in the mood for silliness, with a great cast, and nothing for Akshay to be embarrassed about.

Jenny K:  Finally!  Relief for my complaints is here!  I recently got to the theaters to see the Boman Irani/Farah Khan love story Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi (2012). I went just for pure curiosity to see how Farah Khan would do in her acting debut, and darned if she didn’t surprise me!  She came off pretty well. The trailer is really broad humor, and so is a bit misleading.  It’s not as slapstick as it looks when you view the whole movie.

I went to see SFLTNP with my Hindi film buddies, Pat and Kathy. We’re all over 40 and so we’re really eager to support any film that shows there is life after that “extreme age” hits us. And I thought it was a rather sweet love story, while still having the slightly jaundiced view of the mature couple’s outlook on things. Pretty funny, too.

The story is of a lonely 45 year old Parsi guy, Farhad (Boman Irani) who can’t seem to find the love of his life to settle down with. He lives with his widowed mother (Daisy Irani, who steals every scene she’s in) and his grandmother (Shammi Aunty) who both dote on him. They can’t figure out why he’s still single…unless it has to do with his working as a salesman in a women’s lingerie store “the Tam Tam Bra and Panty Store” as Farhad repeatedly states to all who ask. Ya Think??  He certainly doesn’t seem too happy there. He has dreams of opening his own shop someday, and calling it UNDERWORLD. Funny guy.

Julie M:  I can just imagine Boman surrounded by ladies’ undergarments.  But go on…

Jenny K:  He meets Shirin (Farah) one day at his store when she’s there shopping, and he likes her sarcastic sense of humor and spunkiness. His mother likes her too, until it is revealed that Shirin is a Parsi official who has been targeting the illegal water tank that Farhan’s father built for them before he died. Didn’t get the permit, it seems. But when Shirin’s “cover” is blown, Mama draws the line in the sand, it’s either “THAT WOMAN” or your mother? What to do, what to do? Sneak around Mama, of course, and lots of singing and dancing.

It’s fun to see Farah dance to some of her own choreography…in “Ramba Mein Samba”, she and Boman spoof many of the Shahrukh/Kajol/Madhuri numbers that made her the choreographer to get. Very sweet…especially love the KKHH/DDLJ train scenes. Here’s that number.  and here’s the number with the slingshot that they’re spoofing from Hum Aapke Hain Koun with Madhuri and Salman, if you haven’t seen it.

On the whole, a very favorable experience, and I’m going to pooh pooh the nay-sayers who find Farah’s acting wooden. She’s more laid back than Boman (who wouldn’t be?), but I think that’s just her own personality, and it certainly felt real to me. A few plot issues, but not too bad.

A brave attempt by all concerned, and multiple chins-up, I mean thumbs-up, from this over-40 reviewer.  We ain’t dead yet, so let’s see more examples of it!

Julie M:  Hear, hear.  And as I am about to dip a toe into young love again with Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya, I will remember that not so young love is pretty awesome too.

Sept. 22, 2012: Imraan/Ranbir ~ Glory & Hope for the Future

Jenny K:  What is wrong with most romantic comedy writers these days!  I find it hard to FIND any romance in them.  No lightness, and very little sweetness.  I feel old…”I remember when I was a youngster, and I walked fifteen miles, Uphill, IN THE SNOW! to see that cute little Meg Ryan or Kajol girl win over that adorable wisecracking goofball…they knew how to strum a viewer’s heartstrings…”  Harrrumph!

This mood started when I went back into the Netflix queue, and watched another stupid fluffy Indian themed English language romance today, When Harry Tries to Marry (2011)…completely useless. The two leads were tolerable, but the script was so bad, with so many holes in it, that it isn’t worth the effort. And in this one, not only were the lions-share of the gori actors completely wooden, as usual, but most of the desi ones were wooden, too! Bleh. Fooled by a pretty trailer, again! Actually, the film looks good…it just doesn’t deliver any sort of coherent plot, and so it’s a waste of time.

Julie M: Pass-adena.  Even the leads looked generic.  Bleah.

Jenny K: The mood continued, without my expecting much, but I bravely tried again, picking Break Ke Baad (2010), starring Deepika Padukone and my current favorite flavor of youngster eye candy, Imraan Khan. And then, just a few lines in, I remembered why he’s always able to cheer me up…he’s his uncle Aamir, back before he became Angry-Earnest-Man-with-a-MESSAGE.  And yes, with Aamir, message has to be in all caps (Taare Zameen Par, anyone?  Yes, we know he has a learning disability….Noble, but stop screaming at the boy’s parents, that won’t make them listen!).   Maybe Imraan will end up just like AK, but for now, he’s still got the innocence and sweetness in droves.  I could just watch him for hours!  Even if he doesn’t feel the need to try as many new things.

Julie M:  I don’t know, I like Imraan’s acting OK but for youthful sighs and decent acting I’m still going to stick with Ranbir Kapoor and Ranvir Singh.  And Prateik… not for acting because he’s so hit and miss, but just for looking at.  But Imraan has the heritage and the role model:  one to watch, for sure.

Jenny K:  Break Ke Baad takes the same format that we’ve seen Imraan shine in, in half a dozen films since his debut, but if Baad ain’t Broke, why fix it, na? The recipe is simple, take a bit of Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Naa, a touch of I Hate Luv Stories, a skosh of Mere Brother Ki Dulhan and quite a bit of Ek Main aur Ekk Tu, and stir wildly. But basically he’s the good boy, the sweet kid, probably a bit mistaken in the degree of his devotion to a rather undeserving girlchild, but with no reason in the world that these vixens should overlook/undervalue such obvious hunkitude. They don’t deserve him!

Plotwise, it’s as follows: Abhay Gulati, also known as Gelato, also known as Sunita (these kids go too far on multiple nicknames for my ID-clarity) is played by Imraan. He’s been in love with Deepika’s character Aaliya Khan, alias Al, alias Shahrukh, since they met cute in a movie theater when they were roughly eight and ten. They bonded over love of films. She was to be a diva of the screen while he would run his father’s cinema chain. A perfect pair, so they both thought.

Until, Aaliya applies for a scholarship to a university in Australia’s Gold Coast, somewhere, and goes off for a year long “break” from her overprotective mother (Sharmila Tagore) and her boyfriend, both. Here’s a scene before she gets the idea to leave which shows their standard dynamic…she’s the goofball adventurer, always pushing the envelope, and he’s her anchor, keeping her safe. Very cute scene.

Julie M:  So weird, but when she said “I’m Shahrukh Khan” she actually looked like him a little. I’m sort-of impressed she can do the impression.

Jenny K:  OMG!  Did you forget OSO?   They must have spent a good length of time together on that one.  But you’re right, her acting chops are getting sharper.

However…when she goes off to Australia, her inner voice has her almost immediately jump the rails, taking acting classes against her mother’s wishes, moving out of her aunt’s house and into a beachfront playpen of a place with other kids, all of whom party way too much to be good for Aaliya’s already wild temperament. Abhay jumps on the next plane to be sure she’s alright, and just succeeds in fighting with her and forcing her to break up with him. Does he listen? Nope. He moves in to the beach front, too. Will they get back together? What do you think? Here’s the trailer, no subtitles to this one, however. Sorry, but you get the idea. 

I thought Deepika was much more competent than I usually find her, acting-wise. And she’s always breathtakingly beautiful (especially walking up from the ocean in her bathing suit). Perhaps she has a natural affinity for playing a stubborn B…h. I’m not sure why Abhay even wants her back, but he does, and I have no willpower to say no to this sweetie-pie, even if his heroines seem to have no problem doing just that. Check it out if you have a chance.

Julie M: I’ll keep it in the list…but lately these cute-kid romcoms just aren’t attracting me anymore.  It’s not that it’s a romance, which I don’t mind and actually even like, but they are so YOUNG.  And it’s clearly done for an audience that thinks they invented romance.  EMAET, which I have not seen yet but I’ve read all the reviews and seen all the trailers, is a bit more up my alley…

Jenny K:  Well, it was cute, except for Imraan’s second act haircut…in depth analysis, of that film, here.

Suffice it to say my will to live was so rejuvenated by BKB, that I even went out to see another of the young guns, Ranbir Kapoor in his new comedy, which is still in the local theatres.  I’m not going to give the title yet, just going to start with the trailer…I just can’t say it…because, for an American audience, it’s probably one of the worst titles ever chosen. 

Julie M:  ERGH.  But being that it’s Ranbir, I’m all ears!

Jenny K:  I know, I shouldn’t have let a few little letters set me against a film, but what with the vomitous title and the prospect of an evening with slapstick and silent movie shenanigans galore, I hadn’t started out the evening wanting to see it.  The film I went to the theater to see, Ustad Hotel, a Malayalam film, chose to come into my local theater with, you’ve guessed it, NO SUBTITLES! Too bad. So, regretfully, Kathy and I chose to go see B****! which I still can’t type out, and what do I get?…over two hours in a dark theater with almost no subtitles, because we didn’t need them! Go figure.

Awash in all the good feeling that The Artist spread over the international cinemascape, India has dropped this little gem into our laps. It has Ranbir Kapoor channeling his granddad, Raj Kapoor in full “Little Tramp” mode, plus Roberto Benigni, and perhaps a bit of vintage Jimmy Stewart, to give us our rather adorable deaf -mute hero.  He was originally named Murphy by his parents, but due to his inability to pronounce his own name, he’s saddled with…with…the name you saw in the trailer. I can’t say it…maybe I’ll get over it by the end of this critique. What I will say is that Ranbir has a definite gift for physical comedy. Doesn’t say anything throughout the whole film, yet you almost always know exactly what he is trying to say to the people in his life. Extraordinary job, and I tend to hate silent movie shtick.

Julie M:  He does move spectacularly, doesn’t he? Sigh.

Jenny K:  He plays a young man from Darjeeling who has few visible aims in life and he falls for a lovely girl, Shruti (Ileana D’cruz turning in a delightful performance in, I believe, her first Hindi film) who is, unfortunately already engaged to a run of the mill cute rich guy from Kolkata. Now, she’s a bit bored by her absentee fiancee who says all the right things and could give her everything her parents could want for her, but Bbb…Ranbir, a man of no words, gives her spontaneity, adventure and a single minded focus on her that wins Shruti’s heart eventually. Yet despite all of this charm and good-heartedness, she eventually gives in to her parents’ practical view of love vs. marriage, and goes back to Kolkata to marry.

Brf! is heartbroken, and to top it all off, his father is laid off of his job as a chauffeur to the rich Singh family who live in the mansion up the hill. He has known the family and their autistic daughter, Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra) practically all his life. When his dad falls ill and needs an operation, and Mr. Singh won’t agree to a loan, well what’s our literally tongue-tied hero to do but try to arrange to kidnap Jhilmil and hold her for ransom…but plan as he might, it’s no good at all kidnapping someone who’s been already kidnapped an hour beforehand. SO…thwarted as a kidnapper, he tries to rob a bank…now try doing that without being able to say “stick ‘em up” or being able to hear the cops behind you. Hilarious.

Well, nothing goes as he’d hoped, and somehow he can’t seem to get the money or give the girl back…he and Jhilmil are thrown together time and again, and a lasting bond ensues. Priyanka does a wonderful job playing Jhilmil in an understated, yet eloquent portrayal of autism. She looks distracted, about 14 years old, yet still manages to be fetchingly gamin under that crazy curly mop. Here’s a song showing a bit of their developing relationship. 

Julie M:  I’m shocked, SHOCKED, that Priyanka seems to have done this competently. . ..The last few movies I’ve seen her in (cough-AGNEEPATH-cough), she really stunk up the place.  Not accurately autistic though—more like she’s playing developmentally disabled, to my eyes.  Directorial discretion, I suppose.

Jenny K:  Awww…I thought you liked her in 7 Khoon Maaf?  Remember?   I thought there was progress there, too.

But, summing up, in spite of my predisposition to pooh-pooh, I really rather liked B…b…Barfi! The only thing I could wish is that writer/director Anurag Basu had dispensed with the older age framing story. It just added a layer of confusion that I didn’t need. When you’re not going to spell things out with lots of words, then simpler is better. But I do predict there will be quite a number of best acting nominations at the next Filmfare awards, and maybe a few wins.

And all I can do is thank the Second Gen Twosome for rescuing me from my “Why-Don’t-They-Make-‘Em-Anymore” Blues.  It seems the future has a much brighter aspect than I had hoped.  I’m even looking forward to the Diwali film releases, again!

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