August 16, 2011:Crying, Courage & Climbing the Khan Tower

Julie M:  This weekend’s movie schedule (starting Saturday) is:

Baabul
The Legend of Bhagat Singh
Dil To Pagal Hai

 

Jenny K:  I think you’ll find Baabul touching but slight, Rani cute, John and Salman acceptably restrained and Amitabh and Hema Malini, the mainstays as usual. I think that you, with your Ajay fixation, will like Bhagat Singh fairly well, but it may play a bit long. Dil To Pagal Hai is silly, and you’ll probably hate it, but promise me you’ll watch the song in the rain with Shah Rukh, Madhuri Dixit and the kids [Koi Ladki Hai]…fabulous. One of my favorites…

[the next day…]

Julie M:  Inquilab Zindabad! The Legend of Bhagat Singh was fantastic and seemed to be quite historically accurate. Music was amazing–one of Rahman’s best. Ajay was perfect (could he be anything else?). Can’t see why it didn’t do better with the public; maybe it was too serious a topic? Anyway, I didn’t think it was too long. Now I want to see Rang De Basanti again, and the Bobby Deol version. What a charismatic character. 

This moving scene is where Bhagat Singh and his group are in jail and are on a hunger strike to force better prisoner conditions. Instead of giving them water their jailers try to give them milk to get them to take nourishment. Leads to a beautiful patriotic song and a rare excellent lip-sync performance by Ajay.

Jenny K:  I liked your clip from The Legend of Bhagat Singh, but I think I like the way they used the poem a bit better in Rang de Basanti, just with voice with percussion behind. Aamir Khan’s voice, particularly (not to put down Atul Kulkarni, by any means), was fabulous in his rendition of it. Wikipedia has a nice short article on the poem with the translation. Very interesting.

The best thing about the video, except how fine Ajay looked (“starving” suits him, I guess, but isn’t his hair is exceptionally well groomed for a no-mirror-or-comb environment?) was that it reminded me Sushant Singh was in it playing Sukhdev.  I adore Sushant, he always gives a note of clarity and truthfulness to a role.  He was really busy around that time, 2003-ish, especially in films with Sushmita Sen. Whether or not the film was good, Sushant always is: Samay, Paisa Vasool, Lakshya, Sehar…to name a few. Cute and talented. Sigh. The guy playing Chandrashekar Azad (Akhilendra Mishra) is good, too (loved him in Lagaan as the blacksmith) but, gosh, gosh, and I repeat, gosh…who among these guys was even close to 24 years old?!?!?!

[the next day]

Julie M:  Dil To Pagal Hai was definitely silly and I did hate most of it. Two good things: I loved the Ajay character, thought he was cute and sweet, and any scene that he was in was excellent. (okay, you can move me over to the Akshay Kumar-fan column if only for his smile in this movie) The other was the rain dance scene (“Koi Ladki Hai”) with the kids–awesome, thanks for pointing it out. For the rest…meh to eccchhh. I am surprised that SRK ended up such a big star and got offered juicy parts after this kind of predictable nonsense.

(and is it just me, or do Karisma Kapoor and Urmila Matondkar look a lot alike? Maybe not now, but in the films of, say, the mid-to-late 1990s; this one vs Rangeela, for example.)

Had to put this song in as a clip. Best one I could find with English subtitles. Akshay’s face at 2:44 is just the best.

“Koi Ladki Hai” is here: (sorry, no subtitles–lyrics are basically “I’m in love with a girl who makes it rain”)

[Note: If you want HD you have to manually set it to 720 or up, and you can also activate the subtitles by hitting CC. Both are on the toolbar, but only on the Youtube site, proper.]

 

Jenny K:  Well, all I’m going to say about Dil To Pagal Hai, is that I didn’t send it to you in the A to K box for a reason. Also, I will allow that Akshay Kumar was good in it, but please don’t tell me you’re going over to the Khiladi Side…(a series of kinda-sorta-James-Bondish films he’s done. You know…girls, danger, stunts, more girls, etc). I don’t know if I can take it. I’m very glad you like Koi Ladki Hai…it’s one of my top 20 favorite videos, I think.

But before you offend the whole SRK fanbase, (which is legion, BTW) keep it in mind that you are still approaching Dil To Pagal Hai with an American mindset. I double checked my recollection, and according to boxofficeindia.com, DTPH was the second biggest grosser in India in 1997. Very popular, indeed. Behind only Border, which you have, and I quite like, and just ahead of Pardes, another SRK starrer, and one you’d also probably hate. To give you an idea, since his first film in 1992, he’s put out 69 films and had 18 of them hit in the top five for their year. Different cinematic strokes for different folks…even though we (and many others) love what he does in movies like Dil Se…a lot of people like the Rukhster to be silly and charming. It can make for a phenomenal career.

 

Julie M:  No Khiladi for me, thanks. I just thought Akshay was cute and funny in DTPH, and seemed to me to be the best thing in it. Plus I liked him in Tashan and Bhool Bulaiyya. If you tell me to avoid the Khiladi movies I will. (I haven’t yielded to temptation to try Golmaal 2 and 3, even though they are on the shelves at the library all the time)

And don’t get me wrong…SRK was good at what he was called upon to do in DTPH, but given his popularity in this (and other similar films around the same time where he seems to play the same type of role) it seems, well, unconventional that he was allowed to move beyond it to do some real acting work. Which he does well. What would you say was his “breakthrough” film, the one that got him to be taken seriously and allowed by the box office to do things like, say, Swades and MNIK and Don? Was it Dil Se… or something later?

 

Jenny K:  What you’re not getting here is that SRK wasn’t “allowed” to do the serious films…he’s had to fight to do them. The audiences don’t seem to want to see him do serious at all.  But because he draws so well at the non-serious movies, and is so beloved, that the producers will sometimes “humor” him and let him do a film (or he produces it himself) which they consider a box office risk. Dil Se… and Swades were in no way box office superhits, and My Name is Khan was only a moderate one in the homeland (only squeaking in to number five for 2010). Salman’s hit Dabaang was the winner last year, in terms of grosses.

So, if the Indian audience had their way, Shah Rukh would solely do romantic heroes until the age of 75. He’s pretty stubborn, though, and will insist on doing something else every so often to “keep his hand in,” as it were.

 

Julie M:  I guess I can’t blame audiences for pigeonholing actors, and I also understand that actors need to fight for better parts. Money makes the world go ’round, and the tried-and-true will always sell (n.b. sequels). I suppose that’s why so many actors form their own production companies (like SRK and Red Chillies)–so they can do what they want to do and help other actors do the same.  I cannot understand why Dabangg was so popular (based solely on the trailer). Or rather, I can understand, since it was clearly designed to appeal to 14-to-22-year-old boys. But I don’t have to like it.

 

Jenny K:  Aamir Khan seems to be the only one to be able to fight the pigeonholing trend, as far as I’ve seen, and still be number one at the box office.  He’s up there at the top spot these days just as often as SRK and Salman are…Let the Khan Wars khantinue…

 [later]

Julie M:  Oh. My. God. Was Baabul EXCRUCIATINGLY SLOW or what? The plotlines were somewhat intriguing–albeit with a WQ [Weepiness Quotient] off the charts that left me cold, it was so much–but did they have to drag it out so long? It’s almost as if they were trying for the K3G factor.

[Note: Spoilerish bits in the clip, especially at the end.]

Rani was the best thing about it. I truly coveted her character’s wardrobe, and the jewelry…well, the family in the story owned a jewelry manufacturing company, so it made sense to have it so elaborate. Hema was believable and I didn’t feel that she was as over-the-top as BigB was. John Abraham looked good in the longer hair and less obviously buffed body–nice understated performance, whereas I could have used a bit more charm from Salman to make it believable that Rani would fall for him. BigB’s rug was obvious–even B noticed and asked whether it was real hair or not. Overall…2 stars.

 

Jenny K:  Hmmm…I thought Salman was much more charming in Baabul than he usually is. It almost worked on me in this film. I particularly liked his vibe with BigB. Drag racing your elders…perhaps unwise, but fun.  I also liked Hema and Amitabh’s chemistry, as I always do, they’ve worked together for so long, it just plays really well. They were the best thing in Veer-Zaara for me, too.

(Though I’m not recommending much more than that number and Main Yahaan Hoon in V-Z. It’s not one of my favorites; too already-seen-that plus very bad aging makeup and wigs).  John was inoffensive, but rather bland for me, again. And as to the length of the film, that is sort of the standard pacing for “emotional family drama” in India. People don’t feel like they’re getting full-impact catharsis without at least two hours of emotional sumo wrestling   I’ve grown to agree, for the most part, over the years.  Bah, 90 minute formats…  Kid-stuff!

 

Julie M:  Emotional family drama…I’d better avoid those in the future, no matter who’s in it. It’s just not my style. Warn me, OK? Put the code letters EFD and I’ll know. I’ll be working on next weekend’s library list soon and will run it by you to catch any clunkers.

 

JennyK:  I know Julie and I, both, were very sad to hear of the passing of Shammi Kapoor, and as neither of us have seen enough of his older films, we’ll probably pre-empt our next film glut with a review of one of his.  We mourn with the rest of the Indian film public at the passing of a classic comedian and, from what I’m told (and have seen in interviews), a very classy fellow.

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7 Comments

  1. I might get myself in trouble for saying so, but based on the Kapoor family biography by Madhu Jain, Shammi was not exactly always classy offscreen. But whether or not that matter to what we think of him as a performer is a huge question and one I can put aside for almost everyone but Salman, who keeps tripping me up. Julie, I cannot encourage you enough to watch Dabangg. I did not think I would like it but loved it (so much I watched it twice in one weekend). And the short answer to why it was so popular is that it put a beloved hero actor in a very, very heroic role that let him do very, very heroic things. It’s got a macho main man (check!) doing impressive action sequences (check!) all in the name of Good and Justice (check check!) with heart (check!) and even in defense of his MOTHER (check times a zillion!) while he woos a beautiful woman (check) half his age (check) to great music (check) with good dancing (check, and an extra special check for Munni). It’s a pretty classic formula, and Dabangg nails it. I am not a particular fan of Salman and I don’t need to see a zillion more takes on the formula, but I thought it was excellent.

  2. Yes, Dabangg really is fun. Not a masterpiece at all, or a film that deserves all the awards etc. it got, but still okay.
    Even though I don’t like Salman.
    Btw, I don’t hate neither Pardes nor DTPH, but their the sort of films I don’t watch more than once, normally. Fluffy and understandable if you approach it with an Indian mentality or whatever, but nothing very special. DDLJ or KKHH are much better films with Shah Rukh in the lover-role.

  3. Now, I didn’t mean to down Dabaang as a movie, itself, I was just trying to put in perspective what is a popular boxoffice superhit in India. Not particularly subtle in performances or style, but lots of silly fun. With lots of songs, dances and dishoom, of course. And crazy light-up glasses always help. Think how fetching they were on Hrithik in the Senorita number in ZNMD.

    Actually, I’ll admit to not having even seen Dabaang, though I did give a copy as a gift to a close friend who loves Salman more than I do, and she loved it. I will have to borrow it back and watch it, now that you two have given it thumbs up as well! Oh dear, Dostana and Dabaang in one week? My life on the anti-populist desert island may be threatened!!!

  4. OK, OK: I won’t completely write off Dabangg. But I’m not going to go out of my way to see it. Maybe if there’s a filmi drought or the DVD floats in front of my face as I’m walking down the street, like the charmed cupcakes in Harry Potter. And I noticed that the posters for Dabangg and Singham are eerily similar. Coincidence? I don’t think so…

  5. Of course the posters are similar (though the one of Ajay as the Ashokan lion capital is more clever)! I haven’t seen Singham so cannot speak with authority, but from what I read and see it is very much in the same vein as Dabangg (which itself is in the same vein as lots of other things). People are drawn to success. As for its subtlety, believe it or not I do think it has some in the writing. I know, I know, I was surprised too.

    Anyway. Just because something is wildly popular or declared “important” does not mean all of us will like it or even understand its appeal, but we will certainly learn more about Indian cinema culture by at least watching it for ourselves. That’s why I finally saw Mother India (LOVE!) and why I keep trying to rewatch HAHK even though I loathe it.

  6. That’s why I do this. (think I need a few more films under my belt before I tackle Mother India, though)

    • You won’t get that one from me, Julie…sorry, Beth. I love Nargis in Awara, but I had a lot of trouble getting into the characters in Mother India, and the ending just blew me out the door. Couldn’t stand it. Won’t watch it again…Thus, officially branding myself as the “uncomprehending Westerner,” I realize, but, I guess art will always provoke strong reactions, you just can’t guarantee they will always be positive ones.


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