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.

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!!

April 18, 2012: The Wah!-Wah!-WayBack Machine

Since the local Hindi cinemas have been stuck in Houseful mode since Kahaani left town (and I have to draw the line, somewhere!) Julie and I have been digging back, on dvd,  with our own “WayBack Machine” to see what we could have been watching in our elementary school days, if we had known what we were missing…and had been in Bombay.  Wah!  Wah!  Wonderful!

 

Jenny K:  I finished watching Namak Haraam (1973), the second film that Jayesh loaned me, and he didn’t steer me wrong!  You and I are both an easy sell on Amitabh Bachchan films, and this has the bonus of being a classic Indian Bromance (aren’t they all!) opposite Rajesh Khanna.  I  hadn’t seen Rajesh in anything except cameo appearances in more recent films (Aa Ab Laut Chalen, the huge group number in OSO).  Add to this a very, very young Rekha (practically didn’t recognize her without her now patented glamour look!) and well, what’s not to like?

The basic plot is predictable, but the performances make it well worth watching.   Somu (Rajesh) is the poorer half of two best buddies in Delhi.  The rich half is Vicky (Amitabh).  Both have lost parents at a very young age, and the boys “adopted” the other’s to fill in the gaps.  Vicky calls Somu’s mother and sister “Maa” and “Behen,” while Somu sees Vicky’s father as the hard-boiled business mogul he never had.  They’d both gone to law school and were clerking at the same firm, until one got fired, so the other quit in solidarity.  Vicky, despite his wealth, is a bit of a lost soul, and keeps turning to the bottle, drinking and going to see the nautch girls (in upscale joints, of course) and dragging Somu along with him to try to keep him on the ragged edge of the straight and narrow.

The trouble ramps up when Vicky’s father has a heart attack and asks Vicky to take his place as the head of the family millworks.  He agrees reluctantly (too much like actual work) and leaves for home.  Somu can’t handle being away from his Bro for more than a week or two and comes to join him.   Vicky doesn’t know how to handle the union boss, Bipinlal (the omnipresent AK Hangal) and insults him, not realizing the union will go on strike.  To end it, his father forces Vicky to apologize to Bipinlal, in public, advising him to revenge himself in secret, after the mill is operational.  Somu offers to go undercover and undermine Bipinlal’s position from the inside…getting Vicky’s revenge by humiliating the older man.

It goes fairly well, until soft-hearted Somu finds “seeing how the other half lives” can be a profoundly affecting experience.  Vicky had no idea what life-changing results would come of his seemingly harmless plans.  Will they even still be friends at the end???  On Youtube for free…

Julie M:  I’ve really gotten a taste for these heartfelt, 1970s “best buds” movies.  It’s a part of Indian culture that I find very sweet, and something that’s just not explored enough here.  Maybe because in the US there’s no way to talk about this kind of bond without bringing either sex or disgusting bodily functions into it.

 

Jenny K:  Don’t speak of such things!  Shudder

The performances were good, as one would expect from a gifted “actor’s director” like Hrishikesh Mukherjee (Abhimaan), and our heroes made the twists rather touching, if not exactly surprising.  Rajesh comes off a bit better, because he isn’t presented as a confused juvenile in an extremely long three piece suit.  You never doubt Vicky’s feelings, but often doubt he’ll ever grow up. Somu definitely does. Spoilers in this video, but you see what I mean…

My favorite actor in a lesser role is Raza Murad as Alam the poet.  Six foot three, with the rakish grin of a young Clark Gable when we meet him careening down a dark street, spouting his ghazals.  Somu is attracted to him immediately, and so was I.  The scene where he’s defending his neighbor’s wife and his final scene are both very touching, and I mean to keep a look out for him in some of his other films (over 270!).  What a great voice and why haven’t I seen him before? 

Julie M:  Wow.  Great performance in that clip.  I’m glad you are getting into the glory that is Rajesh Khanna.  We already spoke about how much I loved Anurodh, and tonight’s feature was Ajnabee (Stranger, 1974), a typical romance/thriller of the era starring lots of garish costumes and Rajesh Khanna’s perennially bad hair. No bromances, though—just good-old-fashioned thwarted lovers.

Rohit Kumar Saxena (Khanna) is the night stationmaster at a remote rail outpost, when his sleepy duties are interrupted by a young woman Sonia (Yogita Bali) rushing to get to Bombay. She misses the last train and he offers her his apartment, rather than having to sleep on the platform overnight. She agrees, giving him her attache case to hold in his safe: it is filled with jewelry given to her by her estranged mother. In his apartment she remarks on a painting; he tells her it was painted by his wife, from whom he is separated.

This disclosure prompts a lengthy flashback to the meet-cute between Rohit and Rashmi (Zeenat Aman), a young, attractive heiress. They accidentally re-meet at his cousin’s wedding, and he entertains the gathering with a story of how he met a girl that day (shades of Anurodh, 3 years earlier!).

Of course they fall in love. She is being pursued by her deceased sister’s widower Moti (Prem Chopra), who wants to marry her to keep his grip on the family’s fortune. Moti runs Rohit out of town but at the train station Rashmi catches up to him, and they elope to Bombay.  

Wedded bliss ensues, but she soon grows bored at home and starts a modeling career to Rohit’s dismay. A tragic misunderstanding estranges the couple, Rashmi runs back to her father and Moti, and so Rohit takes his stationmaster position.

Back in the present, Sonia has turned up dead in Rohit’s apartment, and he’s charged with killing her to steal the jewelry. The case against him seems solid: will Rohit be convicted and never see Rashmi again? If not Rohit, who really killed Sonia and why? Will Moti succeed in his plan to get Rashmi and her money?

I found Ajnabee quite enjoyable. Khanna and Aman had great chemistry and made a very convincing couple-in-love.  He rocked some awesome leisure suits (complete with pit-stains, chee!) and her wardrobe of flashy chiffon saris sometimes made my eyes burn, but I overlooked all that because of one number called “Satrah Baras Ki Chhokariyan” where she gets high on bhang and imagines herself in a particularly saucy dance performance. The thriller aspects are quite effective even with the horribly tinny soundtrack, and the pacing, quick. I’m growing an appreciation for Rajesh Khanna…Ajnabee is definitely worth a watch if you run across it.

 

Jenny K:  Sounds like fun, even if I’m not overly fond of the Seventies ooh-ooh-ouvre.

 

Julie M:  Oh, but you HAVE to love Zeenat.  I haven’t seen her in much, but this has her all over it.  By the way, this film shouldn’t be confused with the 2001 thriller by the same name, starring Akshay Kumar, Bobby Deol, Kareena and Bipasha. The newer movie has a character named Sonia who is mysteriously found dead and the lead character (Bobby) is accused of her murder, but that’s where the similarity ends. It’s not a remake. But the 2001 one sounds really cool, I love Akshay in thriller-mysteries, and I’ll have to try and find it. Or maybe I’ll just watch this video over and over.

Jenny K:  I saw the 2001 Ajnabee and it’s a remake of Consenting Adults (1992).  Let’s just say that Akshay (even with his oh-so-charming smile), Bobby Deol, and Kareena Kapoor can’t hold up to the original cast: Kevin Spacey, Kevin Kline and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. With their combined acting chops, the earlier cast made even a fairly salacious film idea palatable. Consenting Adults  is on Youtube, in pieces, for comparisons.

 

Julie M:  I never saw Consenting Adults, but Kevin Kline…one of my faves.

Adding one more old movie to the list…I watched Teen Deviyan (Three Beauties, 1965).  It must have been quite the sensation when it came out…but more on that later.

Plot summary: handsome Dev (Dev Anand) is an amateur poet who has just taken a job as a clerk in a music store and rented a room in a big house. As he is moving in he meets Nanda (Nanda), a feisty, attractive secretary who also has a room in the house, and they start a very close friendship.

Next, he has an automotive encounter with another woman, who turns out to be the glamorous and fun-loving actress Kalpana (Kalpana Mohan).  They begin to see each other.

Then, on the job, he delivers a piano to the wealthy and sophisticated Simi (Simi Garewal), who takes an interest in his career and sponsors him–and they fall in love. As Dev’s fame as a poet grows, he continues to see all of the women and his relationship with each becomes more intense. Although he is happy seeing all of them, and they all know about each other, he feels that it’s not right to string them all along: he must choose.

 

Jenny K:  Does Simi Garewal always play the wealthy and sophisticated girl who the hero doesn’t end up with?  That could have been her character description as Manisha in Namak Haraam, too.  Such a small, thankless part (the girl Amitabh’s father wanted him to marry) that I didn’t even bother to include her.

 

Julie M: Poor Dev.  Equally in love with three beautiful women, and he can’t decide which one to focus on. So what else is there to do but see a hypnotist, who helps Dev look deep in his soul and find the girl his heart desires the most. I’m going to leave that part a mystery, but let’s just say it’s kind of predictable.

The thing about this movie is that nearly all the DVD copies leave out a key scene, the one at the hypnotist’s, where he sees what his life would be with each of his potential mates, that helps him makes his decision. Although the rest of the film is in black and white, this scene is in full color. My DVD did not have the scene: I’d love to find it, because as it played out it was kind of choppy–he is at the hypnotist, looks into a crystal ball and then BAM, he’s rushing out of there to find his true love.  Everyone who’s seen it says that it’s freaky, amazing, and sufficiently weird to have caused a few social issues among the viewing public.

The most groundbreaking thing about this film is that it has NO FAMILY DRAMA AT ALL. No parents–all the characters are independent, modern grownups–and family considerations don’t even play into their decisions. Everyone is quite contemporary and urban, and the women are all forward and very sensual with no moral judgment implied for being so. Again, I can see why it caused such a sensation when it first came out.

I found the songs boring (except for one village scene where Kalpana lets loose and dances her heart out,  and another where she wigs out at a party), but the relationships he has with each woman are fairly interesting.

The film is available free on YouTube but not with English subtitles.  You’d have to pay $1.99 to get those, but it’s worth the expense to see this classic.

March 5, 2012: Politics, Poetry, Prose ~ A Filmi World-Serious

Julie M:  Watched Hey Ram (2000) tonight. I am officially in love with Kamal Haasan, who although he is not as good looking as Aamir Khan, is, I think, the better actor. The film was gut-wrenching and absolutely excellent, the story of an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary times, doing things he thought he’d never do as he searches for his convictions. Supporting turns by SRK and Rani Mukherji were likewise excellent (although SRK really overplayed his character’s death scene, what a ham!), and it took me a while to recognize that it was Naseeruddin Shah playing Gandhi, he so completely inhabited the role.          

Jenny K: I know what you mean, but it’s hard to miss that highly identifiable nose.  He’s cute even creaky, old and in a dhoti…I’m so far gone…

 

Julie M:  Haasan plays Sakhet Ram, a Hindu archaeologist in the 1940s who gets along well with the British and is vehemently opposed to Partition and the idea of Pakistan.  Shah Rukh Khan is his friend and fellow archaeologist.  A personal tragedy involving Ram’s wife (Rani Mukherji) radicalizes his hatred towards Muslims, and he becomes an anti-Gandhi activist.  There’s quite a bit of violence and political back-and-forth, which was a little confusing, but a bit of research straightened things out for me.

This review/analysis does more than I ever could to unpack the layers of the film.  I had to read it several times and it only confirmed my opinion of Kamal Haasan’s incredible talent as writer, producer, director and actor.  And I really liked this German compilation of clips to music (not from the film).

Thanks for including this one in the box: amazing. You can tell how much I liked it by how speechless I am.

 

Jenny K:  I should read the article thoroughly and then watch it again… Glad you liked it, though Rani’s final scene gave me the heebie jeebies for a while afterwards the first time I saw it. If you like Kamal Haasan that much, I’ll send you VeluNayakan, that Godfather film the next time I send a package. I know you don’t like mob films much, but it really is one of the best of his that I have seen, plus, it has Mani Ratnam directing it.

 

Julie M:  So I watched the first hour of Pyaasa (Eternal Thirst, 1957) and was thoroughly bored. Unsuccessful poet Vijay (Guru Dutt—who also produced and directed the film, coincidentally like Kamal Haasan!) is turned out by his family, is appreciated only by a prostitute, and meets up with his ex-girlfriend who, as it turns out, is married to someone who can get his poems published.  What to do? Who to choose? Bleh. Snore. Great songs, though, and Mala Sinha is (was) so stunning as Meera, the ex. Didn’t find Waheeda Rehman (as the prostitute) particularly mesmerizing, though–but I understand her big part comes later in the film.  Worth continuing to plow through it?

 

Jenny K:  Wouldn’t have sent it if I didn’t think so…a different kettle of fish from Raj Kapoor’s Awaara, but just as well known, and also classic.  I think the tension builds as it goes on. It’s a bit more along the lines of Devdas in the tortured poet thing, but I found it easier to take. The last scene in the lecture hall is wonderful, and where he is silhouetted in the doorway, it’s almost messianic in its imagery…and the song is fabulous.

But, of course, you must decide for yourself.

[the next day]

Julie M:  I took your advice and finished Pyaasa. Thanks for encouraging me to push on; glad I did.  It actually made more sense to me than Devdas, maybe because I understand the artistic temperament more than I understand stupid boys too weak to claim their love for themselves. I understood why he rejected those who were only willing to acknowledge him once he proved himself financially desirable, because I would have done exactly the same thing. And about the messianic thing, I know it’s Hindu but I found lots of Christ-like imagery (hanging out with prostitutes, “you will deny me three times”, the Christ on the cover of the magazine Meena is reading when she learns that Vijay is dead, etc.) except, of course, this has a much happier ending, we are led to assume.

 

Jenny K:  Some things are universal in their appeal to the human psyche, aren’t they? Whatever your religious point of view.

 

Julie M: Wonderful music, very interesting and poetic lyrics.  I particularly liked this one, where Waheeda’s character is flirting with Vijay thinking he’s a potential customer, but all he wants is his poems back, which she had bought as scrap paper. 

This one was cute, too. The massage-wallah is talking about how great people will feel after he works on them. 

I also liked the call-back to Awaara‘s dream-sequence with the dream sequence in this film. 

At first I thought that Rehman, who played Meena’s evil husband, was Dev Anand–if you take off the glasses they have a similar look. Or maybe it’s just the period–a lot of male actors looked alike.

 

Jenny K:  I thought Rehman reminded me of Prithviraj Kapoor crossed with tiny bits of Shammi (in his quieter moments)…

 

Julie M:  My other weekend viewing was Aarakshan (Reservation, 2011), the one I missed in the theater. This was the film starring (sigh) Amitabh Bachchan as the principled principal Prabhakar Anand, staunchly defending his view that education should be available to anyone from any caste and a reservation (aka quota/affirmative action) system acts to ensure access.

Saif Ali Khan co-stars as Deepak Kumar, a member of one of the low castes whose education was facilitated by Anand’s beliefs and who regards Anand as a mentor. Deepika Padukone plays Poorbi, Anand’s daughter and Deepak’s girlfriend, and Prateik (sigh) is Sushant, a college student and Poorbi and Deepak’s good friend. The villain is Manoj Bajpai, and Yashpal Sharma is a helpful stable owner. Hema Malini makes a cameo appearance at the end, although her photo is seen throughout the first half.

 

Jenny K:  Yeah, I read reviews about this one and thought it sounded too dry to have me spend my hard-earned pesos on it, even given the good intentions of the theme, and Amitabh’s presence.  Was the story interesting?

 

Julie M:  The plot involves Anand, the longtime head of the renowned private college S.T.M., who has a practice of giving a “leg up” to lesser qualified but very promising applicants from backward castes. This enrages the trustees and the upper-caste parents whose children score higher but are rejected because there are no places. Things come to a head when a government minister’s son is rejected, and he installs the evil Mithilesh Singh first as a trustee, then as vice-principal, in an attempt to find a way to oust Anand.

Singh also runs a private coaching school for high-caste students as a very profitable side business. When the government formally adopts a 27% reservation system for public education and employment, the situation blows up both around the country and at S.T.M. Deepak (a S.T.M. instructor headed for the US for his doctorate) and Sushant are on opposite sides of the issue and have a violent confrontation; Anand fires Deepak and expels Sushant. Deepak flees to the US and Sushant disappears. Then Anand loses his job over some comments he made to the press and the family leaves town for a while.

When they return they find that their house has been taken over by Singh’s coaching school and they have no legal way to stop it. Anand puts his principles into action by starting a rival coaching school, for free, in the stable across the street, where he takes all comers, aided by Deepak and Sushant, who have since returned and are buddies again.  This school becomes so popular that Singh seeks to ruin it. You can pretty much guess that he fails; at the end Anand is vindicated and S.T.M.’s founder, played by Hema Malini, funds a new coaching academy with Anand as the principal and chief trustee.

 

Jenny K:  Oh, that Manoj Bajpai! He’s such a delicious villain…I’ve seen him in very few films that he wasn’t indulging in lots of moustache twirling fun. I remember first hearing of him when he was full of sour grapes that he hadn’t been asked to do Devdas rather than SRK. Not sure I can see it. My favorite one with him is still the very over-the-top-and-loving-it Aks with BigB. My winner for Best Psychopath Serial Killer in Hindi films…if not for accuracy, then for sheer audacity. Rather creepy, though…lots of rather unhealthy imagery. Can’t say it’s a true thumbs up.

 

Julie M:  The first half of the film is what you’d expect: plenty of dramatic speeches by various characters on both sides of the reservation system issue, with personality-developing scenes for the main characters. Some people would find the speeches tiresome, but my love for issue-driven film and lack of real knowledge of the issue made it fascinating for me. The second half delves into the family drama and exposes the true evilness of the villain, with inspirational scenes of Anand’s influence on his young students and a stirring climax where the scrappy stable school resists the might of the corrupt government and profiteering private school system. Although it was all somewhat predictable, I was nevertheless quite entertained.

There was one big dance number that was very out of place, however, I liked much better this number from early in the film, introducing the Deepak/Poorbi romance.

This was about as romantic as it got, since they ended up fighting and then separated for most of the rest of the film, never really getting back together.

 

Jenny K:  Were you really expecting romance in such a blatant issue film?  Well, with your favorite, Saif in it, you probably had your fingers crossed.

 

Julie M:  I hated Saif’s mustache and the fact that he was OBVIOUSLY way too old for Deepika’s character (he was supposed to be a recent college grad, she was a college student who somehow had all day-every day free to hang out at her dad’s school). I kept rooting for Poorbi to throw Deepak over and get together with Sushant, because they were a much cuter couple. Alas, she fought with Sushant, too, and after they were out of the action she had nothing else to do except throw tantrums at her parents and narrow her eyes when she was in the presence of the evil Singh.

Overall I liked it–good issue and decent writing and drama. Three stars, would have been 3-1/2 had it not been so darned predictable.

February 13, 2012: The Warmth of Midwinter Flames

The bleakest part of winter comes after the joy-filled holidays, and all you want to do is hibernate, curled up with a warm cup of chai, a bowl of popcorn and your favorite cinema guys.  Julie and I did just that recently, in front of our own separate hearths to stoke the fires with some of our favorite Old Flames.

 

Jenny K:  My viewing last night was Aladin (2009).  I decided I had to watch it after finding that delicious BigB rap clip I put in the earlier post after LittleB’s rap in Dum Maaro Dum.  I am glad I decided to rent it from Amazon rather than buy it on DVD (though the price was fine). I didn’t like it enough to own it, but it does continue my desire to see all of the later Amitabh Bachchan performances that I can get my hands on.  I do like his old films, but I think it’s something about the gray hair, and the extra-milage twinkle in his eyes, that has given him bonus appeal for me.

The best thing about Aladin was that it provided a really larger than life part for Amitabh, something he could really sink his teeth and sense of humor into. I love him in his comedies even better than his dramas. This wasn’t quite as good as Bunty Aur Babli  for him, but a real lot of fun. He stars as a “real life” genie named Genius (such a stretch by the screenwriters!) who emerges from the lamp rubbed by our hero, Aladin Chatterjee, played with a shy, wistful appeal by Ritesh Deshmukh.

 

Julie M:  I need to see more of Ritesh.  The only thing I’ve seen him in was Bluffmaster! and I really liked him there.  Too bad he mostly stars in silly comedies like Double Dhamaal, the likes of which I don’t even watch in English.

  

Jenny K:  Aladin is fully aware of the incongruity of his name. He could hardly not be, as he is daily chased and tormented by a group of bullies at school, led by Kasim (Sahil Khan, who resembles a musclebound Rob Lowe in his St. Elmo’s Fire days…which could have soured me on him right there, but it didn’t).  These tormentors insist on Aladin rubbing every lamp they throw at him to find “the magic”. Aladin’s parents died on a hunt for that very lamp, because they believed in the magic, too, and baby Aladin was raised by his grandfather. Now, grown up, he doesn’t want magic, all he wants is to fly under the radar and be allowed to live in peace…until the new, beautiful exchange student comes to his school, Jasmine, played by beauty queen du jour, Jaqueline Fernandes.

She’s lovely, sweet, and not a bad ingenue. And everyone is in love with the new girl from America, including Aladin’s arch enemy, Kasim. Now, Aladin definitely needs help winning her heart, and one of those lamps finally produces it. BigB emerges magically and immediately gets the party started at the school mixer.

Julie M:  Kind of reminds me of the school dance scene in Main Hoon Na; still one of the best Grease rip-off scenes ever.   

 

Jenny K:  Well, the rest of the movie involves various schemes to make this romance come out true. Amitabh hams it up, delightfully, all over the place, changing clothes as much as any good Bollywood Item Boy, trying to get Aladin to use his three wishes so he can retire from his genie occupation, for good. He steals the show. Here’s that rap number again. I love the wig. Long hair looks great on him, though it’s a little too banana-curly in the back in one or two shots.

 

Julie M:  Here’s where we part ways.  I really don’t like him in long hair.  I think it makes him look like a crazy person.  Case in point:  Jhoom Barabar Jhoom…OK, he’s actually pretty cool as a character that keeps popping up to wink at the action, but he LOOKS crazy.

Jenny K:   I must just like his “crazy” then…the only reason I bought JBJ was for that particular look on Amitji.  Too each her own, I suppose.

The main negative for this film is in the completely unnecessary subplot of The Ringmaster, an evil, all-for-himself ex-genie, trying to find the lamp so that he can end his earthly exile and become a genie once again…it’s all tied together with the reappearance of comet that is due to fly right over Aladin’s town (during the annual Student Ball, of course). Sanjay Dutt plays this villain with way-over-the-top gusto and the wardrobe of Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter on steroids.

The CGI fight to the death of the genii is a snorefest in the extreme…sort of like the way the sword-fighting CGI scene at the end of the Tim Burton/Depp Alice in Wonderland hit me, too…

I really could have done without. Amitabh’s charm alone could have done it for me, and does, so I’d give it three cups of chai out of five, for a warm-up factor, on that alone. Here’s the Cyrano-esque wooing scene to leave us with (Aladin temporarily has no voice because he’s been karate-chopped in the throat, and has to use his best playback synch skills).

Julie M:  Ha!  Freeze that video at 0:49 and he becomes Long-Haired Crazy Person again.  But I like that he’s often cast in non-Dad roles now where he can have some fun.  Maybe he’s making up for all that “angry young man” work earlier in his career, where he didn’t get to smile much, even in fun roles like Amar Akbar Anthony.  And how much are you looking forward to seeing him in The Great Gatsby later this year, even in what is little more than a walk-on?  And I need to see Zanjeer.   They really don’t make them like him anymore. 

[a few days later]

Julie M:  Had to get an Akshay Kumar fix, so I got 8 x 10 Tasveer (8 x 10 Photograph, 2009) from the library. If you haven’t seen it, it’s available free on YouTube   or here

Jenny K:  Though he’s not one of my favorites, I give Akshay much more credit when he’s in dramas rather than his action or comedy roles. Except for Waqt. Never going to like that one.

Julie M:  It’s a good-enough (but not superb) psychological thriller in the mainstream European/American film style. Akshay stars as Jai, a mild-mannered park ranger—or environmental monitor, it’s difficult to tell—in Canada with the semi-secret, supernatural ability to stare at a photo, go into a trance and see the scene from the photo subject’s eyes (yeah, I thought that was pretty ridiculous too, but you kind of have to accept this premise or else the whole movie will fall apart). When his estranged father (Benjamin Gilani) dies of an “accident,” Jai is convinced it is murder and uses his abilities to track down the killer.

He finds no dearth of suspects, possibly including his own mother (Sharmila Tagore), and his life is endangered on more than one occasion. There is a huge and highly satisfying twist about 3/4 of the way through, and the final 30-45 minutes are edge-of-your seat action and suspense–which sort of made the first 30 minutes or so worth it. A very bad rap song over the end credits made me think Akshay and Abhishek have some sort of competition going.

If you’ve not seen it I won’t spoil the twist for you.

Sharmila’s talent was pretty much wasted in this film except for one scene, but it was nice to see her acting again. Jaaved Jaffrey has a supporting role as the dead father’s former protege, a disgraced police officer with “Monk”-like OCD qualities, who helps Jai in his quest for the truth. As usual, Jaaved’s voice is marvelous but I found myself continually distracted by a bad redhead dye job and the worst haircut ever. Ayesha Takia plays Jai’s doe-eyed and adoring girlfriend.

And also as usual I was mesmerized by Akshay. Those looks! That smile! The stunts! He deserved a better script than the writer gave him, but he made the best of it, and as I said, the last part of the movie made everything before it worthwhile.

 

Jenny K:  I would be more moved to see this film if it didn’t seem to have Akshay playing Faye Dunaway in The Eyes of Laura Mars. 1978 isn’t so far away that us old folks don’t remember. It was a plot with Faye being a fashion photog who may be seeing the brutal work of a serial killer through his eyes, both at night, in her dreams, and while awake. It even begins to influence her work.  Just changing him to a park ranger doesn’t change the basic premise, does it?  Akshay does have a killer smile, though…I grant him that.

 

Julie M:  I sort-of remember Laura Mars and it’s nothing like it, although I grant you that there is a similar conceit. He sees through the eyes of photo subjects, whoever they are, and whatever they’ve done. Most of the time it’s benign. The fact that he uses a photo snapped right before his father’s accident to view the incident from the perspectives of each of the people in the photo (all of whom he suspects) is just his way of using his gift to figure out what happened. And the twist is the key. (No, it’s not Akshay who is the killer. It’s not Secret Window–oops, I’ve just spoiled that one for those pitiful few who couldn’t figure it out in the first five minutes…)

Coincidentally, B and I had just watched the very bad 1991/2 film Sketch Artist, where a police sketch artist takes a murder witness’s description and realizes he’s just drawn a portrait of his wife. He spends the rest of the film trying to figure out if his wife really is a killer or if he’s just obsessed with their ebbing relationship. Another psychological thriller, but one so cheesy and dumb so we were in the mood for a good one to take the bad taste away.  B watched 8 x 10 with me and thought it was decent. Not stellar (it wasn’t), but it worked.

 

Jenny K:  Now, I must say, you may have warmed up my interest in that one…February chills aren’t over yet, and one can always use new flames to go with those older ones!

December 27, 2011: Déjà Vu All Over Again

We are back (somewhat) from our holiday break, and we’ve been puzzling lately on one of our favorite filmi topics:  Hindi remakes of American films.  So far we’ve brought you quite a few, like Kaante and Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander.  Tune in to our latest discussion of three more…

 

Julia M:  My weekend library haul this time includes Shaurya (Valor, 2008) with Rahul Bose.  I am determined to try and like him!  If you’ve not seen it, you can catch Shaurya free on YouTube with English subtitles:

 

Jenny K:  I keep trying to think of a film of Rahul’s that has the other, more manic side of his personality, but the two that I am thinking of are so bad that I can’t recommend them. I’ll keep trying.

[a few days later]

Julie M:  Shaurya was clearly inspired by A Few Good Men. More than, since it’s the same plot with a couple of twists. But it’s not as interesting as the original, not even close. Rahul Bose displays an actual personality, though, and some animation, so it’s worth watching. And Jaaved Jaffrey is pretty good as the prosecutor/Rahul’s best friend (love his deep sexy voice).

Jenny K:  Does anyone say “Such…you can’t handle Such” [ Such "truth" hai]?  Now, who is it who plays the Jack Nicholson anyway?

 

Julie M:  Yes indeed–KK Menon plays the Jack Nicholson character’s analogue in Shaurya and he does say that. It’s not translated very well, and he doesn’t yell it like Nicholson did, but it’s said. I was looking for it and was very proud that my rudimentary Hindi skills overcame the inexact subtitles in that instance–enough so that I recognized the quote.  Here’s that scene (start at about 6:00 in for the full effect).

And KK was really good as Brig. Gen. Pratap. It’s more of an extended cameo appearance rather than a role, just two or three scenes, but he totally nailed it without Jack’s histrionics.  Here’s the scene where he’s first introduced.  No subtitles, but he’s doing some golf practice at the border and knocks one into enemy territory, then makes an underling go and retrieve it.  Totally creepy. 

[about a week later]

Jenny K:  Okay, I’ve now watched Shaurya and then A Few Good Men again after, and am ready to voice a more informed opinion. The director of the former definitely used the Aaron Sorkin/Rob Reiner film as a template, no doubt about it. The basic plot of the maverick outsider lawyer in the military played by Rahul in Shaurya is, of course Tom Cruise in the earlier film, and KK Menon takes on the Nicholson role. Once again the bad guy is a superior officer with aims at a high office and a feeling of absolute godlike correctness in anything he chooses to do. They meet in a semi-friendly fashion at the Brigadier’s base, over a meal and discuss the case. There are in both films an innocent victim murdered and an innocent murderer, depending on your side in the argument. There’s lots of researching done by Rahul’s helpful co-workers, and a nifty if unlikely courtroom triumph for the underdog at the end, where Rahul, like Tom Cruise, is up against his best friend as prosecutor. Even the courtrooms look vaguely the same…old fashioned military decorum with lovely big windows. But there is definitely more than a few differences that make the Indian film its own take on the shared themes.

The first thing that I find different is that Rahul’s co-investigators are outsiders, journalists, and would in no way be allowed or even encouraged to help with a military case. Rahul’s job was to keep all of this out of the press, and he even got in trouble for it…yet here’s Minissha, practically in the next scene being let in on all the dirt…yet she doesn’t feel the need to print it. All her earlier ambition chucked out the window, it seems. Highly unbelievable on all fronts. I guess things couldn’t be stretched so far as to allow a mere woman to be an equal legal partner as Demi Moore was in AFGM.

 

Julie M:  And yet, Nargis was a lawyer, on her own, 60 years ago in Awaara…no problem there…nouvelle prudery?

 

Jenny K:  And then, there is the change in motive for the case. Instead of pondering the nature of power and how a bad job can make a military hero a villain by what he’s asked to do (Jack’s Colonel truly believes he’s doing right by his men and the country by defying the orders of his higher ups about Code Red prohibition), the Hindi film has to make all the bad guys explainable in their motives and much more sympathetic. With ethnic bigotry as the focus of the piece, the defendant was perfectly justified shooting his superior, who was about to kill a local child. He was also right to take his punishment, as he saw it. Further justification is needed when you learn that the Brigadier isn’t an out and out rotter…his wife, child and, don’t say it, his mother have all been killed by a native boy who he took into his home and trusted. Well, no more Mr. Nice Guy! He’s going to wipe out the whole race, so this kind of thing can’t happen to anyone else. Makes Nicholson look downright simple in his monomania..”I’m right and everyone else can just fall in line or get out!”

All in all, though Shaurya had some nice moments and some nice performances from Rahul, Jaaved and KK, I’m always going to choose the Reiner film, because it’s an almost perfect film. Stands up and salutes as well today as it did when it came out in ’92. Hoo-Rah!

 

Julie M:  You expressed almost perfectly my sentiments about Shaurya vs AFGM, right down to the ridiculousness of Minissha’s character Kaavya being able to be as much help as she was (although truly, how much investigating did she actually do?).  I too felt that the racial/ethnic/religious angle was uniquely Indian–maybe because they don’t at bottom believe their public fiction, like we do, that race (or caste, in their case) no longer matters, they can get away with it in a film whereas we can’t here, not in big-budget Hollywood films anyway. My big surprise at this film was that Rahul was so much less low-key than he usually is–almost manic–and his character is given a simplistic, yet highly effective reason for all the high-danger sporting activity. Since Indian films don’t get into the dark side of psychology very much, I found it refreshing.

[several weeks later]

Julie M:  Hum Kaun Hai (Who Are We? 2004) is an almost identical remake of The Others (2001), except without the atmosphere and with very weird, wholly Indian “explanation” scenes tacked in that inexplicably reunite Amitabh Bachchan (as the main character’s missing husband) and Dharmendra (as a totally new character not in the original).

First, the similarities. Basically, everything is the same. Dimple Kapadia takes on the role that Nicole Kidman portrayed in the original film, and does an excellent portrayal of a deeply religious (Catholic) woman trying to deal with a beloved husband missing in the war while faced with circumstances which seem to indicate that her house is haunted, or that her servants for some reason are making her think it is. Two cute kids (Hansika Motwani aka Baby Hansika, Master Aman) with a disease that renders them unable to be in bright light; three servants who appear out of nowhere to take care of them; the need to lock doors and keep curtains drawn to keep the kids from inadvertently stumbling into daylight; a mom plagued with migraines. Photos of dead people in a creepy album. All the same from start to finish. In fact, if you squint you could swear that Fionnula Flanagan, who played the matronly servant in the original, had reappeared in the remake and was speaking Hindi.

Now, the differences. First, the quality of the film stock was very bad—or maybe it was just the print that the DVD was taken from—it had color problems, jarring jump-cuts and bad sound. Looked very low-budget. (OK, had to get that off my chest) Where the original took place on a dim, misty remote island where the viewer could really believe that the house was haunted (and there was some meaning to the fog as well), HKH takes place in a sunny, park-like estate with the merest wisps of fog floating in and out, and it looked at times as if the fog was digitally added. The dimness of the original is replaced throughout by bright light, even in the “candlelit” scenes, which was jarring. The original took place in the 1940s, whereas the remake takes place in the present day (there are mentions of television, for example), removing the otherworldly quality that made the original so creepy. Dimple Kapadia seems very strong and capable, in dramatic contrast to Nicole Kidman’s ethereal fragility, which actually made her descent into screaming panic so much more scary (you kind of expect Kidman to fall apart, based on her looks). HKH had multiple flashbacks to the married couple’s love for each other, setting up the totally weird ending where we get an explanation of the husband’s strange reappearance that is totally different from the original film’s. (won’t go into details because it’s a major spoiler) And a final scene that is just really, really stupid.

In general the 2nd half was much, much better than the first half, which unfolded at a breakneck pace and with as much drama as reading the newspaper. And I was just as freaked out with what was the second-to-last scene in the original (but ended up as perhaps the third- or fourth-to-last scene in the remake). But then they had to ruin it with the last two scenes.

If you’ve not seen The Others, you will like Hum Kaun Hai just fine as it represents a genre rarely seen in Indian film (a creepy psychological story with ghosts—but maybe this is a growing trend, because 2007’s Bhool Bhulaiyaa entered into that genre as well). But if you have seen and loved the original, you’ll spend a lot of time rolling your eyes at Hum Kaun Hai.

 

Jenny K:  You make Hum Kaun Hai sound like a fun watch. I had seen The Others, but just when it originally came out, and I don’t have many clear memories about it, so I may be safe. And I love Dimple.

 

Julie M:  Well, I’ll make it easy for you to see it.  The film is available free on YouTube. I saw it on DVD where the running time was just over 120 minutes; online the running time is about 106 minutes, so there may be some missing scenes.  But I checked—the “added” scenes are all there, in all their ridiculous glory.

[a week or so later]

Julie M:  As a follow-up to many discussions, I’m finally watching Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha (Love Had to Happen, 1998), even though I know it’s a remake of French Kiss (1995), but since I haven’t seen FK I figure I’m safe.  I’ll watch FK after, in order to give this one a fair chance. After a disastrously farcical first half, it’s settling down into a decent movie.  Here’s Part 1: 

It’s nice to see Ajay help the girl he loves connect with the boy SHE loves, just like in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (although this is an earlier film). And he and Kajol have nice chemistry in this. Not as much as in U, Me Aur Hum, but they are cute. She more than he, although he got much cuter once he shaved off his mustache.

Oh, and BTW, what is UP with Indian movies and the first half/second half dichotomy?

 

Jenny K:  You know, until this past year, I’d have said that it was always a first half strong/second half fizzle out tendency. This year, not so much. And I always felt that Ajay and Kajol’s chemistry in this was much stronger than in U Me Aur Hum. In that one, he was such a conceited guy in the first half, and then he was so concerned in her care and worried, that chemistry didn’t enter into it, at least in the traditional way. Interesting that you got it completely differently.

 

Julie M:  Here’s my take. (it only applies to masala or romances) If the first half is really stupid, the second half is strong. If the first half is great, the second half falls flat. Examples that come to mind right away are K3G and KHNH. Great first half, overly melodramatic 2nd half.

 

Jenny K:  But we must note that that’s coming from the point of view of a die hard non-sentimentalist.  I will grant you that K3G goes a bit too far in it’s emotional histrionics in the second half, but there are enough good moments in it (especially that dance number with Hrithik and Co. in those GORGEOUS sherwanis!) that I still enjoy it.  And KHNH is supposed to be an emotional love smorgasbord…so you must be prepared to eat a full gut-wrenching load, or you just skip it altogether.  I love it.

Oooh…that reminds me.  I just watched Affair to Remember, that transatlantic smorgasbord with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr.  Wish I had put in the Indian match-up of this one, Mann with Aamir and Manisha.  It takes all the emotional fluffery and pads it out to double its length with much anguish and gnashing of teeth and even more silly songs than the original, which were very silly in the first place “Tomorrowland” being the most unlikely choice for a nightclub song that one could think of.  It’s free on Youtube as well, with subtitles.  Aamir is young and peppy, and Manisha smiles more than once or twice, Rani does a cute item number early on, but I can’t even go into the grandmother’s shawl scene at the end because the translation of that one into an “Indian version” had me rolling on the floor with it’s unintentional hilarity.  You just have to see it.

 

Julie M:  But back to the films at hand.  The setup is standard rom-com fare: the male half of an engaged couple leaves for a business trip to a different country and falls for another woman, prompting the female half to follow and try to win him back. En route she meets a native of the country she’s going to, and circumstances force them to be together unexpectedly. They get to know each other, become friends, and he helps her with a plan to win back her fiance by pretending they are lovers. Pretense turns to reality, and at the end the fiance is overthrown in favor of the new romance.

The plots of the two movies were, with the exception of a couple of added scenes in the Indian version and a slight adaptation to make it more desi (changing the setting from Toronto/Paris to Paris/India; and some details, because I somehow don’t think India is big on vineyards) exactly the same, with key scenes absolutely shot-for-shot identical–down to the female character’s wardrobe. The Indian version adds terminal clumsiness to the female character who is already afraid to fly, occasioning much (to my mind, unnecessary) slapstick in the first half of PTHHT; but that’s balanced by the FK subplot where the female character is American trying to get Canadian citizenship, which is jeopardized by the trip. In FK there is a language barrier, which is very funny, and is absent in PTHHT. And of course, the Indian version adds musical numbers, only one of which was at all memorable.

I think Ajay made a better Luc/Shekhar than Kevin Kline, and, much as I love Kajol, I think Meg Ryan made a better Kate/Sanjana. I could believe Ajay as both a thief and an ordinary village boy with dreams of land, but Kevin always had the thief about him–the vineyard scenes fell a little flat. Meg Ryan…well, she pretty much invented, for the late-80s and 90s, the cute-and-bewildered rom-com heroine with questionable taste in men, and even Kajol can’t compete.

 

Jenny K:  I’d agree that Meg slightly edges Kajol out, as she is the prototype and does that type of role (cranky/cute) almost better than anyone. I’m sorry she’s sworn off. I have always described Kajol to people as a sort of Meg Ryan type…even physically, with those big eyes and killer smile…and the coloring differences just give you great variety. I do agree with you that the clumsiness thing was rather unnecessary.

 

Julie M:  Frequently the reasons for remaking a Hollywood movie for Bollywood audiences are unclear, and the remake falls flat. FK was a great choice for an Indian remake: it has all the elements of comedy, romance and drama built right in, and obvious points at which a song would underscore the plot or action. Comparing these two versions is also instructive, for newbies, in the differences in pacing between American and Indian movies. American films move right along, with no wasted plotlines or introduction, whereas Indian films take more time on the setup and draw out the denouement, sometimes excruciatingly long, to wring out every drop of drama and sentiment.

 

Jenny K:  I actually liked the longer format for PTHHT, and think it works well for the story. The ninety minute format for French Kiss always left me wondering why, in that short a time, Kate fell for Luc…Kevin Kline or no Kevin Kline, who has always been a favorite of mine. So, with the longer time spent at Ajay’s home, etc, that all makes more sense to me.

 

Julie M:  Me too, having seen FK second.  But if I had only seen FK, then I’d put it down to “movie convention.”  Of COURSE she’ll fall in love with him once he demonstrates his knowledge of wine, because THAT’s what’s important in a relationship.  Oh, and that he knows his diamonds.  But in PTHHT I must tip a hat to this song,  which shows to best advantage the chemistry between Ajay and Kajol in this film  (sorry for the bad quality and no subtitles).

Overall, I’d say that if one hadn’t seen FK then PTHHT would be 100% satisfying, adorable, and stand-alone excellent—ranking among the best of Indian romance films. But for American audiences, FK is going to win out, if you like that kind of thing (I’ve seen way too many and am jaded on the genre).

PTHHT is available in one link, free on YouTube, with subtitles.

Nov. 3, 2011: Action Movies ~ Thugs, Jugs & Bad Rugs

Julie M:  Saw Don: The Chase Begins Again (2006) last night. I was pretty dubious about how good it would be considering Indian action films are hit-and-miss for me and I’d never seen SRK do extended action, but if I’m going to see Ra.One and Don 2, I thought I’d plow through it.

I’ll try to do a plot summary without spoilers, although this film was so huge that I’m sure everyone’s already seen it. Don (Shahrukh Khan) is a high-ranking lieutenant in the drug-and-theft syndicate run by a shadowy kingpin named Singhania, and Don is in charge of the entire Malaysian end of things. He is handsome, smart, ruthless and a pretty decent dresser if you discount his habit of wearing, as necklaces, printed ties that match his open-collar, printed shirts [proof in our earlier article.]. DCP DeSilva (Boman Irani) is a police officer bent on hunting him down and extracting information crucial to bringing Singhania’s organization down.

At one point in the recent past Don had forced mild-mannered (but exceedingly handsome and fit) computer tech Jasjit (Arjun Rampal, looking very fine indeed) to steal some diamonds, but Jasjit was caught by DeSilva and put in prison. He has just been released and is out to get revenge, not on Don, but on DeSilva who wouldn’t believe he was doing the crime under threat of the murder of his wife and kid. Another element is Roma (Priyanka Chopra), the sister of one of Don’s employees whom Don killed for trying to get out of the business. Roma anonymously infiltrates Don’s organization and makes herself useful as she waits for the chance to get her revenge on Don.  Don’s two molls (Roma and Anita) get their own random disco item number.

A sting operation ends up with Don falling, wounded, into DeSilva’s hands. DeSilva sets up a plan of his own to infiltrate Don’s group by substituting a Don look-alike (also Shahrukh Khan), the lighthearted Vijay, a festival singer, in this number.

The rest of the film is a high-powered and near-random collection of chase scenes, gunfights, explosions, confrontations and coincidences with one or two pretty important plot twists that, although not super-surprising, were shocking enough to upend assumptions of individual characters’ motives. The final scene very nicely sets up the upcoming sequel. There were a couple of good musical numbers. The attempted stylishness of the film is demonstrated in the title song, “Main Hoon Don.”

I admit that I was highly entertained by Don. I like action-thrillers that focus more on thriller than action, and Don’s plot twists came at just the right moments to keep me from concluding that the action was pointless and silly. There was a significant amount of film-making awkwardness–SRK cannot, CANNOT pull off fight scenes so don’t make him try anymore, OK?–and one or two “oh, come ON!” moments, such as Roma’s inexplicable martial-arts prowess, and SRK and another guy being suddenly sucked out of an airplane and somehow one of them has the presence of mind to grab a parachute, which they of course fight over in free fall. But it was high-energy, somewhat stylishly done and did not focus too much on the details of Don’s gangster business. SRK was pretty good in a negative role–I like him better doing these than the gushy romantic roles.

 

Jenny K:  Here’s my own, Oh, come on moment…you can’t say SRK’s fighting wasn’t believable in Dil Se… and you haven’t seen Asoka yet, have you?  The fighting with swords and various other pointy objects is quite effective.  Maybe it’s just the director that makes the difference?  Sorry, Farhan.  You know I love you.

 

Julie M:  My favorite number was this one from later in the film showing Vijay-as-Don, on the run and drunk/high on bhang, dancing an ode to paan (filled betel leaf):

Not so fortunately, Kareena Kapoor’s item number in the beginning was cringe-worthy.  Although the song was pretty good, she is far too muscular and the steps too jerky to effectively pull off a seduction:

Overall, a fun way to spend a Friday night and B didn’t mind it too much either.

 

Jenny K:  Kareena’s seduction number in the glittery dress, “Yeh Mera Dil,” is a tribute to Helen’s version of it in the earlier Don with Amitabh in the lead of that one. It’s almost a move for move copy…a camp classic, it’s said. And the other one that you liked, the paan number, is another BigB classic.  SRK’s designers paid tribute to it with the design of the shirt fabric he wore.   I will say, that as much as I love Amitabh, his dancing makes Shahrukh look like Fred Astaire in comparison.

 

Julie M:  I like the original version of “Kaike Paan” better.  And even in the earlier version of “Yeh Mera Dil,” it’s a throwback to about 1966. Still campy, still not seductive. No wonder it doesn’t work on Don 1978. But Don 2006 seems to succumb to it, at least until the end. Maybe that’s the difference between SRK and The BigB.

Here’s the other song remake from the 1978 version, Main Hoon Don.

 

Jenny K: Wow…I hadn’t realized how much they’ve changed this one, though keeping the same title and setting.  Only a few words in the chorus are similar, but SRK’s version is much more dangerous and James-Bondy.  Completely different music. And boy, does he make a better evil entrance!  Not sure I’m digging the lion mask on Amitabh.

 

Julie M:  And for those interested in plot differences: not many, mostly in the spoilers that I’ve left out.

The 2006 version is clearly both an homage and a reboot for the 21st century. Did the film need it? Probably not, but then again, neither did Footloose (1984 and 2011).

 

Jenny K:  Don’t get me started on Footloose 2011…talk about your slavish, pointless xeroxing.  No matter how much the artists involved said they loved the original, why bother if it’s that close a copy?

 

Julie M: My personal feeling is that remakes have to happen for a reason, not just to make the original more palatable to the younger generation (e.g., better clothes, music, technology and if necessary special effects) and earn more money for the studio holding the rights to it.

[a couple of weeks later]

Jenny K:   Went to see Ra.One on opening night and thought I should warn you, as you have definite opinions on kitsch in your films…

 

[Sorry about the video quality (you can up it to HD on the menu bar) and no subtitles, but this one seemed more indicative of the feel of the film.]

Pat and Kathy loved it. Pat had been really worried she’d hate it, as she likes superhero films no more than I do. Reena (our friend from Mumbai) seemed to like it too. I didn’t hate it, but was pretty bored for most of the first half anyway.  Problem for me was that I kept seeing all the influences that SRK’s people were drawing from.  Virtuosity, in particular, which I loved, was a big influence, as well as Tron and Terminator 2 (Good Arnold) with tiny bits of Matrix and Starman thrown in with the kitchen sink. And, of course, though the tech on it was much better than Virtuosity, I didn’t like it nearly as much.  That could just be the Russell Crowe factor…I am aware of my own prejudices.

SRK brought his own sense of humor and self-mocking to it, especially in the first half…but all the exposition had me sorta bored…the kid, Armaan Verma, kept reminding me of Elijah Wood back in his whippersnapper days.  Kareena was not very annoying.  Arjun Rampal continues his sexy villain trajectory…best one yet.  He’s mostly in the second half…which is much the better part in almost every way.  Beware, for you, of a rather alarming cameo at the very beginning of the second half.  I thought it was sort of funny.

I decided, after I left, that maybe I was being too hard on the filmmakers.  This is really only one of the first few tries at the Indian Super Hero genre, and what else are they supposed to do but draw from things that they liked from international examples?  It isn’t a direct copy of anything…and with the song and dance numbers (two, I think, plus a montage song and another dance over the credits) and after they get used to the CGI and the other bells and whistles, then, maybe they will start coming up with their own original themes and plots. I think I may go back with a few of my other friends who missed Wednesday’s show and give it another chance…if just for the experience (hopefully the last) of seeing SRK try to play South Indian.  And to watch the crazy Manga section at the beginning, over again.  Everyone liked this bit. But someone should feed the man intravenous milkshakes for a while…SOOOOO skinny!

 

Julie M:  And my friend Marcia and I went to see it on Saturday afternoon, 2:30 p.m. show.  I’m so mad at the theater—well, not the theater, but the promoter who organizes Indian films at the theater, but the theater bears some blame as well. After our Bodyguard debacle with no subtitles, I called the theater a couple of days before to make sure the showing was subtitled. The guy said yes. To make double-sure I emailed the promoter who arranges the films at this theater and never heard back. So of course, we get there and it’s not subtitled. The guy at the ticket desk said that they really don’t control which showings are subtitled. So, that’s TWO films non-subbed that I’ve seen there, and only one (ZNMD) that was. I’m going to email the promoter again and electronically yell at him/her. Or maybe I’ll just spread his name all over the Internet and shame him. He’s got one more chance.

Nevertheless, we stayed. The first part, where the son is dreaming in a video game, was fun because of the obvious allusions to Asoka (the look of the hero-character) and calling the damsel (Priyanka Chopra from Dostana) “Desi Girl.” And Sanjay Dutt as Khalnayak. Definite in-jokes that I had to explain to Marcia.

 

Jenny K: I could have done without that tight, fisheye lens on Sanjay.  Scariest thing in the movie, but a fun segment.  Shahrukh as the new Manga Superhero?  Now his hair was great in that scene, not like the crazy, curly one in his mundane life.

 

Julie M: The rest, to me, varied from merely interesting (the whole thing about video games transitioning to reality) to very funny (the scene with the piercings at the airport) to gratuitous (all the booty-shaking dancing goris) to random (fight scene at the airport) to just plain confusing (why did the game villain fixate so much on the kid?).

 

Jenny K:  That one was in the text…Ra.One hates losing to anyone, and as Prateik left the game in the lead, our villain needed to find “Lucifer” (his game name) to save face…as if he had one, in the first place!

 

Julie M:  I’m sure I missed some key explanations due to the lack of subtitles, but in general it was easy to follow. Nerdy dad designs killer video game villain Ra.One to impress son, then due to its particularly advanced technology the game invades the real world. Dad is killed by villain, who is actually looking for the son, but comes back as G.One, the avatar of the hero (which he had modeled on himself). G.One follows family around to protect them, and eventually has to battle the shape-shifting villain. Of course Mom half-falls in love with G.One, and son bonds to him. Add in item numbers (gratuitous, as mentioned earlier, but darn if that “Chamak Challo” song isn’t catchy!) and a cameo by Rajinikanth Sir (our theater went WILD when he showed up, more so than for SRK), and there isn’t a trick that was missed. I would call it a glorious hot mess, and a sequel seems likely.

 

Jenny K:  Ah, a South Indian audience in your area…probably why they usually don’t bother with subtitles there.  From my experience, South Indian promoters think there is no one non-desi that will want to see their films.

Here’s that catchy Akon song, and a link to an interesting video on the recording of it.  BTW, get rid of that line through the video by hitting the red rectangle on the menu bar below it.  Annoying.

 

Julie M: There were too many crotch and snot jokes for my ultimate comfort, and allusions to Terminator 2 and The Matrix were frequent. Like you, I also saw a bit of Starman in it. Marcia was slightly miffed because the main game designer’s name was Akashi, a good Japanese name, but the character was supposed to be Chinese. She thought it showed a cultural insensitivity on the part of South Asians for East Asians. SRK looked gaunt (guess he was supposed to be buff? He sure was in the opening sequence, but who knows how CGI’d that was), and in the final over-the-credits number he looked much older than he is.

 

Jenny K:  Tell Marcia that I didn’t get the impressions in the dialogue that Akashi was supposed to be Chinese…everytime someone joked with him, calling him Jackie Chan (because of all the martial arts) he’d get really p’ed off at them.  His mother would hit anyone who said it.  They seem to agree with Marcia.

 

Julie M: Plot–ordinary to us, but probably unusual and interesting in context. Genre–sort-of a superhero movie, kind-of science-fictiony but more like a traditional (to us) video-game movie of the type that attracts 14-y-o boys and that I don’t typically watch. Special effects…definitely high-level. My favorite effects were not the animations that defined the game characters, cool as they were, or the high-flying fight scenes, silly as THEY were, but the ones where the train station was destroyed. Awesome.

 

Jenny K:  That scene where the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (calling it the VT was much easier) was demolished, was, I think the best CGI segment in the film.  Very state-of-the-art.  Here’s a short promo with BigB talking about CGI use in Indian Cinema today.

Sorry about the subtitle problems…But I am impressed with both of you sticking in there. Fabulous! I think you did get most of the jokes, too…though you’d really see even more parallels if you’d seen Virtuosity. The girls here were pleased with everything except SRK’s horrible curly wig as the game designer, and there being too many “butt dance numbers.”

I kept having problems with plot logic, like, why a game company would have so much equipment to create the real life game characters in the first place. Also, why would you invent a game that requires you to know various forms of technically complicated martial arts to actually play it? Isn’t the popularity of these games due to the fact that they make normally skilled boys major warrior he-men? Oh, well. When I got too frustrated, I could just stare at Arjun some more.

 

Julie M:  Arjun definitely did not disappoint. Without the hair, though, he was hardly recognizable. I likes my hunky men with long hair…but there was not enough Arjun to suit me.  I didn’t at all mind nerdy SRK–kind of a throwback to Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi–but the hair was hideous. I agree with the NYT review that Kareena looks better with a few extra pounds. And her eyes did not bug me like they usually do. I think she makes a good mom-character, although doing this bit once more might disqualify her from ingénues in the future.

Compared to this movie (which I remind you that I DID like), Bodyguard seemed almost…literary in its faithfulness to the masala format.

 

Jenny K:  Ah, Salman…patron saint of the old, multi-song genre!  Who’da thought I’d be thankful to him for something?

The adventure continues…

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