November 28, 2011: Thankful for Guilty Pleasures!

Here we are, still in Thanksgiving Week, and what are we doing?  We’re dodging Black Friday and Cyber Monday by watching our favorite Guilty Pleasures Bollywood films.  Come join us! 

 

Julie M:  Got Jaan-e-Mann (Darling, 2006) from the library.  Preity, Salman and Akshay…how can it miss?

 

Jenny K:  Tell me if it’s worth seeing. It was being filmed in NYC almost simultaneously with Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna and there were lots of reports on Bollywhat.com’s forum on the sightings around the city. Lots of fun reading about it, but I remember seeing references to Salman in drag as Marilyn in the Seven Year Itch white dress looking not very fetching, and I recall references to Anupam Kher playing a Toulouse-Lautrec-ish style dwarf, completely on his knees for the shoot. I just gave up at that point and didn’t go to see it.  Here’s a link to a Rediff article on what Anupam went through doing it.

 

Julie M:  Despite my general aversion to Salman, I really enjoyed Jaan-e-Mann. On a number of levels it is a typical love story, but there were staging devices that made it interesting and the first half was unrelentingly funny.

In the opening we are introduced to Agastya (Akshay Kumar), an astronaut in a space vehicle with a blonde astro-companion, telling her a flashback story of his friend Suhan (Salman Khan). Suhan is an out-of-work actor with a favorite uncle, who happens to be a dwarf (occasioning a run of puns that I’m sure in Hindi are hilarious but I just didn’t get in translation). He gets a letter from his ex-wife Piya (Preity Zinta) stating that since he has not paid alimony for the past many-X months, she will accept a one-time settlement of 50 lakhs and he has no further obligation to her. We learn through a flashback number (it’s a flashback within a flashback, if you are keeping track) that Piya left him after he was forced by his agent to separate from her as a positive career move (heroes can’t be married, doncha know). This is actually a very cool and surreal number and I love how it’s done.  As the flashbacks nest the dance numbers get crazier and crazier.

Suhan and his uncle decide that since he doesn’t have the money, the best way to get out of paying the sum is to find someone to marry her. Enter Agastya, Piya’s formerly nerdy college acquaintance, who is looking to hook back up with her, and not recognizing Suhan as her ex-husband. Brainstorm: put Agastya with Piya and have him marry her!  Here’s the number where Suhan and his uncle convince Agastya that his destiny lies with Piya (warning—this is a moderately offensive, all-dwarf dance number):

The guy in the purple suit is Salman as Agastya’s nerdy self in college. Love the cardboard cutout representing Piya (in college-age getup), and then the dwarf dressing up as Piya.

 

Jenny K:  It still looks a bit scary, especially in the dwarf number, but I’ll take your word for it. All those nods to KHNH and DCH (NY bridge shots, tilted just that way and the surprise red rose in the park) are sort of cute but also odd. And from the clips you have here it looks as if Preity is doing an extended cameo and never actually speaks! Funny!

 

Julie M:  Actually Preity does speak, quite a bit, but it’s true, you do go through the first, oh, hour or more without actually seeing Preity’s character in live action, only in flashback montages, and so when the real person shows up you have to get re-introduced to her through her own actions instead of filtered through everyone else’s years-old perceptions of her. And she’s very different in “person” from how the other two have portrayed her in the montages. I told you that there were some narrative devices that elevate this film above the typical crazy-comedy-romance genre.

 

Jenny K:  With all the numbers condensing through montages, is the movie shorter than normal Bollywood, or do they just pack three times as much in it?

 

Julie M:  It’s a full three hours—but you don’t notice.  It’s kind of strange how the montages tell the back stories very quickly and concisely, since Bollywood movies usually linger lovingly on back stories, but it leaves more time for the main action which consists of the developing friendship between Suhan and Agastya (Salman kind of channels SRK’s typical Raj-Rahul character in this), Suhan’s letting go of his longtime anger against Piya and the Piya/Agastya romance which has some very fun scenes. But all of these are typical rom-com-melodrama fare.

  

Jenny K:  With Salman it’s a Prem-Raj/Suraj type.  Only one Rahul that I can remember…but I get what you mean. 

 
Julie M: The rest of the film is controlled chaos as Suhan and his uncle make over the nerdy Agastya in Suhan’s trendy image and then drag him to New York to throw him in Piya’s path. Complication: Agastya is painfully shy and Suhan must stay within 100 meters of him with a transmitter to feed him lines without Piya recognizing him, occasioning many ridiculous but funny costumes. In the process Suhan learns the real reason(s) Piya left him and has to make a decision: continue with the ruse and let Piya be happy with Agastya, or try to get back together with her himself?

  

Jenny K:  And you found all of that funny?  The chaos sounds like it was not in the least controlled…but maybe that’s just me.  Put Salman and Akshay together and my hulchul-meter just goes spinning out of control.

 

Julie M: Overall the first half was crazy-hilarious, with the second half toned down and more romantic without the melodrama.  The ending comes fast and funny.

This setup had the potential to be really awful, and there are indeed some cringeworthy moments. There is even the obligatory senseless dual role, this time for Anupam Kher as the dwarf uncle in Mumbai and a look-alike but non-dwarf cafe manager in New York. But Akshay makes such a fetching nerd with his tiny glasses, and his smile is so adorable, and he and Salman make such a good buddy team, that I forgave the flaws. It’s much more fun to see them working together than at odds like in Mujse Shaadi Karogi. And Preity and Salman have excellent chemistry even though it’s seen only in flashbacks until the last 30 minutes. Sallu was actually rather engaging and almost like a real person.  He only opened up one small can of dishoom in the whole film, showing admirable restraint there if not for going shirtless, which he did early and often, and in one scene he 97% convinced me that he has some actual acting talent.

One of the best scenes was the introduction of the Suhan character via a dream sequence where he’s accepting a Filmfare Best Lead Actor award…in the 70s! Cool B/W footage of older stars with Salman inserted into the clip.

So…Jaan-e-Mann could have been awful but wasn’t. I might have hated it if I was in a really foul mood, but this is the kind of film that is so goofily good-natured that all its flaws can be forgiven.  It’s easily skip-able story-wise and actor-wise (no new ground for any of the leads) but it really is cool how they tried to do something different with the montages reflecting the layered flashbacks. And for that it’s worth seeing.

 

Jenny K:  The director, Shirish Kunder, is Farah Khan’s husband. He was her editor first and they fell in love working on Main Hoon Na, I think. He seems to have absorbed all her love of color and raucous energy and translated it in his own way. She choreographed for him, of course. Good to keep it all in the family!

 [a few weeks later]

Julie M:  So I was taking it easy this afternoon, and thought I’d watch a funny film from your box, so I selected Marigold (2007), anticipating a gleeful Hollywood/Bollywood fusion and Salman Khan acting entirely in English.

At first glance it was full of possibilities for an American-made film meant to introduce American audiences to the joys of Bollywood films without the offputting length and subtitles. Here’s the trailer.

American C-grade actress Marigold Lexton (played by real-life C-grade actress Ali Larter) with a bad attitude finds herself stuck in India and gets a part in a Bollywood film, where Prem Rajput (Salman Khan) is the choreographer, and love ensues. Complications arise in the form of Prem’s disapproving royal family and longtime-arranged fiancee, and Marigold’s boyfriend who arrives on the scene, but all ends well and the characters grow as people. Add sweet love songs, big dance numbers, music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, lyrics by Javed Akhtar, and location shooting in Goa, and it couldn’t miss, right?

WRONG. I found the film a series of misses, although in some areas they were near misses. Salman Khan, locked into amused-smile “romantic” mode, was curiously low-key, displaying very little of the good-natured manic charm that makes him such a huge star in India. Ali Larter (and she was cast exactly why?) lacked the necessary comic timing to successfully pull off the b*tchy-cum-lovestruck Marigold. The story did not adequately build the case for Prem’s and Marigold’s attraction to each other, and the complications were not intense enough to make the audience feel that they could possibly be insurmountable and hence the stuff of dramatic tension.

I did like this number, which was the last scene in the film and very typical of an Indian-made Bollywood spectacle:

Maybe I’ve been watching REAL Bollywood, but the whole thing seemed rushed and some key scenes seemed to be missing–particularly, scenes where choreographer Prem takes the decidedly non-graceful Marigold in hand and teaches her how to dance, which would have given them a very nice and logical foundation for romance.

 

Jenny K:  Is this the same woman who was defending Bride and Prejudice so staunchly?  Well, I’ll agree that it was more effective than Marigold, but I wonder how you’d review B&P now?

 

Julie M:  I much preferred Bride and Prejudice as a film all in English, with a major Bollywood star, as one to introduce the genre to Western audiences and actually convince them that it’s worth a second look. All in all, if this was supposed to be a “crossover” film it didn’t do either Hollywood or Bollywood any favors.

This number, where Marigold supposedly proves her mettle as an actress and dancer, fell flat with me; it’s as if the entire dance troupe was infected with Ali Larter’s chronic stiffness despite the energetic choreography.

And the movie took itself too seriously: to my mind, romantic comedies (in any language) succeed because the characters know it’s a story and have fun with it. Finally, Salman only displays one bad shirt choice, which I have to admit despite my snarkiness I always look forward to in his films.

  

Jenny K:  I loved the white jacket with the fringe on the arms!  Very cool.  Who would have thought I’d have been approving his sartorial choices?!?

 

Julie M:  The sets and costumes were stunning, and I did enjoy a couple of the dance numbers, above, which were clearly given a lot of thought. In this beachside number, Marigold is introduced to the concept of dance numbers as integral to Bollywood filmmaking, and it’s a pretty awesome song too. 

Jenny K:  I felt much like you the first time I saw it. Ali was much too b*tchy to be at all endearing, and Salman being fully clothed and always charming didn’t seem to be at all believable to me. However, I sent it on because I watched it again recently on Netflix (It had been a two year gap, I think, since I saw it first) and I had really mellowed on it. Thought it did much better on second viewing, and I saw many more funny bits in Ali’s performance and much more sweetness in SK’s.

 [about a week later]

 Jenny K:  Went to see Rockstar with Pat and a friend of hers on the day it opened, after I got off work. Mid-week, how decadent! 

My main comment is: best Rahman Score since Meenaxi….some of the songs were just wonderful! Odd, though. I went through some of the clips of the videos on YouTube, and it must be that the numbers are very integrated into the plot, because the song that moved me the most is very generic looking here.

Admittedly, this is edited to pull out, I think, five minutes of build-up, and so that may have a lot to do with it. This one is the lead couple of Ranbir and Nargis reunited in Prague during an international music festival. In context it’s permeated with a bittersweet quality of remembrance of their time together two years past, of the fun they had before she was married. Their chemistry really built up in the longer version.

Basically, I liked it. Without too many specifics, I’ll say it was a nice performance by Ranbir, if you ignore the first, say, quarter of the film. They needed to just take ten minutes and say, “Jordan is a nice boy but is too bland and has no real drive and focus for his musical inspiration, and so he fixated on a random beauty to try to give him one.” See, there I saved us a good forty-five minutes of tedious exposition in one sentence.

The film only got rolling when things got darker, and this qawwali number marks where the slow first quarter finally picks up.  I’m always a sucker for a good qawwali…nice boy Jordan (Ranbir) is finally getting the more troubled life he wants to make his music more gritty…he tells his dad he won’t ever work in the family business and they kick him to the curb, and he winds up sleeping in the Haji Ali Dargah, a mosque, where he begins to find enlightenment and deepen his music with worship. Nice segment.

Drama, angst, sturm und drang continue as the film progresses…Ranbir’s hair gets even longer, and his facial hair more scruffy, and he gets much more physically attractive…though the look they gave him in this last big number went too far…Ranbir as Yanni in his Sgt. Pepper Phase…shudder. Angst is one thing but fashion masochism is something else again.

Julie M:  You know, that look isn’t so bad.  Maybe it’s just that it’s Ranbir, but I think it’s kind of cute.

 

Jenny K:  You are a hopeless case,  Jules. 

Newcomer Nargis Fakhri does alright, if a bit of an emotional, turn-on-a-dime shuttlecock in the first half, and she looks too much like Katrina Kaif. There’s a lovely cameo by Shammi Kapoor, in his last appearance. And the film looks wonderful with typically great cinematography by Anil Mehta (Lagaan, KHNH, Marigold). Don’t know if you’d consider it worth seeing on a big screen or not.

 

Julie M:  I’m so mad at the theater here, it’ll be a cold day in h*ll when I try to see a movie that isn’t action-based, because it’s impossible to tell when something is going to be subtitled.  But I’ll report back if I go. 

Meanwhile, your report got me into such a Ranbir mood that I actually PAID to see Bachna Ae Haseeno (Lucky Boy—not a literal translation—2008) through YouTube.  Here’s the trailer.

I had a lot of fun with it. Ranbir was absolutely winning as Raj Sharma, the handsome, successful cad (aka “killer”) who, 8 years apart, loves and then leaves two women (Minissha Lamba, Bipasha Basu) when they start to get serious about him, only to himself be dumped after he falls head-over-heels a few years later for a third (Deepika Padukone).

 

Jenny K:  Hah!  I thought you’d like BaH! Just the right mix of heartfelt and cheeky. And I remember the wonderful dancing, too. He’s right up there, though I am much more likely to have Imraan Khan as my menu-topper for guilty pleasure viewing, Ranbir does have his good points.

 

Julie M: I also liked this bhangra number, where Ranbir crashes a wedding so he can approach Minissha and apologize to her:

He realizes that he needs to redeem himself, and the journey he takes to apologize to his former lovers and atone for the impact his caddishness has taken on their lives is alternately funny and sweet.

The music was fun and Ranbir can dance, and dance well. Check out the number that appears over the opening credits: 

I thought the quick costume changes towards the end of the song were particularly interesting.  I was tickled to learn that it was a remake of/homage to this 1977 number, starring Ranbir’s dad Rishi Kapoor.  How much do you love the fluffy white suit and matching hat!!

Jenny K:  Fluffy!?!  Them there are industrial-grade full-on white paillettes!  Huge wonkin’ flat sequins that dangle and flip with each twitch of Rishi’s swivelin’ hips.  Gotta love it, as you say…though I’m not sure that paillettes should ever grace a man’s cap.  Sets a bad precedent.

 

Julie M:  The film had a “friendly appearance” by Kunal Kapoor, which I was not expecting, was a bonus (yum). And the first love story is inspired by DDLJ (not ripping it off–the Minissha character is a fan of the film, leading Raj to woo her using the film as a key to her heart), which made me giggle for the entire first half-hour of the film.  Here’s the entire song:

Granted, it was not a perfect film. It was overrun with anachronisms, which always bug me (example: the first story supposedly took place in 1996, but the cars and fashions were all wrong and there were modern cell phones; later, at a party, they dance to music from films that had not yet been released). The best friend character (“comedically” played by Hiten Paintal) was an *ss but Raj never seems to notice.

I remain bewildered as to why Deepika is given parts where she is expected to act, because clearly she is best suited for eye-candy roles (even Bipasha out-acted her, and that’s saying something, because I’m not a Bipasha fan either).  Ranbir spends too much time alternating between wearing obvious-branded Abercrombie clothing and wandering around inexplicably shirtless, although I’m not really complaining about the latter.

Finally, I liked this number, where, in order to obtain her forgiveness, Bipasha is making Ranbir dance (literally) attendance on her and he parodies the dancing styles of major Bollywood stars.

Ranbir’s acting in BAH redeemed him from the weird and confusing Saawariya and gives a hint as to how amazing he would be in Raajneeti. All in all, it was a nice Friday treat and a “guilty pleasure” to admit that I enjoyed greatly.

 

Jenny K:  I give thanks and hope the rest of the holiday season goes as well!  God Bless Us, Everyone!

Nov. 20, 2011: Wives, Widows and Wanton Women

Recently we’ve been watching a number of Indian films that center around women, ones that show them as fully rounded characters in situations that are far from the romance-movie norm. Please come along with us and join in on a fascinating subject for conversation.  It’s a long one, but well worth the time.

 

Julie M:  Tonight’s feature was Deepa Mehta’s Water (2006). What a film–so beautifully shot, yet so sad and made me angry at the same time. You know I love “issue” films, and this film raised enough issues to keep me musing for days.

Set in 1938, Chuyia (Sarala Kariyawasam) is a rural girl, age 8 and recently widowed–according to tradition her parents take her toVaranasi to live in a widows’ ashram. Chuyia must adapt to a life of faith, austerity and begging with her new “family” of much older women. She doesn’t fit in at all, but she does befriend Kalyani (Lisa Ray), a beautiful young widow who is shunned by the other widows because she is routinely sent out as a prostitute to make money for the ashram. Another widow, Shakuntala (Seema Biswas), takes Chuyia under her wing. Chuyia and Kalyani meet Narayan (John Abraham), a wealthy recent graduate and a Gandhi follower.  Narayan and Kalyani fall in love and plan to marry, but there is a major roadblock that leads to tragedy. Chuyia is next in line for “the life,” but Shakuntala intervenes and in a very nice parallel, Chuyia’s chances for a better future end up linked with the Gandhian political movement.

 

Jenny K:  I saw this movie more than once in the movie theater, and once I was lucky enough to see it with the director there to talk about it.  I got a much better feel as to what went on with the original filming, and how it was stopped due to protests over her controversial subject matter.  What perseverance! 

The elements of the plot reminded me a lot of Gloria Whelan’s book, Homeless Bird which won the National Book Award in 2000.  It details the life of a thirteen year old child bride as she is widowed and left in Varanasi to die, but who gets a second chance making her own way in the world.  Lovely book, don’t let the children’s book status warn you off.

 

 

Julie M:  I read that the original cast, before the film was shut down for five years because of the protests, was supposed to have Nandita Das as Kalyani, Akshay Kumar as Narayan and Shabana Azmi as Shakuntala: my mind reels at the thought of that combination!!  But this cast was awesome too.  John Abraham was excellent (and hot hot hot in a dhoti!), best I’ve seen him, and Sarala was fantastic as Chuyia. Seema…well, Seema is always wonderful, but her portrait of a woman caught between tradition and common sense is heart-rending.

 

Jenny K:  Oh, my gosh!  Seema blew me away.  I cried like a baby just from the expression on her face at the end of the film as she puts Chuyia on the train.  Actually, hers is the only performance that I cry at, every time.    Didn’t you like Raghuvir’s performance, too?  What a hoot!

 

Julie M:  It took half the movie before I recognized him as the eunuch/cross-dresser Gulabi, who assists the ashram by pimping out the widows.  Great performance but wrapping my head around what he (she?) was doing was hard.  The nature of the time period, the status of widows in Indian society (somehow I feel that not much has improved in the rural areas since 1938), the clash between the educated/literate and the not-so-educated, class and caste differences, and the attribution of misogyny to religion when it’s simply a product of ignorance…  But this film was so atmospheric, and the Rahman music so stunningly integrated, that it’s entirely possible to just enjoy it without thinking about its more serious side.  Truly one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Even though it was a bit slow in spots, and didn’t have Aamir, I think I liked it better than Earth.

 

Jenny K:  I can see how you’d say that, but I think that, for me, Earth still had the most impact, if only for the scene where Aamir meets his sister’s train.  Shudder…made me feel a bit more identification with Ice Candy Man’s situation.  In Water, except for Seema, I watched them, but didn’t really connect.  Perhaps Lisa Ray was just too cool for me.  She was, however, much better than she was in Bollywood/Hollywood, if that can actually be compared.  Deepa’s never been that good with comedies, if you ask me.

 

Julie M:  Well, just look at her.  I’ve never seen Deepa laugh, even in an interview.  She’s just so intense and focused.

 [a few days later]

Julie M:  Saw Chameli (2004) last night. Plot-wise it falls into the genre of “guy gets caught up with the denizens of the night where he is a fish out of water” film. I have not seen the type in English as anything other than a comedy, or something that purports to be a comedy, most recently Date Night which, although I love Tina Fey and Steve Carel individually, I could not bring myself to see. My favorite was 1985’s After Hours, less comic than most, probably due to the direction by Martin Scorsese.

 

Jenny K:  Maybe, I’ve just not seen enough of this genre in our films.  Can’t think of any I’d compare it to…certainly not Pretty Woman, which is the only “pro/john” kind of film that jumps to mind.  And non-sequitur, you should give Date Night a chance; it’s fun!

 
Julie M:  I will if you give Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle a chance—I thought it would be dumb but it’s hysterically funny. 

 

Jenny K:  Ooof…that might be too steep a cost, even for Kal Penn.

 

Julie M:  Anway. The plot revolves around Aman Kapoor (Rahul Bose), a successful Mumbai businessman whom we meet over the opening credits schmoozing at a cocktail party. Nice suit on him. We are also simultaneously introduced to Chameli (“Jasmine,” Kareena Kapoor), a prostitute, getting ready for a night of work. Aman leaves the party and finds himself stranded in the red-light district in a heavy downpour, which has literally flooded his car. It is, of course, Chameli’s corner where his car breaks down. Here’s the scene where they first encounter each other.

They talk for a while, get to know one another, and he becomes involved in her typical working night. We also learn that Aman has a tragedy in his past that rainy nights like this make him think about. Chameli’s matter-of-fact outlook on life (and apparently very salty language–occasioning the only bleeps that I can recall in a Hindi film) causes Aman to brood a bit less on his own troubles.

 

Jenny K:  Yeah, you don’t hear things bleeped much in Hindi cinema, do you?  Though I do remember that people said that the dialogues in Omkara was considered very vernacular and quite uncouth; it caused a good bit of scandal at the time it came out.

Julie M: She also displays a softer side, seen in the pretty number, above. Then events transpire that get Aman and Chameli into some trouble with the police, which he uses personal connections and not an insignificant amount of cash to get out of, and as dawn breaks Chameli goes back to her dump of an apartment and he goes back to his life. You see a quick but very nice scene that indicates her influence on him, then in the last scene (the next evening?) he shows up at Chameli’s corner, and there is a quick scene indicating his influence on her.

Rahul Bose displays his typical low-key, indie-film style to portray the brooding Aman, but the true star of the film is Kareena Kapoor. Having only seen her in ingenue roles that do not require nuanced performances, I thought she was marvelous as the hoarse-voiced, ribald Chameli, slouching up and down the street in her bright sari, dozens of bangles and overly made-up face.

She speaks of her business very casually and explicitly, sometimes to shock Aman but more often, it seems, to remind herself that she can have no other hopes and dreams than what her life actually is.  And she teases Aman by displaying herself and saying (paraphrased), “we’re not all Umrao Jaans and Chandramukhis.” But she tries her best to help others, and we find out that her connection to her pimp has a strong element of genuine friendship rather than purely his exploitation of her. So while she is not exactly the “hooker with the heart of gold” of more fantasy-like films, we definitely get a more complete picture of her as a woman than we do with portrayals of prostitutes in other films, like the character played by Preity Zinta in Chori Chori Chupke Chupke. And as a romance, much more satisfying than films like Pretty Woman, which was a fantasy all the way.

 

Jenny K:  I keep meaning to see Sushmita Sen’s film about the life of a village girl of questionable morals, Chingaari (2006) which got very mixed reviews.  I love her presence on screen and wish she’d get more lead roles.  No subtitles in this confrontation scene with the village priest (Mithun Chakraborty) but you get the gist…she reminds me so much of Shabana in this scene.

 

Julie M:  Chameli was kind of a cross-over film–not quite a realistic Aparna Sen-style film but definitely not mainstream Bollywood despite three song numbers and very high production quality. Having seen Tabu gloriously portray the life of a pay dancer in the gritty Chandni Bar, I was derisive of this overly glamorized number showing a Mumbai dance bar.

The writer/director, Sudhir Mishra, also directed one of my favorite films Haazaron Khwaishein Aisi, and bravo to him for getting more out of Kareena than I thought possible. I enjoyed Chameli, but only because it was an attempt to get a real female character into the Bollywood mainstream. Overall it was kind of slow and I am not enough of a Rahul Bose fan to see this much of him without being surrounded by extra characters to take the edge off his blandness.

 

Jenny K:  Hmmm…I thought she brought quite a lively quality to the film and I liked their chemistry.  Not as much as I liked his chemistry with Konkona in Mr and Mrs. Iyer, another Aparna Sen film that I will send in the next big shipment.  Now that I think of it, Rahul seems to gravitate to films where he doesn’t really interact physically with his lead actresses, here and in The Japanese Bride and M&M Iyer.  Curious.

 [about a week later]

Julie M:  Laaga Chunari Mein Daag (My Veil is Stained, 2007) is a fairly old-fashioned potboiler about honor, duty and sin–with the “modern” twist that the main characters are all female. “Modern” I say in quotes, because although it is set in contemporary Mumbai, it seems to have always been that women bear the brunt of whatever actions are deemed sinful at the time.  Here’s the trailer.

The plot involves a pair of happy sisters, Vibya (Rani Mukherji) and Shubya, called Chutki (Konkona Sen Sharma), who spend their time skipping around Varanasi (yes, the same Varanasi where the widows of Water live, except 70 years later) and raising heck..

They live with their parents (Jaya Bachchan and Anupam Kher) in a grand but decaying old mansion and we find out that they are quite poor.  Things go from bad to worse, and in order to save the family Vibya decides to take drastic actions that also lead her into a life of sin. She lies to her family (sin #1) that she has a job offer in Mumbai and leaves Varanasi, but finds nothing.  Desperate, she sleeps with a prospective employer (sin #2), who then flings money at her and denies her the job. She realizes that the only way she can make enough money to send home is to sell her body (sin #3), and she transforms herself into an alter ego, Natasha, a high-class, high-priced “escort.” This song indicates her state of mind as she practices walking in high heels and divorcing herself from her occupation as she thinks of home.

Of course she is deeply shamed and stressed, despite the fact that she becomes very wealthy and in demand.  Trying not to blow her cover while she falls in love with a nice man (Abhishek Bachchan), pays blackmail to her evil cousin (sin #4), and supports her executive-trainee sister (who has moved to Mumbai and also fallen in love with a nice man (Kunal Kapoor, mmm) stresses her out even more.

All seems lost when Chutki figures out her Natasha identity.  Then it is revealed that Abhi and Kunal are brothers.  I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that at the end the truth is revealed, and the fallout is not what Vibya expects. And there’s a cute final dance number (here, with German subtitles).

Great performance by Rani Mukherji as the torn Vibya, albeit a bit overblown.  The sisterly love between Rani and Konkona was very sweet and natural.  And Rani and Abhishek have great chemistry together:  nice to see them again after Bunty aur Babli.  Plot-wise, amid all her moaning and groaning about the “stain” she brings to the family, it seems that all is in Vibya’s head. Also, a plot point is that Vibya and Chutki are friends with a “courtesan” (Hema Malini, in a wonderful cameo role), an Umrao Jaan-like mother-figure whom they admire for her artistic skill despite the fact that she sleeps with men for money.

So why doesn’t anyone care that Vibya is selling her body?  Maybe ultimately it’s the difference between being a streetwalker like Chameli and being an escort like Natasha–i.e., the amount of cash changing hands. Or maybe it’s because did it all to support her family, which makes it okay.

 

Jenny K:  I saw this film in the theater when it came out, and though I liked all the performances, I didn’t have much of a fondness for it.  Maybe it was how easily Rani got to the top of her “profession”.  I think in real life, she’d have had a more depressing life path.

 

Julie M:  Overall, I thought that this film was much ado about nothing considering it is the 21st century already. All the drama seemed to be a relic of the past, and people were upset because they thought they were supposed to be.  A plot like this might have been impressive in the 1950s, but considering the family in all other ways seemed to be quite modern, the quandary Vibya was in rang hollow.

[a few days later]

Julie M:  Mrityudand (Death Sentence, 1997) is an interesting take on woman-power, Hindi-style. Not what you’d expect from a mainstream film.

Plot:  the (fictional) village of Bilaspur holds traditional values, particularly when it comes to their women, who are expected to remain chaste, keep their place and allow the men to run roughshod over them. Town-bred Ketki (a surprisingly unglamorous Madhuri Dixit), arrives as the bride of Vinay (Ayub Khan), a young businessman. She is quickly absorbed into his family, consisting of his father, brother and brother’s wife Chandravati (Shabana Azmi). Shortly after her arrival, Vinay’s brother leaves Chandravati, who is barren, to head up the local monastery. Tradition demands that Chandravati act like a widow; however, a deep depression combined with the intense pressure to conform to social norms makes her gravely ill. Then Vinay falls into business problems with the local bully, Tirpat Singh (Mohan Joshi)–he as well cracks under pressure and starts to drink and beat Ketki. Here’s a scene as he deteriorates. 

 

Jenny K: Madhuri’s wonderfully tough in this, and almost almost as surprising as she is in Lajja, but I never recommend that one unless you speak Hindi, because the subtitles are almost non-existent.

 

Julie M: Ketki leaves Vinay but after he apologizes and quits drinking she returns home and figures out a way to solve his business problems. Chandravati finds true love with an old family friend (Om Puri) and becomes pregnant, proving that her infertility was not her fault; however, a pregnant widow is in a difficult situation socially so she hides in the house. Meanwhile, their servant girl is having money problems with Tirpat Singh, and he forces her to sleep with him to pay off the debt. Ketki learns of the situation and convinces the girl to refuse Tirpat; when she does, Tirpat comes after her and beats her, but the village women under Ketki’s leadership save her, driving Tirpat away.

Ketki’s ideas turn Vinay’s business around and he starts to best Tirpat. Tirpat, upset with his loss of power, contrives to have Vinay’s motorcycle explode and the troublemaking Ketki is now a “defenseless” widow.  Then Tirpat rounds up Chandravati’s monk-husband and blackmails him into accusing his wife of adultery.  [Spoilers, highlight to read] The village men arrive to hound Ketki and Chandravati out of the village (and kill them en route); however, the women come to their defense and attack the men. In the ensuing melee Ketki grabs Vinay’s rifle, drives Tirpat out of the house and shoots him dead.[end]

Madhuri Dixit was stellar as the smart, fiery Ketki, and Shabana Azmi was softer than I’ve ever seen her as the depressed, then joyful Chandravati. Om Puri was great as Chandravati’s savior-turned-lover—this was the first time I saw him in a romantic role.

 

Jenny K:  He can do it, if he sets his mind to it…and he’s often cast as a protector of women. I recently saw him as the old factory manager, Chowkidar Abu Miya, in Mirch Masala (1987) where he barricades himself with all the female factory workers to keep Smita Patil safe from the evil, lecherous local boss, played with moustache twirling glee by Naseeruddin Shah.

 

Julie M:  What I liked was how under Ketki’s influence the attitude of the village women changed from the early “this is how men are, it’s the women’s role to shut up and take it” to one of self-empowerment, realizing the importance of sticking together and not letting men’s’ ideas of what is appropriate female behavior rule their lives. And, in an interesting cinematic turnabout, the female characters in the film display complexity and depth while the male characters are one-dimensional stereotypes. It was an excellent combination of a typical “entertainment” film (the love story between Vinay and Ketki is explored with the usual array of songs) and a realistic treatment of an important social issue.

Nov. 12, 2011: What to Make of the “Making Of” Books

A few weeks back, Julie gave us a wonderful post about some of her favorites in Indian literature.  I certainly have read my share of novels set in various parts of the desi diaspora, but I find, more often, I leave my fiction for the screen and my reading tends to follow my long held addiction:  Behind the Scenes books.  I am totally hooked…from my first one in college (I believe it was my old buddy Jean Cocteau’s film diary of shooting his classic, Beauty and the Beast…What an amalgamation of brilliance and neurosis…never the like to be seen again!), I am fascinated with how these films that I love are shot, and with all the myriad details of the people who shoot them.  Bollywood, would of course, be no different.

I’m going to begin this listing of my wanderings through the cinematic history of Hindi film making, chronologically, with a book that I mentioned a few weeks back, White Cargo by Felicity Kendal [Penguin, 1998, ISBN 0140271589].  For any lover of Indian film, especially of the Shashi Kapoor era, this is the perfect mix of nostalgia and poignancy.  It details the formative years of Ms. Kendal, one of Britain’s finest classical actresses, which she spent in theaters all over the Indian subcontinent, traveling with her family, who comprised the troupe Shakespeareana.

The story of her years with the troupe, and their adventures during their tour of the 1950s, unfold in a series of vignettes that fill her mind as she sits at her father’s bedside in the 1990s, hoping he will come out of his coma.  Ms. Kendal paints a vivid canvas of a caravan lifestyle as she and her mother, father and sister Jennifer wend their way from town to town giving their classical productions for all the local villages.  It’s a very exciting life for a young girl, eventually winding up with her starring in Shakespeare Wallah, a fictional chronicle of their life.  The whole family acts in it, including her then brother-in-law, Shashi Kapoor, himself Bollywood royalty.  A wonderful read.

As anyone who has read this blog knows, I began my mania for Bollywood films with Lagaan, an award winning film by Ashutosh Gowariker, starring Aamir Khan, one of India’s finest actors.  Set in the latter half of the British Raj’s occupation of India, it dramatizes the valiant struggle of a poor village to compete in a  cricket match in order to forego their paying the annual land tax to the crown; it captured my imagination with its colors and song, and I haven’t been the same since.

After I saw Lagaan, and found out that there were a few “Making Of” books about it, what did I do? Of course, I bought all of them that I could find.  The first was called The Spirit of Lagaan by Satyajit Bhatkal [Popular Prakashan, Pvt. Ltd., 2002, ISBN 8179910032].  This is a very fun and thorough documentation of the ins and outs of the creation of this classic film, offering us images and stories, many of which have stayed with me.  Like that of producer and star, Aamir Khan rising at 5 am with the rest of his cast and dozing in the bus that transported them to the set, in the dry-as-the-proverbial-bone Kutch desert.  Also, a story Mr. Bhatkal told on himself about the trials he had when asked to provide a fully caparisoned elephant for a day’s shooting.  No mean feat, it seems, even in India.  His story [also told in the film, Chale Chalo: Madness in the Desert] is completely enjoyable, except for the photos, which are few and very small, surprisingly so, given he was the film’s official chronicler.

 

Balham to Bollywood, Chris England’s tale of the Lagaan shooting [Sceptre, 2002, ISBN 0340819898] tells some of the same stories, but from the other side of the cricket pitch. 

Mr. England was cast as the British cantonment’s bowler (pitcher, for the baseball counterpart), because of a) his acting talent and b) his skills as a cricketer.  But the casting team had no idea the problems they’d have after finding the perfect looking actor/athlete and finding he could bat, but not bowl.  This book is a completely irreverent tour through the whole saga of film making from casting to cast party with all the sordid details of daily life on the set included.  Not for the faint of digestion, or the overly serious minded of readers, but I found it hilarious.

Devyani Saltzman writes her tale of cinema history in South Asia from a unique viewpoint.  As Deepa Mehta’s daughter, Shooting Water [Newmarket Press, 2006, ISBN 1557047111] she details their life during the filming of Water, her mother’s final chapter in the Elements trilogy (with Fire and Earth). 

As a photojournalist, she has the skills to explore the technical as well personal efforts that go into filming a controversial drama as it unfolds from Canada, through India and on to Sri Lanka, all the while letting us see the toll it takes on the mother-daughter relationship.  I found the memoir elements touching and the behind the scenes elements very informative.  The photos, while good, are few, again, and in black and white, even in the hardback version.  An odd situation, given her job as photographer on the shoot, but her prose is clear and fluid and I enjoyed taking the trip with her.

The last two books on my list, I haven’t finished…but for two very different reasons.  The Making of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham [2001, ISBN 8175083387] is your typical blockbuster chronicle coffee table book.  Written by Niranjan Iyengar, ostensibly, and published by Dharma Productions and India Book House Pvt. Ltd.  It has all the lush photos you could desire in the documenting of a song and dance extravaganza.  You’d think I’d just eat it up, given all the whining I’ve been doing about bad photos in the earlier books.  But no.  Didn’t grab me.  At all.  Still haven’t been able to finish it. 

Maybe it’s that with Dharma publishing it, it is, in actuality, an extended, director-approved advertising filler piece…and hagiography.  Why, do I say this?  Perhaps that it’s filled with piles of purple prose all pointing to one purpose?…all but deifying the film’s director, Karan Johar.  I’ve never seen a book like this before that has as many images of a director (all carefully chosen, I’m sure, for the best angles and sufficient seriousness shown); almost more than of his stars.  I’m not exaggerating, or not by much.  I checked.  Photos of Amitabh, Hrithik, Jaya and Kajol; 37, 35, 32 and 32, respectively, while Karan had 25 photos of himself in there, quite a few of them as large and glossy as any matinee idol could desire.  But poor Kareena Kapoor…a measly 20 shots, and only Shahrukh, of course, steals the lion’s share of the photo “exposure” at 51 portraits.  Sheesh.  No wonder I’m left with a very narcissistic aftertaste from this very overpriced book.

The other book that I haven’t finished yet, is Take 25: Star Insights & Attitudes by Bhawana Somaaya [Sambhav Publishers, 2002, ISBN 8190135414].  A formidable film journalist with degrees in psychology and the law behind her, Ms. Somaaya is one of the few commentators on Indian film that I actually take seriously. 

Really…if you love the medium like I do, you just ache to read something about the films that has some meat to it (beg pardon, to the veg portion of my readers), and all we get to sate our curiosity is the fluff of Cineblitz and Filmfare fodder.  Personally, I don’t give a flying falooda (or would like to, a la Glee’s Slushee attacks) about where on her European vacation Rahkee got her faaabuulous handbag, but most filmi-journos seem to think I do.

But Ms. Somaaya has been writing intelligent interviews and actual think pieces on the actors of India and their films for over thirty-five years now (25 when this book was written, hence the title) in publications as varied as the Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Pioneer and Newstime.  Right now she is Editor in Chief at Screen Weekly, a slight publication if measured by size and gloss, but head and shoulders above any of the others in serious content. 

This book, Take 25, though very hard to find now (even on her website  or her new blog ), is a compilation of some of her favorite articles published to date, all filled with wit, whimsy and insight, and is well worth reading.  And the reason I haven’t finished it is this: Five hundred and eighty four pages; and all interesting, especially for those of us who have been researching older Bollywood fare.  I must say, on a strictly superficial note…what was the publisher thinking to put it out in a 5 ¾” by 10 ½” format?? It’s the oddest sized book I’ve ever bought, bar none.  Doesn’t hurt the quality any, though.

So that’s my current take on the “Making Of’s” that are out there.  I have two or three more on my shelves, waiting.   Sholay: The Making of a Classic, and one on Dilwale Dulhania le Jayenge, both by Anupama Chopra, and Fantasies of a Bollywood Love Thief: Inside the World of Indian Moviemaking by Stephen Alter (don’t you love that title?) all with varying degrees of promise, so you might expect a follow-up post sometime in the future.  Feel free to recommend your favorite Bollywood non-fiction to me, as well.  Enjoy!

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…

November 1, 2011: An Aamir To Remember

Julie M:  Can’t get enough of Aamir!  Got Hum Hain Rahi Pyaar Ke (We are Traveling on the Path of Love, 1993) from the library.  A very young Aamir takes on three orphans and falls in love with Juhi Chawla. I’ve never seen Juhi in a film before and I’m looking forward to this one.

Jenny K:  Aamir and Juhi are fun together, but that one doesn’t stick in the mind much.  All I recall are the plethora of kids, him having problems trying to control them, and also, a really goofy, though fun number with him as the boss at a factory. He looks a bit like a deer in the headlights (character choice, not actual fear) with all those love-crazed employees.

Also I think I remember a scene where she jumps out of her daddy’s yacht and swims to shore to escape his marriage plans for her. Three scenes, that’s it. I hope you can hang onto more of it.

IMDb tells me it’s a remake of Houseboat with Sophia Loren and Cary Grant, which I liked much more. I remember the film reminding me of another one, but Houseboat wasn’t it. Maybe I should watch it again with you and then I can clarify things for myself a bit.  Hmmm….they had songs and everything in Houseboat…maybe it is more of a remake than I thought.  Here’s a clip with Spanish subtitles, no less.

[a couple of days later]

Julie M:  HHRPK was something of a disappointment. I kept thinking I had seen it as a Disney film in the early 1960s: young uncle suddenly in charge of three wild kids, falls in love with the bubbly nanny, has business problems that the nanny helps solve… it’s the kind of thing that would star Brian Keith and Doris Day.  I found HHRPK similar to Houseboat but not an exact remake. Lots of running around and overly enthusiastic facial gestures, boing-boing sound effects and comically widened eyes. Just too much “comedy” for me.

Aamir as usual was great, so young, handsome and a stand-up guy, and we got to see his hobbit feet (which I always suspected he had). Lookin’ good in a long kurta. (hmm, wonder if I can get B to buy one of those?) Juhi Chawla was alternately adorable and annoying, as were the kids. The music was not very interesting to me–the background music was tinny and the female voice (sorry, Alka) was screechy.

I’ll give Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak a try as the last of the early Aamir films, and then I’ll give up. Love Aamir but sitting through the milieu of these early films is torturous.

Jenny K:  Before you give up on early Aamir completely…yes, QSQT is the one that put him on the map, but the one he did right afterwards, Raakh, is more up your alley, I think. He’s an anti-hero in it, a young man who watches a female friend of his get molested (he tries to help, at the time, but can’t) and wants the authorities to get her justice, but he finds out they are being paid off and won’t do anything. So he goes on his own search for justice.

Really roughly made, but very stark and intense (sort of like Aamir!). I can put them both in the next package, if you like. Dil with Madhuri has its charms, too, but I’m not sure enough of them to have you love it…they are rather spunky and look pretty good for being dressed ’90s, and all. One of my favorite scenes in it is a little silly/a little sexy bit at 7:03 on this clip when they’ve defied their parents, run away and set up a tiny shack for their first home. He’s cooking.

[about a week later…]

Julie M:  Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (From Disaster to Disaster, 1988)…well. Yes. It grabbed me from the start–who can resist witnessing the beginning of a bitter family feud?–and I was hooked until the end. There were a couple of groan-worthy moments but overall just the right amount of drama, romance and humor.  I found it a highly faithful adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, with saris and item numbers. 

Plot summary: In the village of Dhanakpur there are two neighboring families, one the wealthy Singhs and the other the less-wealthy but still pretty well-off Singhs (gotta say, they throw a lot of men at you in the opening sequences and it’s difficult to understand, given the intense amount of emotion, who’s who).  Over the opening credits we see the start of a feud between the two families involving the pregnant daughter of one committing suicide and her lover from the other family being shot by her brother.

Cut to fourteen years later, when the brother is released from prison and comes home to his grown son Raj (Aamir Khan). Through a series of circumstances Raj meets Rashmi (Juhi Chawla), the daughter of the shot man’s brother, they get to know each other through the standard plot device of being stranded alone together, and they fall in love. He knows who she is but she doesn’t find out until much later who he is, but it doesn’t matter: they are irrevocably meant for each other. Of course the families find out and clash.

The two run away on the eve of her marriage to another man and very sweetly set up housekeeping in an abandoned shrine that looks curiously like the one in Sholay, rocky cactus landscape and all.

Her father hires thugs to track them down and do away with Raj while he takes Rashmi back to the city to marry this other dude. [Spoilers from here on] Raj fights the thugs and manages to subdue them, but not before Rashmi is fatally shot. He kneels by her side, takes out a knife that she had given him as a present earlier in the film and stabs himself in the stomach. They die in each others’ arms as the sun sets and their families look on in shock. [end]

Lots of opportunities for high drama in this film. Saving the honor of the family, children of bitter enemies falling in love, semi-secret identities, the visual theme of sunset throughout. I thought it was done very effectively with a minimum of cheesiness considering it was 1988. Aamir was so young and beautiful and romantic with his blow-dried hair and slim, muscular physique, and contrary to SRK, he can make fight scenes work. In other words, the man of anyone’s dreams.

Juhi was cute and sweet, so charming and lovable. Adorable together. I did not really enjoy the music very much, particularly the cheesy college-auditorium guitar number in the beginning, but the number seems to have been very influential in the soundtracks of later movies so I guess I’m forced to show it.  The song really reminded me of the end of Grease.
Jenny K:  Why?  I saw no spandex pants anywhere!  And no Fun Fair or carnival rides…

I haven’t watched this for a while but I do remember liking it quite a lot. One of the gang on Bollywhat mentioned that Aamir’s first wife Reena Dutta made a cameo in that “Papa Kahte Hain” number in the red dress at about the 5:00 mark. Very early on in their marriage, and they had a similar cross-religion marriage, if I recall correctly. He used to see her across the apartment complex on another balcony, and they fell in love, in spite of their differences in faith.  Sooo Sweet! I’m sorry it didn’t work out in the end.

Julie M:  I had predicted that this film would go another way: she would come up pregnant, but he would marry her, thereby reversing a generation’s worth of bitterness. But I guess this was still influenced by the days of noble tragedies rather than happy endings. Still, I liked this one much better than the Aamir/Juhi pairing in HHRPK five years later, when in retrospect she was getting a little old for cutesy-poo. And any day that I get to see Aamir bare-chested and in denim short-shorts (not at the same time, because that would surely kill me) is a good one.

Just for fun I did a “parallels” chart between QSQT and R&J. Amazing when I thought about it how exactly alike they are, from how they first see each other (party at her house) and the final death blow given by a dagger (although in R&J she stabs herself; in QSQT he stabs himself). And in both stories there is an unwanted arranged marriage for the girl: Paris in R&J and Roop Singh in QSQT. The difference is mainly time: the Indian version detailed the beginning of the feud between the families, gave the lovers time to get to know each other and time together once they ran away. And in R&J the tragedy inspires the families to set aside their feud, whereas in QSQT we don’t know what happens after the tragedy because the film ends too quickly.

But there is no good line in QSQT like this one of Juliet’s: “My only love, sprung from my only hate/Too early seen unknown, and known too late.” Or maybe there is, but it’s in Hindi.

Another one of the “25 best” crossed off the list!

[the next day]

Julie M:  Rushed to see Raakh (Ashes to Ashes, 1989) while I was still in an Aamir mood.  I could only see the first half because your disk had lots of schmutz on it and I couldn’t get past Scene 9. Maybe I’ll try to clean it well and attempt again later this week.  But from what I saw, I liked it a lot.

You already gave a plot summary but let me elaborate:  Amir Hussain is a somewhat wealthy but disaffected 21-year-old, done with college but with no idea what to do next.  He is also still somewhat obsessed with his ex-girlfriend, Neeta.  After a party, where he tried to get her back, they are intercepted by members of a local gang.  Amir tries to fight his way out of the confrontation, but they beat him up and he can only watch while they rape Neeta. 

Amir blames himself and slips into a depression, convincing himself that he owes it to Neeta to retaliate and takes steps in that direction by stealing money from his parents, buying a gun and trying to track down the gang members.  He approaches a local policeman, who (unknown to Amir) is familiar with the gang from a previous run-in and has in fact witnessed Neeta’s rape.  With the officer’s help he tracks down the gang, but the officer is suspended for assisting Amir in his vigilante vendetta.  The two of them then spiral into near-madness in their mutual obsession.

This is probably the film that showed Aamir as someone capable of more than the typical chocolate hero stuff. Only his 2nd film, and WOW.  First, he spends most of the movie unshaven, sweaty and brooding. Second, he does very non-hero things, like buy a gun and go out for revenge. Finally, there are no dance numbers or love scenes, both of which he had done well in QSQT.  Still, my eyes were riveted on Aamir (and wandered when he wasn’t in frame).

Warning to all: this movie is slow. Lots of time goes by with nobody saying anything. Most of the scenes take place in the dark. Everyone sweats. It’s very, very serious. If you are new to Aamir, my advice is to watch Lagaan and a couple of his later non-funny, non-romantic films before coming back to this, or you may be turned off.

Jenny K:  Gosh, I’m sorry there were some problems with Raakh…I don’t remember there being problems the last time I watched it, but you never know…the cheaper the video, the more likely the disc rot. The director, Aditya Bhattacharya, actually re-packaged and hopefully cleaned up the film for a re-release last year on the filmfest circut. Raakh Redux. Here’s the promo.

I had meant to order it…if it’s out on DVD yet.  I should look out for it, else my Aamir collection will be incomplete.

I remember really liking Pankaj Kapur in this…Shahid’s dad. He was the renagade cop that was advising Aamir’s character. Also, I thought it was interesting that he used a version of his own name in this film. Aamir’s father’s last name is Hussain, and the character name was Amir Hussain. I always thought that it was an indicator as to how strongly AK felt about the issue of police corruption and the protection of women.

  

Julie M:  Great point!! That makes this so much more personal and really indicates that Aamir, even back then, was more than just another actor in the great Bollywood machine. I also love that he can do these serious films and also the popular ones, with equal skill and acclaim.  But back then it was a huge gamble:  I read online that they only made six prints and released it in three cities.  And—can’t believe you didn’t point this out, you who know the inside scoop—his sister Nuzhat (Imraan’s mother) wrote the dialogues.

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