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.


July 1, 2013: Best Actor? Nasseer, By Far

Naseeruddin ShahThis week Julie is just brimming over with an accumulation of Naseeruddin Shah film magic.  I’m just going to get out of the way.  It’s a natural reaction, in my opinion…evidence of my own mania for the man, here.

Julie M:  I continue to be impressed with Naseeruddin Shah.  I’ve seen, what, eight or nine films with him now, and I want more!  [just counted, and actually I’ve seen him in 19 films!] The last two just reached out and slapped me across the face, they were that good.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for including Parzania in the latest box! I was totally gobsmacked by that film, and your man Naseerji was simply stunning in it. Trailer here. Wow.

Jenny K:  I did warn you…he can be quite habit-forming.  Ought to have some sort of label at the beginning of each film, or something.

Julie M:  Parzania (2007) is the story of a Parsi family caught up in the religious riots of 2002 in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Cyrus (Naseeruddin Shah) is a middle-class, educated movie projectionist with a wife, Shernaz (Sarika), and two children, a daughter (Pearl Barsiwala) and a son named Parzan (Parzan Dastur). Parzan is a typical ten-year-old, fooling around and dreaming of a land he calls Parzania, where the buildings are made of chocolate and you can do whatever you want. They befriend a visiting American named Allan (Corin Nemec), who is escaping from a troubled life and is looking for answers by studying Gandhi’s teachings in India. The family is close and life is good.

One day while Cyrus is at work a joint action between a radical Hindu political party and the local police in retaliation for a Muslim leads to the majority Muslim population in the family’s neighborhood getting attacked by a gang of thugs while the police watch. Their housing block is torched and citizens are murdered; in the melee Parzan is separated from his mother and sister. Despite obstacles Cyrus eventually reunites with his wife and daughter but Parzan remains missing. Allan finds the family in a refugee camp and takes them in.


The rest of the film is the family’s search both for meaning and their missing son, and the horror of being caught up in a brutal war between religio-political factions, neither of which they affiliate with. It is based on a true story.

This is not an easy film to watch. The riot scenes are graphic and horrific, and there is a courtroom scene at the end that had me spellbound while tears were welling up. As a parent I cannot imagine anything worse than being forcibly separated from my children with no knowledge of where they are or if they are even alive, and the pain was portrayed in an absolutely realistic, compelling and heart-rending way by the two lead actors. Best thing I’ve ever seen Naseerji do, and I was unfamiliar with Sarika (later looked her up–ex-wife of Kamal Hasan) but am suitably impressed.

The film is mostly in English, but the bits in Urdu and Hindi are about 15-20% of the film and are not subtitled. I would have liked to have gotten the full impact of the movie–I can figure out some Hindi but this must have been some kind of dialect because it just sped by me, and I have no Urdu at all. Nevertheless, even with only 85% of the dialogues in my language it still was a heart-stoppingly powerful film. No wonder it was banned in Gujarat when it came out: it’s not something the tourist board would want spread around, and it makes the police and politicians look corrupt, incompetent and heartless.

I could say so much more about the film’s pacing and cinematography, which are both perfect, but this has gotten too long already. Although obviously the true story has been dramatized, the historical facts are correct, heartbreakingly so. The damage and waste of humanity occasioned by these constant religious wars is really keeping India from any kind of progress. Gandhi must be spinning in his grave.

This is definitely one I will recommend to all–amazing piece of filmmaking. It is available free on YouTube here. 

Julie M:  The other film was 3 Deewarein (3 Walls, 2003)…and, true to Naseerji’s form, it was an excellent one. To me, possibly Naseeruddin Shah’s best performance of what I’ve seen so far (although he was really good in Sparsh as well).

Absolutely unbelievable character drama with four superior lead performances. Trailer here (subtitled).

Brief plot summary: Jaggu (Jackie Shroff) and Nagya (Nagesh Kukunoor) are both prison inmates, convicted of murder and awaiting execution. Jaggu freely admits to killing his wife in a jealous rage, but Nagya insists that the murder he is accused of (also his wife) was an accident. They are joined one day by a transfer prisoner, Ishaan (Naseeruddin Shah), who is also convicted of murder and is a serial escapee. His story is that he too killed accidentally, tripping during a bank robbery and the gun went off, killing a pregnant woman. The three men form a bond of friendship in this somewhat experimental prison where the goal of the warden (Gulshan Grover) is rehabilitation rather than warehousing.

Naseerji 70's ChicJenny K:  I think I first fell in love with Naseerji when he popped up with that silly curly wig! Oh, my…

Julie M:  Into this milieu walks Chandrika (Juhi Chawla), a documentary filmmaker who is doing a project on death row prison inmates. She asks to interview these three (the only ones in the prison set to die) for her film, to raise awareness about the true face of crime in India. Over the course of the interviews we learn more about these men, and about Chandrika as well, who we find out is undertaking the project as a way to escape her abusive husband. Meanwhile, Ishaan is planning yet another escape and Nagya is hoping for a pardon at the prison’s annual Republic Day celebration, while Jaggu is resigned to his ultimate fate.

The characterizations are sharp and the way stories unfold are unexpected. Naseeruddin Shah’s Ishaan is a charming con man whose brain you can almost see ticking away, while Jackie Shroff’s Jaggu is a sensitive cook and poet, who speaks almost entirely in English. Nagya’s twitchiness seemed a bit forced for the purpose of the character development, but it worked. Juhi Chawla ably breaks out of her Manic Pixie Dream Girl image to portray a very complex character on her own, not merely the vehicle for the exploration of the mens’ stories or a potential love interest for one of them. Here’s a key scene with her husband. 

Jenny K:  I was really impressed by Nagesh Kukunoor who was the writer and director of the film, too. I think it was his third film, and unlike most directors who put themselves in their own films, actually has reason to do so. Not your typical film hero, but gives a reasonably effective performance, when up against Jackie’s practiced film hero style and Naseer’s undeniable charm, you wouldn’t necessarily expect it of Nagesh.

Julie M:  Reasonably effective, but I thought his character was the least thought-through of all of the prisoners. Even Nasty Gautam had more to work with.

One thing that confused me: (spoilers) Was Ishaan really responsible for those other 2 murders, or did he just confess to them in order to avoid being shot by Chandrika? It was never really made clear.(end spoilers)

Jenny K:  I don’t know…been a while since I watched it…now where did I put my copy…

Julie M:  The prison itself, through the cinematography, becomes a character in the drama. Fully half the scenes are shot at night, and the moonlight effects are riveting. One of my favorite scenes is an interview between Chandrika and Ishaan that takes place in a workshop where the prisoners block-print designs on saris, and it is absolutely an authentic-looking studio for that kind of work; the bright colors of the saris hanging to dry contrast with the crumbling stone walls of the prison and are evocative on so many metaphorical levels. Just beautiful. The final shot of the film (don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler), where you see an aerial view of the prison that previously you had only known from corners and courtyards, is absolutely spectacular and cleverly in keeping with the nature of the plot denouement. Stunning.

Just when you think you have this film figured out, something happens to totally upend your preconceived notions. In a good way, every time. All my thumbs (and you know I am ALL thumbs!) are up on this one, and I’ve even borrowed a few from other people so I can put them up too.  Available free on YouTube, albeit without subtitles. 

Julie M:  So let’s talk crossover potential.  Why has he not done many films in this country, or in Britain?  Is Irrfan Khan so much a better actor that he gets all those parts? (I’m thinking The Namesake and Life of Pi in particular, but also ones like Slumdog Millionaire and The Darjeeling Limited)  What does Naseerji get…The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (bad film:  I didn’t actually see him in that), Monsoon Wedding (OK, that was a good film and he rocked it) and Today’s Special, which, despite how good he was, was small and formulaic?  What gives?

Jenny K:  Irrfan’s got a better agent, maybe?  Or maybe chooses better directors to work with, or perhaps, better known directors…no, that doesn’t quite work as both have worked with Mira Nair, but maybe it’s “frequency equals recognizability”?  Irrfan has done three features with her, and one short, (The Namesake, Salaam Bombay, New York I Love You (where he successfully convinced me he was deeply in love with Natalie Portman, of all people!) and a short (Migration), against Naseerji only doing Monsoon Wedding with her…plus working with Ang Lee couldn’t have hurt Irrfan’s recognition factor, either.

Nasserji’s choice of The Great New Wonderful doesn’t stand up quite as universally appealing a crossover vehicle as Irrfan’s choices.  Not that I mean to insult that film’s director, Danny Leiner.  It was an interesting small film with a nice ensemble, and I loved the chemistry he established between our boy and Sharat Saxena, though as almost all of those scenes were subtitled, the two of them, as a pair, didn’t make it into this trailer.  Either way, both are fabulous actors and deserve to be American household names…but considering the basis of US media fame these days, without their own reality shows, this probably won’t be likely.  Sigh.  I don’t really want to have my favorites sell out that way, in any case.

Except a teeny tiny part of me that wants to see Hrithik Roshan blow the socks off of the rest of the celebs on Dancing with the Stars.

May 29, 2013: Two from Tamil Nadu: One Old, One New

NayakanJulie M:  Finished Nayakan (The Godfather, 1987).  WOW.   A “godfather” movie with heart. I have not seen the American Godfather series but if they are anything like this I will have to go right out and see at least the first one.

Jenny K: You and I may be the only two film buffs around who haven’t seen  Coppola’s The Godfather!  I always heard it was the inspiration for Nayakan, but I’m reading Baradwaj Rangan’s series of interviews with Mani Ratnam, the director, and in the chapter on this film, he says that it isn’t strictly so.  When asked by Kamal Haasan what kind of film he’d like to make if they worked together, Mani said, off the top of his head, that he’d do a film based on the life of real life Mumbai don, Varadaraja Mudaliar.  Of course, every filmmaker alive in the Eighties has been influenced by Coppola’s film, in some way or other, but the only scene that everyone seems to agree was a direct homage, was having a scene of enemy gang members being killed while the godfather is performing a religious ritual…of course, I have no way of citing this as gospel, as I haven’t seen both.   Yeah, yeah…I’ll remedy it.  Soon.

Here’s a link to the info on Baradwaj Rangan’s book, Conversations with Mani Ratnam.  I’m really enjoying it.  And his blog and reviews are wonderful, too.   The book is available on Amazon.  Enough interruption by me.  Back to the synopsis.

Julie M: Young Shakti Velu, a Tamil, is accidentally responsible for the police killing his father, a labor leader.  After killing the policeman who killed his father the boy runs away to Mumbai, where he is taken in by a poverty-stricken but kindly slum dweller and hangs around with other Tamil street kids who become his lifelong associates. Velu (Kamal Haasan) grows up hotheaded, distrustful of police and fiercely protective of the community that took him in. He also turns to committing petty crimes in order to bring in some money, even challenging local crime bosses, but also performs good deeds on behalf of individuals in the community. When his father-substitute dies at the hands of police he kills the inspector who killed him; his local community, used to his goodness, refuses to identify him and he goes free. He then suffers an attack of remorse and protects the inspector’s family with kindnesses and cash.

Velu and NeelaAs he ages, Velu grows into the role of “Nayakan,” or godfather, of his community, never hesitating to use violence when necessary but it doesn’t seem to be necessary very often, and helping his people with favors. He falls in love with a young prostitut, Neela, (Saranya Ponvannan) and marries her, and they have a son and daughter as he continues to solidify his position as the don with the heart of gold. Unfortunately, he also sucks up all the criminal enterprises and as time goes on, his enemies start to move in ever closer.

The film is mostly about the personal trials and tribulations of an ordinary man who happens to be in the crime business, and I can see how every subsequent “godfather” movie in India looks to this one as its wellspring. He almost makes crime not so criminal. He loves a girl, loves his children, suffers heartache and loss, seeks redemption and grows old, just like all of us. I appreciated that the film did not dwell on his criminal enterprises and instead focused on the man himself; Kamal Hasan is AMAZING as he “ages” from a young man of 20 or so to about age 70. Unfortunately he succumbed to “Marlon Brando Disease” and stuffed cotton in his cheeks to signify aging–ew–and mumbled a lot at the end; thank heavens for subtitles!  [Ed. note: but, alas, not in this clip!]

Jenny K: Nope…not cotton.  The interview tells me that Kamal Haasan is wearing a pair of dentures cast to give him that lovely jowly look.  “We didn’t want to do too much; otherwise it might have become another Marlon Brando.  It was done subtly.” Obviously didn’t work on us…my reaction was the same as yours.

Julie M: Mani Ratnam’s direction and highly realistic settings–even the one dance number seemed natural–added to the storytelling. This retrospective article by Kamal Haasan gives some great insight into the process of making the film and its lasting impact.

Highly recommended all around; thank you so much for sending it!

[Editor’s Note:  Available, in full, here, but with no subtitles.

Available here, with subtitles, but the first fifteen minute segment has been removed.  Or, go get it from your library…your choice!]

Jenny K:  Glad you liked it as much as I always have.  Mani Ratnam is my favorite director, as I’ve said many a time before.    I haven’t seen it for quite a long time, but Nayakan and Kamal Haasan’s own directorial offering, Hey Ram are two of only a handful of street violence films that I truly enjoyed.  Company, by Ram Gopal Varma, comes to mind, but that may be heightened by the Ajay-factor.

But on a more “down” note, I think you’ve had a lot more friendly visit to Tamil film-land than I have…Went to the theater the other day to catch the highly touted Paradesi (Wanderers), the new Tamil film by national award winning director Bala. Well, I haven’t seen any of his other films, so I can’t truly judge, but I’m inclined not to see anything else. Here’s the trailer.

I really wanted to like this film, as it has high aims. It’s based on the novel Red Tea by Paul Harris Daniel, which I haven’t read (and I’d have to go to the Library of Congress to get a copy) but deals with the terrible experience of naive Tamil villagers who get tricked into working on the southern tea plantations during the last two decades of the Raj. It shows their suffering and I’m sure it’s an issue which deserves to be known, but the execution, especially in the second half of the two hour film, has gaping holes, which to a non-Indian audience are almost unbridgeable.

The first half of the film introduces you to the pre-tea existence of the villagers, as our hero, Rasa, the somewhat simple-minded town crier goes from home to home announcing the upcoming wedding of two of the local young folk. Everyone is supposed to attend, and to feed the town crier, it seems. Rasa lives, and supports his grandmother, on the kindness of his neighbors and seems to have no ambition for anything further than the next meal. Arthavaa Murali, who plays Rasa, is a handsome young man, veteran of only about three films, but makes a good impression with a mix of cheeky sweetness and naivety that reminds me a bit of a Fresh Prince era Will Smith. His abs don’t do badly by comparison, either.

Rasa and Angamma of ParadesiHowever, Bala is always directing Rasa to erupt into floods of tears from all sorts of causes from the death of his uncle to as little as “I’ve worked hard all day and no one will give me any rice!” It may be a cultural thing, with American audiences traditionally uncomfortable with men crying, but I’ve been watching Indian films for quite a while now, and he still seems way too weepy for your traditional hero. It doesn’t help me to identify with him. The lady that catches his eye, Angamma, played by Vedika, is similarly childlike in her teasing ways…it comes across as half K3G Kajol and half Pippi Longstocking. She, in love with Rasa, feels the need to tease him often and ceaselessly until, of course, Rasa breaks down in tears. This brings them together. 

Angamma’s mother puts her foot down against any marriage between the kids, because Rasa is just too much of a “Bin-Picker” (his nickname, the Tamil equivalent of “dumpster diver,” I guess) and has no way to support a wife. So Rasa goes out of the village, determined to succeed or die trying. Rasa brings back a tea plantation recruiter who may just help him achieve the latter end, for himself and a good portion of the village. The recruiter spins stories of easy profit and waves cash advances at anyone who will sign his contracts and go to work on the plantations for a mere year. Many accept, packing their few belongings and head off on a two month walk to their new home. Almost as soon as they leave, Angamma’s mother finds out she’s pregnant and as she’s not married, Mom tosses her out. Rasa’s grandmother, also alone, is happy to take her in. Here falls the intermission, on the body of one of the would-be workers, prone and dying in the path, left where he has fallen as the body of workers are prodded on and over his body, left as worthless. Not a good sign for anyone.

The second half only gets more appalling, on almost every level. First you get the treatment of the poor workers who are tricked into the traditional “owing the company store more than they are paid” scenario. They can’t get away by work or flight, which is punished by mutilation of varying sorts. Of course, the white owner of the plantation is a rapist, and worse still, a bad actor with a very American accent for an officer of the British Raj. This follows in the tradition in many Indian films that all the white actors are at a skill level that suggest they were dragged off their beach chairs and asked if it wouldn’t be fun to be in a movie for a day. Fun for them, not for us. Uniformly bad work by all non-Indian performers.

Rasa finds out after a year, in a letter that gets through, that he’s a father, and is tortured by thoughts of them, as well as overjoyed by the news itself. That’s until the plague hits and reduces the workers by half…then they get a severe attack of the missionaries, too. Can’t these poor coolies get a break?

The missionary doctor and his sexy white wife do a really bad evangelical song and dance to try to bring the relief of Jesus to the poor, downtrodden masses, those of them that are left, anyway. Many accept and join in the dance, primarily because of the bread thrown into the audience during the choruses. I don’t know if I’ve ever before seen an Indian film so openly disrespectful of other religions as in this number. I was tempted to walk out, but it was over fairly quickly, however it left a very bad taste in this Christian mouth. Yes, I know that not all missionaries were welcomed, or pure-hearted in their intentions, but this seemed like a completely out of context cheap laugh cultural slam, and it put me off charity with the filmmakers immediately.

For the plusses: the acting by the principal trio of Arthavaa, Vedika and Dhansika (who played a mother in the camp, deserted by her husband) were uniformly affecting. I’d like to see them in other films. The lovely music by GV Prakash Kumar was very lyrical and atmospheric. The lyrics, by Vairamuthu, at least as translated, seemed almost seamlessly tied to the images that they portrayed, adding depth and poignancy to all the emotional montages they accompanied, especially the climax song. But mostly, I want to applaud the fabulous cinematography of Chezhiyan which is stellar in almost every shot. Very haunting, gorgeous shots of the tea fields and the mountains, especially.

I wish I could wholeheartedly recommend this film with as much enthusiasm as the director and actors had in making it. Their intentions were good, and they achieved some of their aims, but the second half missteps killed my recommendation. If you have the time, threaded through this special promoting the film, are quite a number of nice clips of Paradesi. I wish Arthavaa had kept his short haircut… 

Julie M:  OK, so this begs the question: what is the purpose? Yes, the Raj was bad. Yes, the scenery is lovely; nothing new there. Acting and music excellent–but does not overcome a bad plot and huge cultural stereotyping. Sorry, just in a grumpy mood today.

Jenny K:  No one else has mentioned the missionary scene as bad in the reviews I’ve read, except tangentially. However, all the reviewers were desi, so, perhaps it just hit them as a throw away item number. No biggie. All depends on the audience; the one that the director was aiming at, anyway.

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

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