February 21, 2012: Of Variety and Spice, Part 1

Jenny K: One of the things that so enchants me about watching Indian film is their sheer variety, how sometimes you are enthralled by romance, spectacle and melodrama, and then other times you’re falling out of your chair at the hilarious antics and timing of some of cinema’s best comedians.  Yes, I mean you, Paresh Rawal…you even make slapstick palatable for me, you jadugar, you.  And the most delightful thing, for me, is that sometimes you get all of that rolled up into one film!  Oh, masala, how I miss your spice in your current fall from popularity.

When we went through the few loose end reviews that we had yet to post, I began to see the gamut itself as being worthy of a theme.  The films resonate, even when they are serving up touchy issues, offering deliciously spicy biographies, or even are sublimely ridiculous, like Khalnayak, in our in Part 2…you just can’t take your eyes off Hindi film.

 

Julie M:  Finally saw Deepa Mehta’s Fire (1996). I appreciated the performances of both Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das and how controversial it was because of the subject matter–not just the lesbian relationship but how much it brought long-ignored women’s issues to the forefront–and it was great to have so much exposure to Jaaved Jaffrey (even though his character was an *ss), but overall, not as great film-wise as either Water (still my fave of the three) or Earth.

Basically I saw it as the story of two lonely and bordering-on-abused (not physically but emotionally) women finding solace in each other and that solace leading to a physical relationship. I didn’t see it as a “lesbian” film, just one about how punishing Indian culture can be on individualism and women in particular, especially less educated ones.

I don’t think either of the characters were actually lesbian–well, maybe the Nandita Das character slightly leaned that way at the beginning–but she was not so much lesbian as wanting more out of life than being a woman in that society and upbringing offered her, and the only way she could translate it into action in her head is to occasionally dress up as and act like a man. Both of them were incredibly physically frustrated in their marital relationships and found an outlet where they could. 

 

Jenny K:  Might be interesting to compare it to Albert Nobbs, the way you describe it here.  Sounds like some of the same issues are addressed, even if Nandita’s character wasn’t in male dress for as long. 

 

Julie M: It didn’t go far enough, to my mind, in illuminating the underlying social problem nor did it suggest any solutions except getting away. I actually felt that a film like Mrituydand, despite the extra drama, does more to resolve those issues than a film like Fire–which can be written off as a “foreigner” view of India since Deepa Mehta is an NRI. Along those lines I thought this interview was great.

Jenny K:  That is an interesting interview with Deepa…I’m sorry she had so much trouble with the Hollywood studio system. But it makes me want to see Camilla. I’m still torn about whether I want to see Fire, but your review makes me consider it more seriously.

  

Julie M:  I think you should see it, if only to complete the trilogy. I should warn you, though, that there is one explicit sex scene. It’s very brief, though–two minutes maximum.

  

Jenny K:  That in itself doesn’t faze me, especially when it’s germane to the plot, which I can’t imagine it not being in a Deepa Mehta film.  She always manages to tread the line delicately, telling hard truths and showing painful or controversial scenes with just enough discretion that you don’t feel it’s gratuitous…unlike, say, Rituparno Ghosh’s Antarmahal.  No, I’m not going to dignify that one  even with a description.  Just don’t ever watch it.

[about a week later]

Jenny K:  Despite the slap-in-the-face title, The Dirty Picture, this one looks like fun… [Whoever chose the title, did the film a disservice, I think,  turning away some who would have probably enjoyed it].  Vidya Balan has all the good roles these days, and she keeps getting love scenes with my man, Naseerji!!!  The nerve…I’m quite jealous.

It’s supposed to be a biopic about a South Indian sex symbol named Silk, back in the Wild and Crazy Eighties.  Here’s the trailer… Love Naseer’s bad hair dye… this looks like an homage to bad taste in a really hilarious way.  I hope the whole thing is like this.  Maybe the masala is coming back, in context of an older film world, fingers crossed.

 [a week later]

As to my trip to see The Dirty Picture…Naseer or no Naseer, I almost wish I hadn’t seen it. Don’t get me wrong, it is interesting, but it’s so darned negative…  First it starts out on a high energy note with Vidya Balan’s Reshma, a poor woman possessed with the idea that she’ll be a big star in pictures and willing to do almost anything to get in.

She has no offers for films, is constantly rejected, but is often offered money to sell herself.  Reshma figures that she just has to hold on until she can tap this effect she has on men and put it up there on screen where she can get a better price for it. Eventually she pushes herself forward enough so that she gets a bit part in a dance number with a bullwhip as her dance partner. And the ferociousness of her gaze, her defiance, along with some rather suggestive moves with the handle of said whip, finally gets her noticed, for better or worse.

Next thing Reshma knows, now named “Silk,” has got a hot item number with her favorite movie icon, Superstar Suryakant, an overaged lothario with a suspicious head of hair (sound like anyone in Chennai films? No? RK’s fans seem to think so and are a bit annoyed with the filmmakers). Naseeruddin Shah does a great job as usual, carrying off the loud fashions of the Eighties with panache and humor, but I miss the salt and pepper hair of Today’s Special. I found him much sexier in that one. Perhaps he was going for the slightly ridiculous side of the character and must not have been going for convincing chemistry with Vidya, because it wasn’t really there.

 Her chemistry was much better with Emraan Hashmi as the arty director who hates Silk and the kind of films she makes, but who becomes obsessed with her fate toward the end. Nice to see that Emraan can be compelling on screen, because I haven’t found him so in the past. Tusshar Kapoor as Naseer’s younger brother (very, very younger…almost as unbelievable as “Suryakant’s” hair) is very innocent and occasionally quite hilarious as in his deliriously wacky re-do of an earlier Silk and Surya dance number “Oooh La La”, after she kisses him for the first time. I keep remembering him as the very serious young police officer in Khakee, and am glad to see he can kick up his heels effectively. Here’s the trailer of the number he’s copying, couldn’t find Tusshar’s.

Vidya is as wonderful as everyone says…definite award winner for the next Filmfare go-around. If you wanted to read more about the real-life woman, Silk Smitha, here’s an article on her life.    

As Silk, Vidya glitters, but the script is so chopped up, even at 144 minutes, that you feel like there isn’t enough background shown to detail any of why her life turned out the way it did, how the relationships in her life progressed and how they ultimately failed her. I especially wanted more story with her mother. People were introduced into her storyline and then just disappeared without explanation…or brought back, too late, still without explanation. Both Vidya and Silk deserved better support.

 

Julie M:  Despite your negative review I still want to see it on DVD when it comes out. Vidya is practically unrecognizable as herself, but she seems like she did a great job.  I’ll watch her in anything, after seeing her fantastic performance in Bhool Bhulaiyaa.   And I would like to draw comparisons to a fabulous American film I saw a while back, The Notorious Bettie Page, biopic of the 1950s pinup model known for doing pretty much anything in her photos while still retaining the look of wholesome chastity. 

 

Jenny K:  So…next post, we continue with our salute to the spice of variety…Come on back, and if you like, let us know your favorites.

August 24, 2011 Earth, Stars, and “Like Stars on Earth”

Julie M: Watched Earth tonight. Wow. Beautifully done and yet very hard to watch. Nandita Das was fabulous, as was Aamir. Rahul Khanna…so hot and sweet, he could be a Krispy Kreme donut. Music was excellent.

I guess because it was an “art” film they could get away with a lot, but a sex scene in a Hindi movie?!  I actually found it very soft and romantic, and part of why I found Rahul so sexy, but it was shocking to see it at all. Even B mentioned it. (yes, he watched most of the film with me)

 

Jenny K:  I thought that the sex scene was essential to the story and handled very beautifully. But yes, it was rather shocking to Indian audiences. And actually, though it’s an Indian story, Deepa Mehta is seen more as a Canadian director.  I believe she had a hard time getting the local permits to clear the script and to shoot because of this scene and the fact that it showed India in a “less that favorable light.” Maybe not as much resistance as she got for Fire and later Water, but still, tough. I’m not even sure that it released in India, commercially, though I did see a note that India’s censors demanded six cuts to release it, including cutting the sex scene completely.

An indication of how artsy this film was…I had bought a copy of some film at one of my local Indian stores, and it was defective, so I took it back. They didn’t really want to give me a refund, so were trying to get me to pick something else in exchange. Well, by that time I had already found out that Nehaflix (sniff…sniff…I’m still in mourning) was the cheaper and more reliable way to go, so I was hesitating.

Then I saw Earth up on a shelf over the salesperson’s head. I said, “How about that one…Aamir Khan” She seemed flustered, almost determined to have me change my mind…”You know, it’s not nice, it’s not happy. I’m not sure you’ll like it.” I had to convince her that I knew it wasn’t a comedy and that I had, in fact, seen it before. I thought it was funny then, but, now that I think about it, maybe I branded myself a Jaded Westerner to her by admitting that I’d seen that “blue” film in the theaters! Oh dear…

 

Julie M:   Several things I didn’t get. Was it the Aamir character who [spoilerskilled Hassan? If so, what a sh*t, using the cover of the Partition stuff to act out his own jealousy.  [End of spoilers]

 

Jenny K:  I don’t remember exactly who killed Rahul’s character. I’d check but someone has my copy.  I’m left with the impression that he didn’t do it, himself, but he set it up so that he would be beaten, probably killed so that Nandita would have no choice but to turn to him, so she could become Muslim by marriage (or whatever) and he would be her only hope for protection. Definitely, he was not the same nice guy by the end of the film that he seemed at the beginning, before his hopes had been dashed, and his sisters killed[End of spoilers] . Fate conspiring to warp him for life.

 

Julie M:  And the Madame’s husband sure didn’t look Parsi–was he a convert?

 

Jenny K:  What do you mean by looking Parsi, exactly? I had always heard that the Parsi community was the most integrated into the western styles of dress and mannerisms. They were good businessmen, always well educated in English and considered more religiously neutral. They weren’t hamstrung from dealing with the British by as many dietary laws, and not being able to eat with foreigners, etc, as the Muslims and the Hindus were. Perhaps, I’m misinformed, but that’s what I thought.

 

Julie M:  I was thinking that the husband looked very Hindu, compared to Parsis who tend to look very Caucasian, and the wife who looked traditionally Parsi. Parsis were known for rarely intermarrying and could be recognized at a glance, which is why they could stay so neutral and people could respect them.

 

Jenny K:  That LennyBaby (wonderfully played by Maia Sethna) was a really odd kid. She’s almost as much the villain of the piece, if only passively so, as Aamir is. She’s a child though, and he’s an adult and should know better, but LB was supposed to love Nandita’s character and so her betrayal of the lovers [End of spoilers] was even more shocking to me, the first time I saw it.

 

Julie M: You see her as the villain? I see her as a confused kid, trying to control what she could in a tumultuous period of life and history. She could be mean in small ways, but she was also very scared. And I think she only accidentally revealed where Shanti was hiding: She was taken in by her favorite older friend and as far as she knew, she thought he was really going to save her. [End of spoilers]

 

Jenny K:  Now, I did say “almost as much a villain”…and I haven’t seen it for several years…not the kind of film I’d watch as a casual fun after dinner film. I just remember feeling that she acted a bit maliciously, as if she was punishing Shanti for something…but it could be just the distance from it that puts that in my head. I’ll have to re-watch it later.

 

Julie M: I am still very mad at Aamir’s character but as an actor, I think he needed to do this part. It was early enough in his career that he needed to show he could do other things than the dancing hero. And I think his performance in this set him up for great success in Lagaan.   I tried to find a decent clip but nothing subtitled in English (found some subtitled in Spanish, though, which amazingly I understood), and the rest were clips of the scandalous sex scene. Found a good compilation of Aamir stills from the movie set to one of the songs, but it is just too fangirly to post.  I guess I’ll have to post the kite scene, no subtitles but with plenty of Aamir:  “Ruth Aa Gayi Re”

I feel this scene showed Ice Candy Man’s propensity to cruelty when he cut the other guy’s kite and it wasn’t even a kite competition, just fun.  Kind of foreshadows the end of the film. [End of spoilers]

 [the next day…]

Julie M:  Saw Chalte Chalte tonight. I’m sorry to say this, because you sent it to me thinking I would like it, but all in all I didn’t like it much. The first half was fairly cute, and the scenes in Greece were fun, but I got bored with all the bickering and when it turned to real fighting it was just not fun. Raj/SRK wasn’t cute enough to make him worth all the drama. So, meh. Best thing about it was this number:

 I thought it was funny that the drunk guy on the street kept singing “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.” Not that I’ve watched it yet, but I recognized it as another SRK movie.

 

Jenny K:  You certainly don’t have to apologize. Chalte Chalte isn’t my favorite movie, by a long stretch. That’s Dil Se…., and you liked it…or Kannathil Muthamittal, and you liked that. And you like Aamir and Ajay. All and all, we’re doing pretty well in the sympatico department.  I like “Gumshuda”, too… my friend Kathy says that if she gets in a traffic jam in Bombay and people don’t dance on the taxi cabs, she’ll be terribly disappointed.

Aamir was the first Indian actor that I obsessively viewed and collected. Still one of my favorites. SRK, I like more as a lovely dessert vs. Aamir’s filling main course. That’s probably why I don’t usually like Aamir’s comedies, at all…Andaz Apna Apna (though everyone says that it’s the funniest movie ever, especially with all the inside film jokes) I just don’t get it. Also Ishq, one he did with Ajay is singularly painful to watch. And don’t get me started on Mela, the film he did with his brother Faisal! Oh, My, Gosh, how boring, except in a watching a traffic accident kind of way.

And this one, bad quality video, but it really says it all for Ishq

My theory as to why his comedies don’t work for me, has to do with the Angry Young Man Factor. Aamir has a real fire of anger that comes out of him at the least provocation. It’s either real, or it’s just something in his background that he taps very easily. He’s just an intense kinda guy, nothing easy about him, at all. He’s got a good sense of humor, but it tends to be at it’s funniest in a negative kind of way, making fun of others, etc. When he’s doing goofy comedy, Aamir just seems forced and a bit fake. The only reason 3 Idiots worked as well as it did was that the humor was spread out through three characters, and his had serious issues that superceded the farce elements…and then Aamir/Rancho left the scene, entirely for a while. That helped.

So, for me he’ll be always be better at dramas and slightly edgy dangerous romances, like Fanaa. Always rings more true. And, though I love all the intensity, afterwards,  I do appreciate a light, refreshing dose of Shah Rukh to release the tension. As SRK puts it, himself: “Let’s just say Aamir’s got the range and I’ve got the height…”

 [a few days later…]

Julie M:  Got Taare Zameen Par (Like Stars on Earth) in my library batch, Aamir as an art teacher (!!) mentoring a dyslexic boy (scenes from this were in the background on TV in Dostana). I’m a little scared because it’s co-distributed by Disney, but Aamir as producer/director/star reassures me.

 

Jenny K:  It is okay, but the first half dealing with the misdiagnosis of dyslexia goes on FOREVER. Dyslexia is such a known quantity here in the US, and so “tv movie of the week” that I found myself very impatient with the parents not understanding. “Move on, please, Move ON!!!” Then, as if he wasn’t sure of his directorial footsteps, Aamir injects his own presence in the second half as a “teacher with a mission”, frustrated with the system to the point of anger and borderline parental abuse. Aamir is doing a good thing getting the message out, but the style in which he did it detracted for me.

 

Julie M:  [after watching TZP] HATED the first half, just hated it–in fact, everything prior to Aamir showing up was awful except for the kid actor, [Darsheel Safary] who was fabulous. And everything after he shows up is predictable. In fact, I just settled in during the 2nd half (watched most of the first half at double speed) and watched Aamir move and grin, which always makes me happy.

As the mother of a “different” kid myself, it just seems obvious to me that if a child displays out-of-the-box thinking it naturally goes with certain difficulties that have to be thought about and accommodated. But you were right–India must not be as aware of this as we are–and it was very difficult to watch his parents and all adults around him blowing him off, and being outright mean to him. So sad.

But then Mr. Pied Piper Manic Pixie Dream Boy shows up and, like Dead Poet’s Society except with art and much younger kids, makes everyone Know Better. My issues:  a) there’s no teacher as 100% wonderful as he is, especially to the point of TRAVELING TO THE KID’S HOUSE to talk to the parents; b) from what I saw he would have had to have YEARS of special ed training to know to use the teaching techniques he did to get the kid to learn (are we supposed to believe it was all just instinctive because he was a dyslexic kid himself?); and c) there was way too much touching of the kids than would have been acceptable in this country. But I liked his faux-hawk, and of course I have seen how art can turn people around.

Overall, I found it just slightly better than OK and at long stretches EXTREMELY BORING. If it wasn’t Aamir I would have given up. So many people seem to love this movie, but I think it’s just a matter of people getting overly ooky about kids.

Here’s my favorite song (can’t find with English subtitles; basically it’s all variations on “do what you like to do and you’ll find what you’re best at, don’t let anyone hold you back”).  To me it has the same happy, hopeful vibe as “Give Me Some Sunshine” in 3 Idiots.

 

Jenny K:  You must be very far gone on Aamir if you liked the faux-hawk…makes his ears soooo prominent. Not his best look, to my mind. Oh, well, I didn’t like Taaare Zameen Par very much when I saw it, particularly because of the really goofy number at the beginning of the second half. Way too manic for me.  Sorrry Aamir.

 

Julie M:  I thought the faux-hawk made him look elfin. Being as he’s so short, elfin is a compliment, although with that crazy-manic number he took elfin a step (leap) too far. And he is definitely good with kids, so that’s a plus too.

 

Jenny K:  Don’t be too hard on Aamir, this was his first directing project, at least on a large scale, and he wanted to tackle a major issue…I just thought that his character was much more angry at the kid’s parents than was merited, or politic. No teacher would be telling a set of parents off that way without losing his job. Also, a good teacher wouldn’t do it, because it doesn’t help the kid if the parents go ballistic and take him out of the teacher’s hands. My verdict was, noble intent, not quite there.

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