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!

September 18, 2012: Samrat, Next Role?

Jenny K:  The summer’s been slow for writing about film, but not, thank goodness, for the viewing.  Though I blench to admit it, I’ve succumbed to the national fascination with downloadable films.  I want to see it, and I want to see it NOW!!!  Patience is a thing of the past and Netflix is my main enabler.

I watched four films in an embarrassingly short amount of time, and though they were not all Indian language films, they were all linked by the presence of one desi actor, Samrat Chakrabarti, so I thought this week merited a full Samrat-centric post.

Julie M:  I’m afraid of Netflix.  I’m afraid that my life will no longer be my own if I had immediate access to anything I wanted to see!  But back to Samrat.

Jenny K:  Now I knew who he was.  I’d even met him before at a film festival in NYC when he was promoting one of his films.  But until I saw The Waiting City (2009) at my buddy Pat’s insistence, I had no idea how versatile an actor he was.  And he’s practically chameleon-like, he so disappears into any role he takes.  The Waiting City is about an Australian couple (played by Radha Mitchell and Joel Edgerton) who go to Kolkata to adopt a little girl, and hopefully in doing so save their marriage…though neither of them were admitting that they were on the edge of collapse when they left Oz.

The paperwork involved in the transferal of little Laxmi from the orphanage takes (shock!) longer than they had been led to believe, and the two are left in the capable hands of Krishna (Samrat) their cab-driver-and-jack-of-all-trades.  I couldn’t believe the credits; I didn’t even recognize Samrat as the same light comedian who deftly beat-boxed his way through Loins of Punjab Presents.  But it was  more than the obvious change of hair and wardrobe; Samrat slipped so easily into the cadences and mannerisms of a working-class guy in the city, filled with the gentle wisdom of a simple man, that he rapidly became the hero of the piece for me. This one’s definitely worth a watch.

Julie M:  I find it weird that the trailer doesn’t even credit him, and only really highlights his voice at the beginning, for all that you say he’s an important part of the film.  But I really enjoyed the way Kolkata becomes a character in the narrative…at least it seems so from the trailer.

Jenny K:  Well, he’s not, technically the focus of the story, but these two Aussies are babes in the woods in Kolkata, both in matters of bureaucracy and communication.  And I don’t mean just with the adoption board…he becomes the facilitator for many of the ways that these two people come to relate to each other.  Sort of their guru for this trip, in a way.

Julie M:  I meant to watch a film tonight, myself, since B is out of town, but got caught up mid-afternoon preparing a lecture and before I knew it, it was midnight and I still hadn’t finished. Darn! Well, once it gets cold out I will stop exercising outside and switch to the indoor bike, and will start watching films in 1/2-hour installments again to entertain myself. But I did see Kahaani  courtesy of my lovely library and LOVED it.  I’m a thriller nut anyway, and this was satisfyingly mysterious, thrilling and twisty.  Vidya Balan is my favorite leading actress right now and I can’t wait for her next release, which apparently is not until next year!

Jenny K:  Well, you’ll just have to go back and watch her in Parineeta with Saif, from 2005.  You haven’t seen that yet, have you?  It was her first film.

The Waiting City led me to IMDb to find out what else Samrat had done, which linked to his website and his show reel. Pretty cool…proves my observation that the performances are so different, that it looks like the work of different men!  Afterwards, I began to scour Netflix and Amazon download in earnest for more examples of Samrat’s work.

First up was one of the light comedies that he seems to specialize in…Kissing Cousins (2008) a ninety-eight-minute fluff piece that gives you a reverse Hitch, with Samrat playing a professional break-up guy on the LA scene, hireable by those too cowardly to break up with their significant others in person.

This job has soured him on romance in the extreme and his all too “coupled” friends think he will never get his own healthy dating life. He is rescued by accident on an impromptu trip home to visit his folks in SanFran that involves a reunion with his feisty cousin Zara from England (Rebecca Hazlewood of NBC’s late, occasionally lamented Outsourced) who goes home with him to sightsee in LA. Hilarity and confusion abound when she spontaneously steps in as his pretend girlfriend, allowing him to save face with his friends.

Samrat’s acting is smooth here, with a nice light comedic touch, and a much more stylish avatar than in TWC.  Now, I realized, sort of after the fact that I should have been a bit shocked with the subject matter, at a drunken heavy groping session between relatives, et al, but, I wasn’t, perhaps due to the deftness of these actors’ portrayals.  Plus, the film itself wasn’t completely predictable.  It didn’t end in either the way the trailer teases you it will, or the way I expected it to.  So, verdict: nice timepass, albeit with a bit of crudeness here and there between the guy-pals that I could have done without. On Youtube, here.

Julie M:  Didn’t his redheaded friend look just like a white version of Samrat?  Or am I just tired? 

Jenny K: Hmmm…could be exhaustion, I didn’t pick up on that resemblance.

Kissing Cousins had a much better role for Samrat than the other comedy that I got from Amazon, The Wedding Weekend (2006), where he was certainly competent, but it was definitely not designed to be “his” picture. Just one of the attractive crowd, so I won’t bother to profile it here…I am going to hunt down more Reg Rogers movies because of that film, though. I have a definite weakness for cute Jewish guys who sing that well…oh, dear…

The final film in my Samrat Trifecta was Bombay Summer (2009).  We’re back in a serious mode again, with Samrat playing a young yuppie writer struggling to find his voice in his first grown-up apartment, away from his parents. However, he spends less time writing and more time canoodling with his girlfriend Tanishtha Chatterjee (finally in a film not set in the country!), who is just as compelling as I’ve come to expect. 

Julie M:  I’m a huge Tannishtha fan.  Loved her in Road, Movie and Brick Lane.  This film seems a bit self-indulgent for me to truly enjoy (a writer writing a film about a writer with personal problems…spare me!) but I’d watch it for her performance alone. 

Jenny K:  Don’t write it off on that impression, because it is definitely more than that.  And if it’s autobiographical, the writer in question (also the film’s director) Joseph Mathew doesn’t cut himself very much slack. His character, Jaidev, doesn’t come across as particularly endearing.  In fact, all of the characters in this film have their grey areas, and it gives layers to the film that really enrich it.

Tannishtha plays Geeta, a young woman who comes from a very affluent family, but who is supporting herself as a publisher…she is hiding her relationship with Jaidev from her father (or trying to) while Jaidev is doing the same thing with his parents. His mother is desperate to get him to come home to Mummy and Daddy who would love to smooth his way into authordom for him.

Meanwhile the spoke that is stuck into the wheel of their relationship is a lower-caste artist, Madan (a quite charismatic Jatin Gaswami) who applies for a job doing covers for her publishing firm. Tannishtha takes him under her wing, and the three of them start hanging out together, the Three Musketeers, visiting Madan’s idyllic village and his lovely mother, taking photos together, visiting inspiring ruins and beaches, etc…They get so close, in fact, that disaster must happen.

And it does…as in 2010’s Dhobi Ghat: Mumbai Diaries, Bombay Summer paints a very interesting and involving story of a city and three mismatched modern Mumbaikars, struggling with dreams of success and art, love and lust, philanthropy and patronism…and does it a bit more successfully than does the Aamir Khan starrer. Perhaps it’s just that the stories in this earlier film are more closely linked than in Dhobi Ghat which, at least in the first half of the film seem almost an anthology of separate life stories. More is spelled out here, except perhaps, in details at the very end…where it leaves some things hanging a bit more than I’d like.

Everyone involved in this one did a great job. As I mentioned before, Samrat played his character without vanity, not needing us to like him, just to understand him. Tannishtha gave a lovely, delicately emotional performance. And Jatin is someone that I’d like to see again. Very charismatic. This may motivate my next mini-filmfest! Only two films in his IMDb list…but the one that is coming up, Baromas, looks just up your alley…serious Cain and Abel thing goin’ on complete with politics and protests…and Seema Biswas! How can it miss? It’s coming out later this year.

Julie M:  Oh, yeah, Baromas is definitely on the “anticipated” list now. Thanks for alerting me!  Too much to see, too little time…!!!

Jenny K:  And thank you Samrat Chakrabarti, for doing what you do so well with such skill, honesty and heart.  In any type of role he takes, he’s going to give us 110 %.  I will look forward to whatever comes up next.

July 25, 2012: Farewell, Kaka

Julie M:  As a fitting tribute to the romantic heartthrob of Bollywood…we chose Rajesh Khanna in his award winning role, Anand (1971).

 

Jenny K:  His passing last week leaves a large empty place in the Bollywood pantheon that will take a lot to fill.  His work in this film garnered him the Filmfare Best Actor award for that year, and it was really deserved.

Julie M: Anand is not a romantic role for him; although there is a somewhat tragic romance in the back story, it gives Khanna the chance to show his dramatic range and boy-next-door good looks to advantage.  For a 15-minute overview (sorry, no subtitles), check this out. 

Plot summary: After winning an award for writing a novel, Dr. Baskhar Banerjee (Amitabh Bachchan, in his debut lead role) tells, in flashback, the true story of the man who inspired the book. Banerjee is an oncologist, a very serious man, and is disillusioned about how little he can do to cure people who live in poverty and can barely afford food, much less expensive medicines. At a visit to a fellow doctor to discuss a case he meets the doctor’s old friend, Anand (Rajesh Khanna), a jovial and chatty fellow who has recently arrived in Mumbai from Delhi. Banerjee is first overwhelmed, then charmed, by Anand’s energy and unflagging good spirits, particularly when he learns that Anand is in the final stages of an incurable cancer.

Anand gravitates to Banerjee, and Banerjee invites Anand to leave his nursing home and move in with him. Over the course of the next hour or so of story we watch the friendship grow, and Anand’s philosophy of making as many friends as possible, finding poetry in the everyday and living life to the fullest grows on Banerjee. Anand plays matchmaker between Banerjee and a former patient that he has a crush on, and delights in the budding romance; but he occasionally lets his more pensive side slip out. 

By the end of the film Banerjee has learned to love and to let go, and reluctantly bids Anand goodbye.

Rajesh Khanna is perfect as the bubbly Anand, and his small round form contrasts visually with Bachchan’s tall sober angularities. The bromance works because of this dichotomy, and Khanna’s beaming face totally charmed me.  And the songs are supposed to be among the most poetic and heartfelt of its era. 

Jenny K:  I agree that Rajesh Khanna lights up the screen in every scene.  He certainly put everything into it…and how young Amitabh looks! Soooo schweet, as the saying goes. Ah, Indian filmmakers do know how to do the male friendship right, don’t they? They always give us the most touching emotional scenes, and depict honest affection between guys, even if they aren’t relatives.  It’s nice to see that kind of relationship put out there without worrying about how it might come across.  Hint:  America…you could take a lesson or two! 

Julie M:  My feeling about RK is that he’s so innocent, his eyes are so soulful, and his forte seemed so much to be the “earnest romantic guy,” that seeing him in this bromance was a bit unexpected. I was kind of bowled over by the energy. He didn’t get to play off a leading lady here, and what was so wonderful about him was his chemistry with the best romantic leads of the day: Sharmila, Zeenat, even Simple Kapadia. We’ve talked about that side of him here in Anurodh and here in Ajnabee.

 

Jenny K:  Before I watched Anand I started to watch his first big hit Aradhana(Worship) (1969) with Sharmila Tagore that I had sitting in the pile near my DVD player for some reason. By the way, what is it with all his “A” titles? You’d think it was his lucky letter, like “K” is for Karan Johar! 

In any case, Rajesh was much more romantic and charming in Aradhana, blithely singing to his yet-undiscovered love, Sharmila, while she gazes from a train as he drives in his car next to it. The archetypal filmi hero.  I’ll update the post when I’ve finished the film, but it is chugging along, delightfully.

 

Julie M:  And in Anand, RK had great hair. That was what was so weird about him—in 90% of his films he had bad hair, and spotty skin, and a chubby face, and supremely bad clothes, yet the combination was irresistible.

 

Jenny K:  I thought Rajesh looked wonderful all through, different from BigB (always one of our favorite guys) but still quite attractive. He aged well, too, rather elder statesman-esque.  I enjoyed his cameo playing Akshaye Khanna’s estranged father in Aa Ab Laut Chalen (1999). 

I also liked some of our old standby character actors…Lalita Pawar playing the easily thawed hospital Matron cum Ma, who we saw as the principal in Shammi’s Professor. And Johnny Walker of all those Guru Dutt films, doing, for him, almost a straight dramatic role as Issabhai. Almost didn’t recognize him!

 

Julie M:  Didn’t you get kind of a reverse Kal Ho Naa Ho vibe off Anand? You know, cute charming dying guy puts best friend together with life partner before passing away? And the death scene was SO reminiscent of this one in KHNH. Is that a trope in Indian film or was KHNH deliberately calling back Anand?

Jenny K:  I don’t know if it was on purpose, but with the dying man changing the life of the ones he loves, though the sex is changed (Preity taking the Amitabh role, sort of), it really feels intentional. All the behind the scenes matchmaking, to get his friends and family taken care of before he goes, then little things, like the scenes in the kitchens, with Anand/Aman (note the similar names, too?!?) cutting onions, etc. cooking for the family, talking a blue streak, so much that it almost seems annoying as much as charming. And the late Dara Singh showing up in both films, too. Dara was very handsome in a large, oversized way, wasn’t he?

 

Julie M:  I’m sure it’s on purpose.  Too close not to be.

 

Jenny K:  Also, you have a few of the unfortunate parallels, too…like how healthy both of them look until moments before they die, actually, unbelievably so. And how they linger on until they have their last words with everyone concerned (either live, or on tape) and then check out, messiah-like, having taken care of everyone, he/they can now rest in peace. Yep, you’re right, both of those last scenes are weep-fests. 

Julie M:  Just for fun, here is the “chatty dying man has pensive moment” song from KHNH that parallels the one in Anand 

Jenny K: Though it isn’t my favorite Hrishikesh Mukherjee film, it was a nice one with good performances. It did a very thorough job letting us linger over the lesson Anand leaves us with…it’s not how early you go out, it’s how you live your life, and the grace with which you leave it.

 

Julie M:  Anand is available in whole form, free, with subtitles, on YouTube.    RIP, Kaka.

Gone but never forgotten!!

July 6, 2012: Raincoat, Running and Rampal

Julie M:  It took many sessions on the exercise bike, but I finally finished Raincoat (2004). Such a pleasure to see Ajay out of action-hero mode, and amazing chemistry between him and Aishwarya Rai. Good performances all around and well-integrated music in the background. She managed to look lovely and sad and beaten all at once, and the performance seemed to foreshadow her role in Guzaarish.  A+, all around.

Plot summary:  Manu (Ajay Devgan) is an out-of-work millworker from a rural area who has come to the big city of Kolkata to try and drum up investments from friends to fund a new business venture.  On a whim he decides to visit Neeru (Aishwarya Rai), a former girlfriend who had dumped him six years previously to marry a wealthier man more acceptable to her family.  They spend a rainy afternoon together, discussing old times and their current lives (during which they shamelessly lie to each other without the other knowing), and a surprise ending recalls the famous O. Henry short story “The Gift of the Magi.”

 

Jenny K:  I loved their reminiscences of their past.  And Ajay was very good playing against type. No toughguy here, until the end, maybe.

 

Julie M:  Funny, but the way it was performed I thought it was originally a stage play, because it’s basically a one-scene piece. The part at the beginning and end with Manu’s friends seemed tacked-on; I could have done with just the two characters, but I guess there had to be a way to explain his life otherwise we would not have known.

 

Jenny K:  You’re right, it’s very suitable for the theater.  This was close on the heels of Choker Bali, both directed by Rituparno Ghosh, and was at the height of Aish’s “I can prove that I’m not just a pretty face” campaign.  Raincoat works much better for me than Choker Bali, which was glacially slow, if earnestly played.

 

Julie M: Raincoat is available free on YouTube, in parts.  Here’s Part 1.

 

Jenny K:  I had a productive (for the blog) night, last night…I ran an Irrfan Double Header! Thank God for art films, because it made a twofer possible, not often feasible in Indianfilmland, without a mid-afternoon start and serious munchie fortification.

First up was Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Paan Singh Tomar (2010) which I have been trying to see for quite some time, but it never made it to any of my local theaters. But now it’s on Netflix streaming!

As a film, you feel as if you’ve seen it before…familiar, yet with such odd mash-ups that the results are unique. At times it feels like Chariots of Fire, but set in the military…then there are bits of Sholay‘s Gabbar Singh in a rather Robin Hood kinda mood. Also strong Bimal Roy tinges of “what’s a poor self respecting farmer to do when life gives you a rotten roti?” And the answer seems to have been cribbed from the Bhagat Singh Handbook. Here’s the trailer.

The film is extremely watchable. Irrfan has such an expressive face, it’s a pleasure just to have him on screen. The story begins with a disclaimer that the plot is based on true people and incidents, but is a work of fiction and any similarities to real people are coincidental??? Is it just me, or doesn’t the first half of that statement preclude the second? Oh well…

The story is that of a peaceful, unremarkable young man from a village, who joins the military as his only escape. He was born under a wandering star, says his wife’s fortuneteller. But she knows that he’ll always come back to her, no matter how long the walkabout. While in the army, he signs up for the athletic program because he loves to run, and to get more food. He does have quite the appetite, does Paan Singh Tomar, and boy, can he run. All the way to being National Champion of the steeplechase,  and all over the world.

He seems completely happy with his military life, his racing and the occasional visits home to see his wife and kids…until…his cousin, Bahwar Singh (Jahangir Khan) steals his sugarcane crop. It seems Bahwar resents the local running celebrity just showing up infrequently and not doing any of the work around the village fields, so he takes what he wants from Paan Singh’s fields, too, which he regards as his due for not being the prodigal son.

When PST  asks for recompense, his cousin ignores him. PST goes to the police. They ignore him. He tries to call in favors from his army bosses…heck, he’s a national sports hero, after all! Well, they send in a mediator to try the case, and find in Paan Singh’s favor, but aren’t willing to enforce anything. Seems his clippings and medals get him only so much, and no more. Bahwar Singh just laughs and burns the cane, sends PST’s wife and kids running for cover, beats up his mother who stays to defend the house, and then destroys said house. What’s a law abiding man to do when the authorities don’t care? Become a dacoit, of course!

The plot sort of goes where you expect it to after that, however, the trip is well worth the taking. Irrfan and his supporting cast are wonderful, the atmosphere evocative, and the mood is increasingly more oppressive as the film unfolds. You know why Paan Singh does what he does.  He’s a rebel, not a dacoit, as he says, repeatedly, to any who will listen. If the following interview with surviving relatives is anything to go by, he did have no choice.

This film is on YouTube, too. In parts, here.

 

Julie M:  I love anything Irrfan Khan does.  You had me interested by just saying his name!

 

Jenny K:  The second part of the twofer was The Warrior (2001). Directing his first feature film, Asif Kapadia hits one out of the park on this film. A short film (about 90 minutes) this film is long on impact. It’s shot with practically no conversation, all in vibrant visuals. Taken from a tiny mention of a story of samurai life, writers Kapadia and Tim Miller along with DP Roman Osin, weave a mesmerizing story of a warrior who gives up his life as an official kingdom assassin, tired of what his liege lord asks him to do. Unfortunately, that decision costs him his home and everything dear to him. Here’s the trailer.

Lacfadia, the warrior, flees from his fellow enforcers who are sent after him to stop his escape, and having taken a vow to never raise a weapon against defenseless people again, his flight is a desperate one. Irrfan, practically silent, is even more expressive than he normally is with words. He takes up a few wanderers he meets on his seemingly aimless quest for spiritual peace. One of which, a petty thief named Riaz, played by Noor Mani, does an equally impressive job. Noor posted excerpts from his own performance here on Youtube, but it gives a nice cross section of the film’s tone.

This young man had been living a life on the street before he found an acting school set up by Mira Nair’s people when Salaam, Bombay! needed non-professional actors. Actually, most of the actors in this film were non-professionals, and the director, Mr. Kapadia, got some amazing performances from them. Great behind the scenes pieces on the DVD…almost as much footage as the film itself!

This one is definitely worth the watch. It felt a lot like Tarsem Singh’s The Fall with its eloquent silences and beautiful scenery, and also a bit like Road, Movie in the collection of oddly assorted travellers, that we reviewed earlier in our Abhay Deol Fest. The intimate interaction between relative strangers is there in all three films. Get it if you can…probably is a library choice as it won the BAFTA in 2003 for best picture.

 

Julie M:  WOW. I’m speechless with the quality of both of these films and of course with Irrfan Khan as the lead performer. I’ve got to get hold of them!  Library has neither. Bummer!

 

Jenny K:  Well, it is on YouTube, but no subtitles…I’ve watched some like that, but it can be frustrating…

 

Julie M:  Whew, finally finished Tehzeeb (Etiquette, 2003). Major EFD (emotional family drama)!  I’m still recovering.

Brief plot summary: Tehzeeb (Urmila Matondkar) grew up as the lonely daughter of famous singer Rukhsana (Shabana Azmi). Her character has been shaped by the witnessing, at age 10 or so, the murder of her beloved father (excellent cameo appearance by Rishi Kapoor) by her mother, a crime for which Rukhsana was acquitted; however, despite years of suppressed horror and rage, she still admires her mother and she is still the emotional center of Tehzeeb’s life. Tehzeeb, once an aspiring singer but now a housewife, is married to romance novelist Salim (Arjun Rampal, sigh), and they live with and care for her developmentally disabled sister, Nazneen (Dia Mirza). Here’s their great meet-cute scene.

 

Jenny K:  Actually, this is the first movie where I found Arjun attractive.  He does grow on you.

 

Julie M: One day Rukhsana announces that she is coming for a visit for the first time since Tehzeeb and Salim married five years ago; the prospect of this throws Tehzeeb for a loop. The next few weeks expose buried feelings and contradictions, rub raw nerve endings and lead to confrontations, disclosures and more.

It’s rare that I get to see an Indian movie that centers so strongly on complex female relationships. You’d think, with Bollywood’s preference to avoid niche marketing, that such a project would never be greenlighted unless it was liberally sprinkled with dishoom, or at least some scantily clad gori dancers. But all this female bonding, to me, was treated too superficially.

The schmaltzy background music was more suited to TV soap operas than a mainstream movie, and the requisite hospital scene near the end had me rolling my eyes.  Nevertheless, I appreciated the character conflicts even if they were handled in a daytime-drama way (from sets, costumes and staging through action and significant glances…is this Mumbai or Pine Valley?). “Tehzeeb,” in addition to being the name of the lead character, also means “etiquette,” and ultimately it is etiquette that kept Tehzeeb all these years from confronting her mother with her feelings, which could have avoided all this intense drama.

Yes, there were dance numbers, but they felt tacked on and gratuitous, particularly Arjun’s, seen here. It was completely wrong for the character, as he played kind of a combination of narrator, comic relief and token useless male (but he was gorgeous, especially in that black turtleneck sweater, and if I were to have a slightly cowed but very romantic husband I’d like him to be Salim).

Urmila, a decent enough actress, should never be allowed to dance. Everything I see her in she is clunky and robotic and looks like she is slightly in pain.

 

Jenny K:  Now, to give Urmila her due, I ought to put up one of her more acclaimed dance performances from China Gate.  Now, I’m not saying she’s going to threaten Madhuri’s queen-of-the-gypsy-numbers status or anything, but she does hold her own, here.

 

Julie M: And WHAT was up with the “creative” dance number for Dia Mirza??!!  The “move the action along” music was much better, except when it was intrusive, which was, oh, about half the time. The slow songs were lovely. And my favorite part was when Tehzeeb, entertaining her mother and sister, parodied famous movie numbers. Can’t find the scene online, though.

 

Jenny K:  That was always the scene that stuck in my mind, too.  She was really funny, and on-the-nose in her imitations.  Hidden talents!

 

Julie M: Overall…a solid B film, worth seeing if you come across it but nothing to go out of your way to find.

July 1, 2012: Charming con-men

Well, we’ve let another month go by without a post despite our best intentions.  Life has just gotten in the way. But we have been watching, just not discussing!  Here’s Part I of what we saw in June, which is without too many snarky back-and-forth comments because Jenny is caught in the East Coast power outage situation…both involving charming con-men doing what they do best.

 Julie M:  In my ongoing quest to see more of Abhay Deol, last night I watched Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008) Here’s the trailer:

There wasn’t much to the plot: Abhay plays Lucky, whom we first meet when he is caught despite being a very successful thief. We then flash back to his youth, where at 15 he started his life of crime, then work our way up to the present through more flashbacks, then we move forward again in “real” time.  A bit confusing but it works.  Here’s a great scene where the young Lucky is trying to convince his father to buy him a motorcycle, who pretends (up to a point) to go along with the idea:

All along we trace Lucky as he works for a crime boss (Paresh Rawal, in one of three roles he plays in this film), meets and romances a girl, and tries to go straight by funding a fledgling restaurant (restaurant owner also played by Paresh Rawal; the third role is as Lucky’s father). He moves around a lot, but his quest for respectability is thwarted at every turn.

A pattern develops: every time he is frustrated or feeling like things have gotten out of his control, he steals stuff. Not to fence or make money from (although he will sell a couple of things when in need), but mostly just to surround himself with. As the movie progresses you see his stash room getting more and more crowded, eventually pressing in on him until all he has is one chair (which he has also stolen) in the middle of towers and layers of STUFF. He gets caught a few times, manages to escape each time, and then the film abruptly ends after one escape with a montage of still images implying that he has married his girl and has gone straight…or has he?

OLLO has an indie feel in its plotting and cinematography, and resisted the impulse to go broad in its comedy, which I appreciated–but to me it never really got off the ground.  I kept thinking that there would be some defining moment for Lucky, some realization of why he steals that would cause him to stop, but although the reason is fairly obvious to us (a kind of crappy childhood with an overbearing father and a handsy stepmother, and a raging case of very low self-esteem, although he is handsome and charming as all get-out), he seems completely unaware. There are a few hilariously funny moments–like when he steals a tiny yappy little dog and then his face indicates that he immediately regrets it–but it’s not rollickingly funny, more of a “smart comedy.” His courting of his reluctant lady (Neetu Chandra) is sweet, though, and Abhay was the perfect choice to play Lucky. The best reason to see this film, though, is Paresh Rawal–three distinct characters, three looks, all fantastic.

There is music throughout as background, and its hip-hop feel works with the plot and action without seeming like a series of music videos, but this is probably the best song as a song:
   (sorry it’s a montage, they didn’t have the cut direct from the film)

So if you’re an Abhay Deol fan, put this on the “to watch” list.

Jenny K:  The things I do for Indian cinema promotion…Earlier this month I was looking for something to watch at the theater with Kathy and as I went through the list of my local Regal cinema, lo and behold, I saw a telltale title. Rowdy  Rathore. Now, it’s not a very promising title, I’ll grant you….I pictured lots of partying Punjabis dancing about to Daler Mendhi, which isn’t really my scene, but, I checked closer into it, and found the surprising fact that my local cinema was trying out Bollywood offerings once every two weeks. Hooray, I thought. I don’t have to go all the way to Falls Church for a fix! So even with Akshay in full-action mode, Kathy and I girded our lions for Punjab, metaphorically, and bought our tickets.

Julie M:  I’m shocked, SHOCKED, that you would voluntarily go for an Akshay action movie, but it’s been a long, hot summer, Indian-film-wise, so I understand the urgency…

Jenny KRowdy Rathore was all I expected and a bit worse. A twin plot…never seen that before…where Akshay plays a conman, Shiva, and his non-related twin, policeman Vikram Singh Rathore. I kept hoping for a teary-eyed maa-ji to pop up with a story about how she lost one of them at a Diwali Mela and hoped against hope that little Shiva had found a home and someone to love him, but no luck.

Shiva’s talent is at conning money out of strangers and occasionally his friends, too. He often uses the hypnotic talent he has for conjuring up a drumming rhythm which gets everyone dancing, whether they will or no. Here’s the first big dance number showing it.

I was really excited that it was Prabhu Deva’s first big Hindi movie offering as a director, and you know how much I love his dancing and choreography. Well all through this number, he kept making little cameo appearances, and I even got a tiny dance duo with Akshay at the end, but sad to say, it just succeeded in showing AK up, dancing next to PD. His choreography just works better on long-leggedy guys like himself and Hrithik, and just makes all-torso guys like our hero look short and a bit clod-hoppy. Not that he wasn’t trying his darndest, but it didn’t really work for me.

Julie M:  PINK PANTS??!! Really? (although after Akshay’s yellow outfit in Bhool Bhulaiyaa I shouldn’t be too surprised, the man does look kinda awesome in bright colors)

Jenny K:  Also, his leading lady Sonakshi Sinha was lovely, but seemed to be too young for our Shiva, especially at the beginning. She grew on me a bit as the long, long, long chop-socky fest went on. The plot had to do with Shiva being mistaken by one and all for the straight arrow lawman Vikram, who is being persecuted by the goondah element in his village for his stringent restrictions on their larceny. Even Vikram’s extremely adorable daughter, whose name I’ve forgotten already, thinks Shiva is her daddy. Shiva is saddled with the pint-sized charmer and must protect her from the onslaughts of the dacoits until the real daddy shows up to thrash the ever-lovin’ heck out of them. Lots of blood, lots of tears, lots of thwarted villainous gnashing of teeth.

Julie M:  Much as I love Akshay, that trailer would have totally turned me off.  Not a fan of endless thwacking of villains.  If I hadn’t heard your plot summary, I would have vowed never to see it.

Jenny K:  He uses that “mental rewind” thing really too often to be funny. Also, what’s with that horrible haircut and moustache?? Makes him look like Hitler on steroids! Well, Kathy and I have done our duty, and since then, the theater doesn’t seem to be making good on their promise of a new Hindi film every two weeks. Sad, but to be expected, when all they offer the general public is crazy, tongue-in-cheek slapstick fighting. I would have hoped they’d start with a popular masala film to get others hooked, but those are getting few and far between, these days, aren’t they? Oh, dear…

Julie M:  Nevertheless, I’m hoping RR comes out on DVD and into my library, because Akshay’s smile just gets me. True, he’s not the “dancing hero” type, but he has other charms that are not lost on me.

So, here are our bad-boy heroes together:  which would you rather have conning YOU?

March 31, 2012: Days of Whine and Reasons…to Procrastinate

We’ve been bad, bad bloggers.  No excuses other than work, and looking for work, getting in the way.  But we’re baaaaaaack!  Jenny went to a film festival in Pittsburgh, and Julie staged her own Naseeruddin Shah Mini-Fest. 

 

Jenny K: Well, not THAT bad…maybe only two aa’s worth.  I myself have gone to great lengths, of time and gasoline to bring forth this report.  Getting it written up, was, I must admit, much more prolonged than I’d have wished.  If I had known we were embarking on a Naseeruddin Shah-lebration, well, there would have been much less procrastination!

 

Julie M:  OK, so I saw Today’s Special (2009) tonight. I know it’s not technically an Indian film and it’s all in English, but it has three Indian actors (parallel and mainstream films) and an NRI actor/screenwriter, so I’ll count it as a win.  Here’s the trailer.

Jenny K: Finally!  I knew you’d like it…I talked about it quite a bit on my older blog when I first saw it in the theaters, but it’s great to get your perspective on it.  Needless to say, Naseerji had me with the first sight of him peeping at Aasif in the rear view mirror with such a knowing twinkle in his eyes.  Mmmm!  The man is definitely worth his own film fest.

 

Julie M:  To get the feeling of how great it is, here are the first scenes under the opening credits.

Plot summary:  Samir (Aasif Mandvi, of the Daily Show) is a sous-chef in a fancy New York restaurant, with dreams of running one of his celebrity-chef boss’s several establishments in the very near future.  When someone else is selected for the job he quits in frustration, intending to go to France to study with master chefs.  A family situation interrupts his plans and he offers to temporarily run his father’s (Harish Patel) restaurant, a greasy-spoon curry joint in Jackson Heights.  But he doesn’t speak any Indian languages well enough to communicate effectively with the kitchen staff, and he doesn’t know how to cook Indian food at all.  Friendly and quirky cabbie Akbar (Naseeruddin Shah) proves to be Samir’s simultaneous undoing and redemption, and his feisty mother (Madhur Jaffrey) keeps him grounded.  Of course there is also a love interest (Jess Weixler).  In the process of juggling relatives and restaurants, Samir learns the true meaning of commitment, family and food.

 

Jenny K: Just the thought of Naseerji running about in that t shirt with feathers flying is enough to cheer me up for the day!

 

Julie M: What a sweet (if semi-predictable) film! Naseerji was AMAZING–I could have kissed him all over, what an awesome character and played to perfection by the master–and of course, the food was a star its own self. Harish and Madhur can always  be counted on for top work in whatever they do.  But what I liked the best was the absolute realism of the Indian elements–down to the music, slang and attitudes. Not fake-India, REAL Indian people. OK, it was Hollywood-ed up slightly, but it felt very honest. Mandvi’s original play translated well to the screen and it felt natural and very warm.  And this gem on the special features, featuring Aasif and Madhur cooking, was hokey but fun.

 

Jenny K:  Well, she was a gem, and is, of course a rather famous cook in her own right…when I watched it, I wanted him to back off a bit with the yuk yuks, and let her go to town. 

 

Julie M: Well done, great recommendation. Love it, love it, love it!  The whole film is available for $2.99 on YouTube.  [It's on Netflix streaming, too.] And if you decide you can’t live without more Aasif, here’s a good interview.

 

Jenny K: My film outing was to beautiful downtown Pittsburgh, PA where The Silk Screen Asian American Film Festival was winding down it’s seventh annual showcase of films.  I was so sorry that I only had two days to dedicate to the festival, which runs for over a week…plus having numerous other events focusing on Asian-American culture during the year.  If you’re in the area, you should definitely check the group out.

I’m afraid, as you probably could predict, that I leaned heavily Indian in my choices for viewing, with The Beetle Soldiers, an Indonesian offering, being my sole trip outside Mother India.  That film, and two others, Dekh Indian Circus and Shala, all became an unintentionally themed set, focusing on the lives of children in different parts of South Asia. 

Dekh Indian Circus (2011) was the first film I saw when I hit town, not even waiting to check in at my hotel before going to the Regent Square Theater, a cozy little art cinema just off exit 77 on 376.  The film was directed by Mangesh Hadawale in a very polished first attempt.  Aided by Laxman Utekar’s lush cinematography we take a very vivid look through the eyes of two village children as they see a traveling circus for the very first time.  Or, rather, try to see one.  What should have been a rather simple joy the parents (Tannishtha Chatterjee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui) wanted to give their kids became a monumental challenge due to mingled issues of bad luck and the vagaries of the local political circus of Rajasthan’s (or any) election time.  A gorgeous film, very well acted by all involved, but a bit sad in tone and a mite confusing, as the circus/political parallels weren’t clear enough to me.

To continue through the murk of childhood memories, the second film I saw, Shala (2011), by Sujay Dahake was supposed to be a coming of age film of a group of ninth grade boys during Indira Ghandi’s political emergency of the 1970’s.  I hadn’t seen much on this era so far in my Indian film viewing, and I still don’t feel that I have.  A murky print didn’t help, but, again, the info the writer and director gave the viewer about the era wasn’t spelled out enough to give the uninitiated much enlightenment.  The children performed well, and I would have wished they had stuck more to that story and tied up some of the loose plot ends instead of spreading things too thin by covering (thinly) the historical context.  It could have been a classic boy’s first love of the “Unattainable She” film, and for me, at least, it wasn’t.

The next day, the first film was The Beetle Soldiers (2011), by Ari Sihasale.  It’s an Indonesian version of the same “boy comes of age” genre.  I was delighted to find that I was going to see one kids film this weekend where the children seemed to feel privileged going to school, and though it was often strict, not all the memories of school were harsh ones.  Our hero, Amek, played by Yudi Miftahudin with an open face and an honest expressiveness, has a talent for horses, and not as much for learning.  His life is also plagued by a cleft lip, but nothing stops his optimistic outlook…until the second half.  After that, not all the lovely cinematography in the world can stop the tsunami of bad luck that hits Amek and his family when his longed-for father finally comes home.  So much for a feel-good favorite.  Again, good performances, just not what I’d hoped for.  Sheesh.

Julie M:  The library finally yielded up The Dirty Picture (2011) and my schedule allowed me to see it in two short sessions.

I’m not going to rehash the plot because we’ve already talked about it here and our friend Carla on Filmi Geek did an extensive post on it, every word of which I agree with, except my tongue doesn’t hang out quite as much as hers does when I see Vidya. 

 

Jenny K:  Well, I don’t think anyone could match that much enthusiasm, even VB’s agent!  Wow!  And as good as some of Carla’s points are, some just missed me completely.  I got the feminist side of things, but I hadn’t seen the angle she found most obvious…with so much blatant hetero-ness goings on, it must have masked it, or it’s in the eye of the beholder.  Vidya has been a favorite of mine, acting-wise since the days of Lage Raho Munnabhai and Parineeta.  Way to go girl!

 

Julie M:  My opinion, outside of Vidya’s performance, which was of course jaw-droppingly fantastic, was that I didn’t think too much of it. I found it very dull in the few scenes she was not onscreen.  I was amused by Naseerji’s role as a Rajnikath-type South Indian actor (even anachronistically playing a college student at his age! So funny!) but he was oddly low-key and I felt he was underutilized.  The bad wig was just bad, not bad-hilarious. I think he could have hammed it up a bit more and not taken away from the film, and enhanced Vidya’s performance in the process.  A rare off note from an otherwise godlike figure in film, who turns everything he touches into gold.

 

Jenny K:  The last film of the festival for me, Trishna (2011), was an updating of Tess of the D’Urburvilles, the Thomas Hardy classic, by director Michael Winterbottom.  This one was also primarily in English, but with the setting moved to India (Rajasthan and Mumbai) and primarily Indian stars, it felt like a full-out Indian offering.  But one that will never see the light of day in the Motherland, I fear.  As faithful as Winterbottom was to the source material, the portrayal of the troubled Tess, I mean Trishna, is way too graphic in its sex scenes to ever make it past the Indian sensor board.  Heck, for a moment or two there I thought I was going to get up and leave, or grab Trishna’s knife and wield it myself, if she didn’t!  Ooof!  It’s not that I haven’t seen more blatant scenes in western films, but somehow the brutality of the scenes (while being a great indicator of Trishna’s motivation) were just this side of merciless to the audience, especially to me as a female.  Once again, good performances, especially by Frida Pinto of Slumdog fame, and great scenery, but definitely the depressing cap to a rather opressive film weekend.  Well, I chose my own schedule!

 

Julie M:  It took me three sessions, but I finished Sparsh (Touch, 1980) tonight. My faith in The Man is back:  I was completely blown away by NS’s performance!!

Plot:  Anirudh Parmar (Naseeruddin Shah) is the principal of a school for blind children, and is himself blind. While looking for an address one day he meets Kavita (Shabana Azmi), a young widow still overcome by grief after three years. They become friends, and he invites her to the school to help by teaching the children stories and songs. The distraction is just what she needs and she begins to come out of her self-imposed solitude.  Friendship turns to love and then an engagement, but after hearing the story of a fellow teacher’s (Om Puri, looking quite slim and dashing) similar marriage Anirudh becomes fearful that he will end up too dependent on her sightedness, and that she is somehow punishing herself by marrying him out of pity. Is their romance doomed by the cultural dissonance between the worlds of the blind and the sighted? Must each of them sacrifice something of themselves in order to be together?

 Here’s a quick, unsubtitled compilation of some key scenes. 
It is always a joy to watch each of the lead actors, and watching them together just put me over the top. Naseerji’s turn as the fiercely independent and crusading principal was astonishing, and it was a treat seeing him so young and handsome (not that he’s a troll now, by any means!). Example.

Shabani Azmi’s performance, while excellent all along, really hit the heights in the last 30 minutes or so as she tries to understand Anirudh’s abrupt change of feelings and his rejection of her and her world. The students at the school were all played very naturally by blind children—I doubt any of them were professional actors but they sure seemed like it.

My main criticism is that it started abruptly and ended abruptly (although not confusingly so), which really destroyed the flow of the story. The songs were incorporated so naturally into the storyline I hardly noticed them–still trying to decide if that’s a good or bad thing.  I felt it was a little heavy-handed on the “blind people aren’t helpless” theme, but I put that down to being filmed in 1980 when India probably still harbored serious cultural prejudices against handicapped people of any kind and needed to hear this socially progressive message.  And it has a kind of “deus ex machina” aspect near the end when Kavita’s best friend (Sudha Chopra) explains Kavita’s personality to Anirudh.

Sparsh is available for $0.99 on YouTube here.  Don’t know if it’s subtitled or not—seems not to be.  It’s free, in multiple parts starting here, albeit not subtitled and in a very bad print.  

Jenny K:  We’ll try not to be so behindhand next month!

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