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!

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