January 28, 2012: You’re you, but you aren’t YOU. Are you?

This week, we at FilmiGoris had been talking about the all-too-common phenomenon of multiple identities in Hindi film.  From one character pretending to be entirely different people, to the same actor playing different characters, to two different plotlines involving the same character/actor, this meme has a number of forms.  There were too many to discuss in one post, so this one will cover two of the “justifiable-deception-disguise-for-romance’s-sake” type of plots that we enjoyed.

Julie M:  Anurodh (Request, 1977) is a romantic comedy/farce with a healthy dollop of melodrama, Indian-style. It is also the first Hindi movie I have seen where the romance aspect of the story is not tidily wrapped up in the end (more on that later). Still it was very entertaining, and I’d give it at least 3 stars out of 5. It might stretch to a solid 4 stars if I was in a sentimental mood. The film is available free online with English subtitles, on YouTube, in parts, starting here.

Arun (Rajesh Khanna) and his best friend Srikanth (Vinod Mehra), a singer and songwriter, respectively, are introduced in the credits song.

Arun is gaining some measure of fame, recording and performing live on radio under the name Sanjay–just Sanjay, like Cher–so as not to unduly annoy his father (Utpal Dutt), a wealthy and prominent businessman who disapproves of his son’s career. He also refuses to give live concerts or even have a publicity photo taken, lest someone see his face and connect him to his father. One day the tension between them blows up and Arun leaves home, regretfully leaving behind the poor-but-supremely-talented Srikanth and his widowed mother Radha (Nirupa Roy, who always played dramatic mother roles awesomely–she was famously Amitabh Bachchan’s character’s mother in both Deewar and Amar Akbar Anthony).

Jenny K:  A while back I went on a real binge of movies about playback singers, of which this plot reminds me.  The best of them were Tehzeeb with Shabana Azmi and Urmila Matondkar as famous singer and daughter, and Saaz, another with Shabana and Aruna Irani as a loosely disguised biopic of singing sisters Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, and their fractious rise to the top of the playback heap.  Both are very interesting films, by the way.  It seems that life in the audio spotlight is no bed of roses.

Julie M:  Clearly, as we learned from Abhimaan…moving on, Arun arrives in Calcutta to stay with his merry mechanic friend Bishan Singh (Asrani) and his wife (an enchantingly bubbly Preeti Ganguli), and on one rainy night he fixes the car of a spoiled rich girl, Sumita (Simple Kapadia, in her debut role), with whom he falls in love. Adorable song occurs after the meeting, where in a radio performance the next day Sanjay tells the story of how he met a girl in the rain the night before, and all he has left of her is her handkerchief.

Jenny K:  The radio song reminds me of the scene in Dil Se where Shah Rukh tells the story of the meeting on the train on air, and then later attracts Manisha’s attention with the Ajnabee song. Could be an homage, but a bit more haunting, and less cute. And here it is, alas with no subtitles…but he scarcely needs it.

Julie M:  Nice catch! Could very well be an homage.  The car incident leads to her grandfather (Ashok Kumar) offering him a position as the family’s driver. In order to stay near Sumita Arun accepts, pretending to be a rather dull, talkative guy named Pritam. Arun then starts to lead a triple life, driving as Pritam by day, performing as Sanjay when he can and as himself, trying to remain in touch with Srikanth.

Things sometimes get comically hairy, particularly after he intercepts a letter from his father to Sumita’s grandfather that indicates that Sumita is the girl his father wants him to marry, and then he finds out that Sumita is a big Sanjay fan. There is a good Shammi-esque song/scene where he arranges to meet Sumita as Sanjay and serenades her, but never lets her see his face:

We also find out that the grandfather is a tragic figure, having lost his only son to violence during the Independence movement–he has built an orphanage in his honor and visits there frequently.

Then one day Srikanth and his mom Radha fetch up in Calcutta, Srikanth very ill with TB.  An operation can save him, but how to get the money? Arun proposes, against his better judgment, to give a live Sanjay concert to earn the funds, but this violation of his principle to conceal his true identity upsets Srikanth and he runs down to the river to commit suicide. Just as he is about to throw himself in he hears children singing a happy song–one of his own compositions–of course it is the children at Sumita’s grandfather’s orphanage, where he is leading them, so he wanders over.

Jenny K:  I know I may just be an old grinch, but the emotionally wrenching kids chorus thing never really moves me.  Not in Mann with Manisha or in the original, An Affair to Remember with Deborah Kerr…do you think you and I are changing places?

Julie M:  Maybe on this one issue…I actually liked the kids’ patriotic singing in Pardes and K3G…but it seems to work for Srikanth.  He learns how happy his music makes the world, gains a new lease on life, and tells Arun that he can go ahead and give the concert.  As everyone gathers at the hospital for what looks like will be Srikanth’s death, Sumita’s grandfather recognizes Radha as his dead son’s wife–which means Srikanth is his grandson. SHOCK!!

Arun’s parents and Sumita show up at the concert, and the identity deception is unveiled with far less melodrama than you’d think:  check out the flash of mild surprise on Sumita’s face in the beginning of the performance, and pretty much that’s all the reaction there is.  And of course Dad’s objections to Sonny Boy’s singing career instantly evaporate.

Srikanth’s operation is, of course, simultaneous with the concert—the video clip shows it—so Arun records his performance, and plays it back to an unconscious Srikanth in the presence of the rest of the gang, again, to not much drama from Sumita’s grandfather to find out his driver is a national singing sensation.  (clearly that family doesn’t surprise easily where Arun is concerned) Srikanth then opens his eyes, and cut to a final scene at the orphanage where everyone is hale, healthy and singing the same happy song with the kids that kept Srikanth from killing himself.

There are no big production numbers in this film. The costumes were actually rather tasteful for the era, even Simple’s bright-yellow pantsuit looking pretty good, but there was an unfortunate brown tam-and-poncho set worn by Sumita’s friend plus Rajesh Khanna had supremely bad hair throughout the entire thing. Oddly, also, Arun and Sumita are not shown as together in the end–no scene of fathers blessing them, no big shaadi celebration. They aren’t even standing anywhere near each other in the final scene. Kyaaa?

Jenny K:  No?!?!?  Who do they think they are, generating that little heat?  Aish and Viveik in Kyun! Ho Gaya Na…?

Julie M:  [sound of snorting] The point of this movie, despite the romantic farce scenes and the TRIPLE identity (we thought double-identity was bad!), seems to be the deep friendship and abiding loyalty between Arun and Srikanth. So deep, in fact, that after the first scene showing the friendship between the two of them and a succeeding scene with Arun’s insistence that he wasn’t ever going to marry, I could have sworn that there was going to be a very shocking gay plotline. Alas, this is still India in 1977 and clearly that was not going to happen. But it was weird not to see the couple end up happily in love by the end.

Jenny K:  Welcome to the home country of the film bromance!  It may be new and trendy here in the US, but all the real emotional connection of equals in love in Indian film are man on man.  Always have been.  No putting your arm around your girl in public, but your best male yaar, now that’s an altogether different prem kahani.  You can never sacrifice too much, or express it too clearly, either.  Akshaye Khanna hanging onto a freshly sharpened blade to defend his buddy Sanjay Kapoor in Mohabbat, comes to mind.

Julie M:  This one certainly fit that mold!  Anyway, it was fun for a film I knew nothing about, and I was introduced to the glories of Vinod Mehra, who for a supporting actor was surprisingly riveting. And even when he was deathly ill, coughing blood and sweating profusely, he still had great hair.  And isn’t that what really matters?

[a day or two later]

Jenny K:  When I was looking around on Youtube for something, I came across a mention of a Hrithik Roshan film that I hadn’t seen?!?! Imagine! It came out in 2002 and was called Na Tum Jaano Na Hum (Neither You Nor I Know).  Still early in Hrithik’s career, it was also Esha Deol’s second film…and wonder of wonders, I actually found her quite charming in this film! To add to the bargain, the third wheel in the show is, once again, the Official Bollywood Spare Male at the time, Saif Ali Khan.

The plot supposed to be a version of The Shop Around the Corner/Bells are Ringing/She Loves Me, etc. Boy and Girl have never met, but come to connect through a random letter found in a library book where the guy, Rahul (Hrithik) is writing to his hypothetical ideal woman (unlikely plot point #1, how often does that happen?). The college girl who finds the letter (Esha) sees herself in what Rahul’s looking for, and goes on a nationwide radio show on a dedications program to try to find him… which she does. UPP #2.

Esha then writes to him, saying she’s a good girl, who can’t go against her parents…at least not yet, and wants to get to know him by writing back and forth through PO boxes for over THREE YEARS. UPP #3. They then fall in love, long distance with the aid of letters, small gifts and chats with the full moon…and mysterious red-garbed back up dancers.


Well, if you can get past the various unlikelyhoods, and there are a couple of cute songs, etc to help you swallow them, you also have to get by the second roadblock in the way of true love…Rahul is the typical self-sacrificing best friend of Akshay (Saif) who is a playboy who his parents think will never settle down. Rahul promises Akshay’s mother that he’ll find the right girl for his friend, one that will make Akshay fall seriously in love.

So fate, and Saif’s aunt, throws Esha and Rahul together, when Esha’s family’s bridalwear company want to hire the best up-and-coming fashion photographer, Rahul, to come to their town to shoot the new ads.

Julie M:  Oh, I can see where this is going…

Jenny K:  Saif’s aunt has fortuitously set up a new girl for Akshay to match with, also Esha, and Akshay will only agree if his best friend vets her. Two birds with one trip, right? They even end up doing an impromptu music video together for the company. Not too unusual, but I do enoy watching HR move…I think Esha was there dancing, too, but I’m never quite sure when he’s onscreen tripping the light fantastic.

Will they fall in love? Which one will she choose? When will she/he/they find out that Esha and “Box Girl” are one and the same? What will Rahul do when he finds out Akshay’s really in love for the first time? These and other not-really-surprises, unfold at a leisurely pace with the typical Mohabbat/KHNH mix of songs, sniffles and shaadis. I liked it, not earthshakingly memorable, but sweet, and a fine indoor afternoon timepass.  Free on Youtube with subtitles but in fifteen parts.  Here’s Part I.

Julie M:  I’ll have to watch that one. The writing-back-and-forth is too similar to Mujhse Dosti Karoge (another 2002 Hrithik starrer, also involving fraudulent identities when he spends 10 years thinking he’s writing to hot Kareena when he’s actually been writing to, and falling in love with, nerdy Rani who’s been corresponding in Kareena’s name…big surprises all around when they get together in person!) to pass up a comparison, and I’ve liked nearly all of the Shop Around the Corner derivations that I’ve seen. She Loves Me and You’ve Got Mail are my favorites, although the radio dedication program in this seems suspiciously like the one in Sleepless in Seattle.

Jenny K:  And pulling from closer to home, the dedications program in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai … “Come home, Anjali!”  These shows must be more prevalent in India than we know.

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Jan. 27, 2011: Doubles Trouble…Disguised and Confused

Julie M:  Okay, I’ve got a question.  Why are fraudulent and duplicate identities such a popular theme in Indian film? American films don’t do it so often–well, maybe they do in stupid farces I don’t watch–so what’s so attractive about the theme to Indian audiences? Maybe a secret wish to pretend to be someone that has a different kind of life? To experience a kind of reincarnation without forgetting previous lives?

Jenny K:  They certainly do use the theme more than we do, but it is a classic back to Shakespearean plays and beyond. Of the ones we’ve done already, there’s Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, which I watched again last night on Netflix (liked it better this time), Don 1&2, the second half of DDLJ, etc. Lots of others we haven’t talked about, like Shah Rukh in Duplicate. SRK doesn’t seem to want to be himself very often, does he? Or some say, he’s always being himself. Oh well, it worked for Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn…

 

Julie M:  Is there an Indian actor of major status who has NOT done a double role like this?

 

Jenny K:  A double role or a disguised role? But I think for the men it’s a no to either question. I think there are a few of the women who have done one or the other, and a few that have done neither. Women, I guess are supposed to be dumb enough to be fooled but not men…

Julie M:  Well, I guess you can count Rani’s second identity as the prostitute in Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, but it’s not like she was trying to deceive anyone, just protecting her own honor, somewhat.

Jenny K:  It’s just not as often that you see the women do this kind of thing. Rani and Abhishek both did lots of identity shifting in Bunty Aur Babli, but that isn’t quite the same thing.

Julie M:  No, it’s not…the whole plot of BaB is the crime spree:  the alternate identities just helped them pull it off.  Although, the reason they did the crime spree in the first place is because they wanted to distance themselves from their failures as their actual selves…so it does make a weird kind of sense.

Jenny K:  Kajol has had at least one twin role that I remember, in Dushman.  Never seen Aish do either, to my recollection. Preity and Ajay pretend to be rich players in Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke, that also ends up with Ajay playing a twin role. Then there is Khal Nayak where Madhuri takes on a false identity.

Julie M:  Duh, Khal Nayak. I just saw that.

Jenny K:  I’m sure there’s more…Wait. Haven’t watched it yet, but Rani pretends to be a man in Dil Bole Hadippa! so she can play cricket, but then falls for Shahid. Got it in my queue at Netflix. She must have been the tiniest Sikh guy to ever wear the beard.

Julie M:  Maybe women-pretending-to-be-men, a la DBH!, in order to achieve something that is denied to women by the culture is a different issue? DBH! is very Shakespearean as well. Like Twelfth Night, recently made into the delightful-ish 2006 teen comedy She’s the Man, where a girl pretends to be her twin brother so she can play soccer and falls for a guy on her team.

Jenny K:  That’s really loosely Twelfth Night, isn’t it? Viola pretended to be a boy to save her own life…a woman alone in the world back then was in desperate straights…she wasn’t doing it to achieve something she couldn’t have as a woman. She thought her brother was dead, too, not that that is a particular issue, but it adds to the pathos. In the US we tend to do more body-switching or regressing films to “show how the other half lives,”  films like 17 Again (which I loved)/Back to the Future/Freaky Friday and that more recent one with Ryan Reynolds and Paul Rudd that seemed too crass to watch, so I didn’t. We seem to like it better when the characters have little or no control over the switching. I wonder why that is?

Julie M:  The Change-up, and it’s Jason Bateman, not Paul Rudd.

Jenny K:  Six of Juan, half a dozen of his brother… 🙂

Julie M:  Nah, Bateman is a much better actor…and technically B to the F is time travel with the characters playing themselves in the past/future, but I see what you mean. To me, body-switching plots in American movies tend to be for the purpose of learning how to empathize. (except for the action movie Face/Off—where it’s for evil—but that’s not body-switching, just face-switching) Maybe it’s a Christian thing–walk a mile in another person’s shoes etc., but what do I know from that, I’m Jewish–and I think that is culturally more attractive to Americans particularly when it’s a switch between generations. Adults always say they want to go back to high school, knowing what they know now, right?

Whereas dual- or alternate-identity plots in Indian film seem to be for the purpose of trying to cram two different lives into one normal lifespan, and may be more attractive in Indian culture.  But here’s a rare Indian body-switching AND gender-switching plot—Mr. Ya Miss—sounds a lot like the awful Rob Schneider film The Hot Chick.

But all this is very different from dual-role movies, where one character is the visual double of another, generally an opposite-personality type, both played by the same actor, and that is the basis of the plotline.  Sometimes one dies and the other replaces him (Kaho Na Pyaar Hai).  Sometimes they turn out to be actual twins but separated, so that one is unaware of the other’s existence (in which case, the purpose seems to be to heighten the story’s melodrama). That, I think, plays with the popular notion/fantasy that everyone has a doppelganger somewhere, and what would happen if they came into the same life-space at the same time.  I found a fun slideshow of recent and famous dual roles.

It’s also a way to get hot or new starlets some extra screen time, particularly when one of the characters is evil or likes to wear revealing clothes (or both):  I refer you to Bipasha Basu in Dhoom 2 and Deepika Padukone (ick) in Om Shanti Om and Chandni Chowk to China (ick) as two examples. So, women seem to get these kinds of roles although they don’t typically play characters with alternate identities.

(warning:  my inner nerd comes out here)  I thought this was pretty cool about why superheroes have been popular as alter egos á la Ra.One, and also sheds light on why dual identities are popular:

“Reincarnation is par for the course. It can be a cosmic pathway for attaining an alternate identity, sense of self, or supreme liberation… Women, who can often be powerless in the real world, can channel the divine female energy to break social convention and triumph over evil.”

Jenny K:  I still stand by my statement that the girls do the double roles much less frequently than the guys do.  My theory may have something to do with watching Pat and Kathy go crazy at every version of SRK that they can possibly watch, the more the better.  Cases in point:  Ra.One and Don 2, every different identity and/or disguise, and even every different makeover elicits hours of post-show dissection. The girls, not so much.

Julie M:  Aha!  Then this probably explains it:

“Audiences have always loved to see their favourite hero in two viable characters where one is shy and the other is daring at an exciting price of single ticket.”

And if the hero is hot…well, who can blame them?!

Speaking of alternate identities, I recently had fun with the comedy Chachi 420 (Aunty Fraud, 1998) despite its being a direct rip-off of Mrs. Doubtfire (1993). The basic plotline of the two movies is identical: a man, faced with losing the right to see his kid(s) as he and his wife divorce bitterly, disguises himself as a woman so he can get a job as their nanny and stay in their lives. Both characters face complications trying to maintain their dual identities. The differences in details and ending, though, are emblematic of the vast differences between Indian and American culture, and where the comedy comes from is likewise wildly variant.  I think may help shed light on why alternate-identity films are so popular.

To start with, the basis of the separation of the men from their children is very different. Jai (Kamal Haasan—who also directed the film), the dad in Chachi 420, has very limited visitation with his young daughter because the divorce was granted on the basis of fairly minor “cruelty” to his wife Janki (Tabu).  Not much chance for comedy there. In the American version, a culture where joint custody is pretty much the default in divorce judgments except in extreme circumstances, dad Daniel (Robin Williams) was refused joint custody and given only weekly visitation with his 3 children because he was an unemployed voice actor and generally an irresponsible person.  Voice actor=funny.  Irresponsible=funny.

The relationship of the father to the ex-wife is different, as well.  Jai still loves Janki dearly and hopes for reconciliation (another motive for trying to get closer to the family), but Daniel understands that his relationship with his wife (Sally Field) is at an end–for him, it’s all about the kids.

Both films have comedic love sub-plots. Daniel’s wife has a boyfriend that Daniel works to crowd out of the picture, as he doesn’t think he’s good for the kids (and he’s a bit jealous as well)–how he undermines the boyfriend is very funny but is not the main source of the film’s comedy, which derives from Robin Williams dealing with being in a dress, learning to cook and clean, and having to switch identities in seconds to keep from being found out.

But in Chachi 420, Janki’s widower father falls in love with Chachi, as does Jai’s landlord, and a good portion of the Indian film’s comedy is in Chachi trying to evade their advances. That, and seeing how Chachi beats people up: there is an extended fight scene in a marketplace that is pretty funny, done in South Indian filmi fashion with Chachi standing in for the character normally played by Rajnikanth, but it goes on way too long. Sorry, I can’t find a clip of that scene, but trust me, it’s hilarious.

Jenny K:  So they combined Mrs. Doubtfire with Tootsie, it seems, with the older suitors thing, and doubled it, just to make sure we got the joke!

Julie M:  The reveal scenes where the dual identities are discovered are also very different. In Mrs. Doubtfire, the reveal takes place in public, in a restaurant, where Daniel has to go back and forth between two tables in his different personas and ultimately slips up–and is absolutely hilarious. In Chachi 420, it’s much more serious.  Jai (as Chachi) saves his wife from drowning herself in a river once she realizes how she drove Jai away and that she still loves him; he reveals his true self to her (and her alone) to keep her from continuing suicide attempts.  They reconcile and reunite the family, inventing a tragic death for Chachi.  Mrs. Doubtfire‘s Daniel and his wife never reconcile, but he does end up with a new job hosting a kids’ TV program in the persona of Mrs. Doubtfire, which proves he is responsible enough for a joint custody arrangement.

Jenny K:  You can usually see where the “homage” directors are drawing from the originals, and that’s part of the fun.  I’m, in most cases, pretty good at it…but the suicide on the bridge thing has got me stumped.  Where did that come from?

Julie M:  Oh, that was totally out of the blue. She sees Jai (who has been promoted from choreographer’s assistant to head choreographer on his current film) on TV giving an interview. Jai goes into detail about how he has two children, his 5-year-old daughter and his ex-wife who acts just as childish, and this triggers an extensive flashback as to how they met–very cute, she hit him with her car on a film set–fell in love, eloped and had their daughter.

She realizes how great Jai really is, and she runs to his house to find him, only to find a bunch of Chachi’s clothes and Jai’s dance assistant. (the assistant thinks Chachi is Jai’s housekeeper) Janki leaps to the conclusion that Jai is seeing both the assistant and Chachi, and this prompts her to throw herself off a bridge instead of, hm, I don’t know, leaving him a NOTE??!!!

Jenny K:  You and I obviously don’t feel things deeply enough.  I’ll try to do better.

Julie M:  It’s also a testament to Kamal Haasan’s acting talent that he makes a really good woman. Robin Williams does not–and that’s the funny part of Mrs. Doubtfire.  Here’s the first public appearance of Jai as Chachi.

Jenny K:  I see what you mean…he does look nice…only his forearms give him away. I don’t think I would have recognized him. He is a wonderful actor, though I think I’ve pretty much only seen him in his dramas and not seen his comic side before.

Julie M:   What I thought was funny is that as Chachi, he tucks the front of his sari back between his legs like he is wearing a dhoti, and nobody seems to notice. And throughout the film his fake boobs get bigger and bigger–he is positively svelte in that first reveal scene compared to later in the movie.

It’s also telling that Kamal, in the Jai persona, is a complete straight-man, while as Chachi he’s doing the comedy. It’s like he doesn’t want to pollute peoples’ visions of him as a dramatic actor.

January 18, 2012: Lies, Cries and Family Ties

Now that the festive time of year is good and over, it’s about time to turn away from the entertaining desserts of rom-coms and high adventure (bungeed villains flinging themselves off high-rises, indeed!) and settle in for a very hearty meal of Indian issue films. We found, from three different decades, three serious films and many amazing performances.  Bon Appétit!

 

Julie M:  Today’s feature was Rudaali (The Mourner, 1993). It was a fairly artsy film, directed by Kalpana Lajmi (niece of Guru Dutt) who also directed Chingaari, which I think you had recommended to me at one point.

Dimple Kapadia stars as Shanichari, a poor, low-caste village woman in Rajasthan with an extremely hard life. As the film opens, she is a youngish widow who is temporarily hosting Bikhni (Rakhee Gulzar), a professional mourner (or rudaali) called in to await the death of the local wealthy landowner or zamindar (Amjad Khan, most memorable as “Gabbar Singh” from Sholay, in one of his last film roles). She tells Bikhni her story: her mother abandoned her in infancy, her father died when she was young, she was married to a man who drank most of his wages and she has a retarded son. In flashbacks covering about 20 years she tells of the attraction between her and the zamindar‘s son, which turned into a job as maid to his mother and an illicit affair.  This haunting song, which is sung as Shanichari is remembering the affair, is probably what anyone knows about the film: 

When the zamindar first gets sick she is turned out of the house, and things go from bad to worse. Her mother-in-law dies, then her husband takes ill with the plague and dies, her home (a gift from her lover) is taken to pay the debt on his funeral rites and she and her son become indentured to the zamindari family for 15 years’ hard labor. Still she remains dry-eyed and resigned to her plight, even when her son (Raghuvir Yadav) impregnates a local whore (Sushmita Mukherjee) and marries her, then she aborts the baby. Her son runs away, and still she remains stoic. She asks Bikhni, who used to be an actress, how she can cry real tears for people she has never met when she can’t even cry for all the things she could cry about, namely, that everyone she’s ever loved has left her.

 

Jenny K:  That Raghuvir Yadav is a surprising one…he’s in practically everything, especially when they need an affecting performance from a smallish but pivotal role.  Does that in Salaam Bombay, too.  In that one he surprised me by being rather young and handsome…never had seen him that way before.  Just goes to show that we all have our day.

 

Julie M: I recognized him right off, but I didn’t get that he was supposed to be slow until later in the film when they talk about it.  I thought he was just ornery.  Anyway, while talking about all this stuff Shanichari and Bikhni grow close.  Here’s the song where Bikhni comforts Shanichari after hearing her story, and Shanichari learns what it is like to be taken care of.

Afterwards Bikhni is called away on a mourning job. Unfortunately, she catches plague while she is away and dies, sending Shanichari one last message: Bikhni is, in reality, Shanichari’s long-lost mother. This news releases Shanichari; she is finally able to mourn everything that has happened to her, and she takes Bikhni’s place as the rudaali, becoming famous for the sincerity of her tears and intensity of her wailing.

 

Jenny K:  Well, if she couldn’t mourn sincerely after getting a bombshell dropped on her like that, she would have to have been made of stone!  Poor thing.

 

Julie M: Dimple Kapadia is, in a word, AMAZING in this film. She convincingly plays a young woman, a slightly older widow, and a supremely beaten-down, old-before-her-time crone. It’s quite an emotional (but not melodramatic) film, and she proves herself up to the task. This film is not to be missed.

 

Jenny K:  I haven’t seen Rudaali, yet, but it sounds great…not a light amusement, of course, but interesting. And Dimple will always be one of my favorites. She always puts all of herself into a role, like the one we discussed in Being Cyrus, she is just totally committed to her character, whether or not it’s a flattering one.

 

Julie M:  She was definitely the best thing about Hum Kaun Hai, for sure!  Can’t wait until I get hold of a copy of Bobby so I can catch her at the beginning of her career.

[a few days later]

Julie M:  I watched Fiza (2000) this afternoon. Compared to Rudaali it is not at all arty, but it is serious and highly melodramatic, which normally I get impatient with, but my jaw continually dropped at Karisma Kapoor’s fabulous performance. Whenever she was not onscreen my attention wandered… except, of course, in this “preparing for the action” scene, which I know was put in to please the ladies. Nice foreshadowing of Hrithik’s Dhoom 2 role–dead serious and focused.

Jenny K:   I was sort of sorry when Karisma took a kind of backseat to her baby sis, Kareena.  Not that both don’t do good work, but I think that Karisma tends to be overshadowed sometime by Bebo’s gift for finding the limelight.  She isn’t always involved with lightweight fare as in Andaz Apna Apna [shudder] or Dil to Pagal Hai.

Karisma’s the best thing in Shakti, playing a distraught mother taking an active hand in saving her son from the influence of his psychopathic grandfather (Nana Patekar in full scene-chewing glory) and is quite wonderful in Zubeidaa, as a film actress in the ‘50s on her way to the top, who marries a prince and yet doesn’t live happily ever after.  Rekha and Manoj Bajpai are with her in that one; strong performances all around. Maybe a bit too weepy for you, not sure, but you will like the score, all Rahman!  

Julie M:  Well, never fear, she’s back!  In Fiza I really liked Karisma’s “girl power” dance number, taunting her boyfriend for not liking her the way she is.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Brief plot summary: It is 1993.  Fiza (Karisma) and Aman (Hrithik) are Muslim teenagers living with their widowed Ammi (Jaya Bachchan) in Mumbai–they are a a very cute and close family. One evening Hindu-Muslim riots break out; Aman rushes out to see what’s going on and is not seen again. Six years later he is still missing. Fiza is sad but has grown accustomed to his loss; however, the distraught Ammi still visits the police station weekly hoping for news. While out on a job interview Fiza spots Aman in the city and hope is again rekindled: she pawns the family jewelry for bribe money, causes a ruckus in the press and with politicians, disrupts her relationship with her boyfriend, and eventually tracks him down on the India/Pakistan border, where he has become a jihadist. The story of what turned him in that direction and what happens next (and next and next) is the stuff of high drama and even higher melodrama. Yes, people die.

 

Jenny K: You sound so happy about that…so bloodthirsty!

 

Julie M:   Well, I thought I ought to warn people.  It’s quite unnerving, actually, and I think something like this would not have been possible in mainstream film until Dil Se’s paving the way a couple of years previous.

 

Jenny K:  It’s funny that they named it Fiza if it’s all about war and terrorism.  I looked about online, and it translates to variations on “a pure wind filled with love and romance” to “God’s Blessing”.  In either case, it seems a strange title.

 

Julie M:  Maybe it’s supposed to be ironic, since he’s a terrorist?  Hm.  Unfortunately the filmmakers kept breaking the mood by putting in item numbers like this one with Sushmita Sen, and this equally random, but depending on your orientation a much more interesting one, with Hrithik. 

I understand why they’re there–otherwise it would be an overly intense film–but they do not advance the plot or provide useful characterizations, and I found it difficult to get the mood back to the main action afterwards.  It could be for this reason that the film tanked a bit in the box office.  My favorites were the ones that added rather than distracted, like this one with music by A.R. Rahman.

 

Jenny K:  Weird…A Rahman song in the middle of an Anu Malik soundtrack.  Wonder what went on there.  Not at all usual, as they are more often competitors…story there, I daresay.

 

Julie M:  Well, it was a qawwali (Sufi devotional song), and seemed to call for a specialist, and they couldn’t get Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan?  All in all, it’s a great message film–“we are all Indian no matter our religion”, a message that even the jihadist Aman is fighting for–and fabulous performances by all three lead actors make this a win.   Even though it was only his 2nd film released (first one that he actually signed to, which is an interesting fact), Fiza showed Hrithik as much more than the chocolate hero he was in KNPH. Well, at least the second half of Fiza did.  The first half showed him to be too sweet, and I am not a fan of him in sweet parts.  All my thumbs and big toes are up for this one, which I think may make my Top Ten up near Dil Se.

 

Jenny K:  I may have to watch it again when it comes back in the returns…I don’t remember being quite that impressed by it. Not that I disliked it, or anything, but it was just so-so for me.

[the next week]

Julie M:  I really loved Salaam Bombay (1988). Mira Nair is a genius. Much like I did with Deepa Mehta’s Water, I loved how the film was unafraid to portray the gritty and unpleasant reality that Bollywood likes to cover up–the street kids, the prostitutes, the drugs, the poverty and the dirt. You mentioned Nana Patekar’s performance–while I liked it, I thought that Raghuvir Yadav was the stronger actor in this film as the drugged-out older best friend of the street boy Krishna. No wonder this is ranked among one of the best films ever made, and why it didn’t win the Best Foreign Language Picture Oscar in 1989 is a mystery.  (oh, yeah, because it was some Scandinavian film, urk)

 

Jenny K:  I know!  No accounting for taste.  It was more impressive, still, when you realize that SB was Mira Nair’s first full feature film.  I watched it again last night, first time since I started all this Bolly-madness, and it is even more deeply affecting, now.   She certainly knows how to spot good talent.  As to Nana, I liked his performance, but in this film I’m remarking more on his presence…just electric.   I’m glad you pointed out Irrfan Khan as the scribe or I might not have noticed.

 

Julie M:  Although this film is relatively plotless, the episodic narrative concerns Krishna, a young boy who ran away from his village home after a misunderstanding and makes his way to Bombay, where he lives on the street, selling tea, plucking chickens and even turning to crime as he tries to earn enough money to return home and make up for what everyone thought he did wrong. It’s just heartbreaking.  The adults in his new life include Baba (Patekar), a drug kingpin and a pimp; Rekha (Anita Kanwar), Baba’s prostitute-girlfriend and mother of young Manju who has a crush on Krishna; and Chillum (Yadav), whom we understand to be a grown-up street kid who is also an addict and a runner for Baba.

 

Jenny K:  This was only Raghuvir’s second film.  Can you believe it?  So talented even at that inexperienced stage.  He’s done so many things since then.  Did you know that last year he even played Hitler?  Yep. 

Julie M:  Here’s the beginning of the film, where the runaway Krishna has joined a traveling circus and is abandoned by them, occasioning his relocation to Bombay.  

Jenny K:  The kid who played Krishna, Safiq Syed, was wonderful, too.  Won an award for best child actor that year, but only managed one other film in his career, one called Patang, about four years later with Shabana and Om Puri.  The plot sounded similar from a description I found…small group of thieves that worked the trains for food and loot, mostly children, led by a Fagin-esque Om, who was in love with Shabana’s character, yet another prostitute with a heart of gold…her son, Shafiq, bears the burden of Om’s interest.  I can’t find it available anywhere.  Well, Safiq’s now repairing and driving autorickshaws for a living.  The fickle hand of fate.

 

Julie M:  My understanding is that he wasn’t really an actor, he was just a street kid that Nair found.  She also filmed the brothel scenes in a real brothel, and the madam in the film was the actual madam of that brothel.  How she got such amazing performances out of non-actor people…it was more like a cross between a fiction-film and a documentary.  If you want to catch it, most of  Salaam Bombay seems to be on YouTube, subtitled in English, but in a lesser resolution. Here’s part 1 (of 12).

I would rate this a MUST WATCH, not just for fans of Indian film but for fans of any kind of film, in any language.

January 8, 2012: Starting the New Year With a Bang

We just can’t escape action films, even though it was the HOLIDAYS, for gosh sake… and everywhere we turn,  people are shooting at us or each other (some in IMAX and 3D)!   So, rather than fight ’em, we decided we might as well join Messers Cruise, Craig and Downey and give in.  But Bollywood has it’s own take on hair-raising, guy-friendly escapism and we watched a bunch of them over our break, including Don 2.  Here’s our take on three, or toke, given the title of the first one!

 

Julie M:  Dum Maaro Dum (Puff, Take a Puff, 2011) is a violence-infused action/thriller about the attempts of one man to single-handedly clean up the contemporary drugs-and-gangsters scene in Goa. This trailer pretty much shows the visuals and style of the film.

The title/item song is a remake of this number from 1971’s Hare Ram Hare Krishna.

 
Jenny K:  It was funny…when I watched your trailer, I thought of the Hare Ram, Hare Krishna movie, but I didn’t recall at that time that that was the name of the song. It was one of Dev Anand’s first films as a director, and Zeenat Aman’s first big hit.  I believe it caused a big to-do with all the drug takin’and the implied free lovin’.

 
Julie M:  Abhishek Bachchan plays the one-man, ACP Vishnu Kamath, an ex-corrupt-cop with a new mission to set things right because his family (Vidya Balan, in a cameo appearance, plays his wife) was killed in a car crash with a drugged-out driver.

Vishnu chases various figures including a small-time player named Ricky (Gulshan Devaia), a reluctant “businessman” named Lorry (Prateik Babbar), an elusive capo-dei-tutti-capi named Michael Barbossa (hey, wasn’t he a pirate?) and, with perhaps the funniest criminal name in Indian film, Lorsa “The Biscuit” Biscuita (played by Aditya Pancholi).  There are the requisite scantily-clad females as well: Bipasha Basu plays Zoe, Biscuit’s second-in-command and girlfriend, there is a pass-around chickie named Rozana (Mariah Pucu Gantois Gomes), and Deepika Padukone steps in to gyrate as the item girl in the title song, which takes place at a rave about two thirds of the way through the film.  

 

Jenny K: I still think Zeenat Aman was much sexier than Deepika, even given how overtly sensual DP’s choreography was. Just my old-fashioned opinion.

 

Julie M:  Similar to Yuva, the main action starts with Lorry getting busted for carrying drugs at the Goa airport and then splits off into flashbacks showing how each of the characters got to that point, then picks back up and moves forward through to the end. It would have been interesting as a technique, except Yuva did it first, and DMD added some very headache-inducing half-time and double-time sequences as well as half-screen double-images (yikes) to heighten the sense that it was in the characters’ memories.  Supposed to be hip and cool, but seemed overly self-conscious to me.

There is one character common to all the stories: the singer Joki, yummily played by Rana Daggubati, check him out in this song.   He’s kind of like a visual narrator since he is the only one who seems to appear in all the various story threads, and he gets to have a hot love scene with Bipasha (thereby standing in for all the males in the audience…).

Things really get going after the drug bust, as Kamath and his team work into the organization and go after Barbossa. Lots of people die, some spectacularly, some gruesomely. And while the end is a perfect revenge fantasy, you get the feeling that it is only a temporary lull in the permanent party-and-kill scene.  No wonder this film aroused the ire of the Goa tourism people.  [youtube-http://movies.ndtv.com/movie_Story.aspx?id=ENTEN20110173562&keyword=&subcatg=]

Abhi does OK in his role, a little wooden though, and as the film started I thought to myself, “Gee, I hope he doesn’t rap in this movie.” Alas, he does, talking about how good it is to be a corrupt cop (ugh). This video intersperses scenes from the movie with scenes of the song, because nobody should see the rap video in its entirety.

 

Jenny K: His dad still does it better, of course, example from Aladin.  Sorry, Abhi…

 

Julie M:  Overall, Dum Maaro Dum is a stylishly made, but ultimately not very interesting, gangster movie that caters to the under-30 set (although if that’s true, why Abhi was chosen as the star completely defeats me). I thought it was merely OK.

[a day or two later]

Jenny K:  Well, I finally got to see Don 2 today…and I’m not sure that you should see it. You always complain when there is too much dishoom, and this film is dishoom to the max.

This is the sequel to Farhan Akhtar’s popular remake Don (2006) [Amitabh starred in the original] in which Shah Rukh Khan essays the double roles of the South Asian Kingpin of Crime, the titular Don, and his simple but sincere doppleganger Vijay. In this follow-up film, I am really missing Vijay, because there’s no simple or sincere focus in the entire movie, and I, for one, had no one to root for.

 

Julie M:  True, I sincerely dislike pointless and gratuitous dishoom…although our holiday entertainment has been a complete re-watch of the four Die Hard movies, which I love. Maybe it’s just Bruce Willis.  But I liked the Vijay character, particularly in the original 1978 Don, and if this film has gone another direction then I question the wisdom of even going.  And my common complaint about most Indian action films is that so few of the stars can dish out a punch without my wanting to laugh hysterically at its awkwardness.

  

Jenny K:  I will agree with Kathy, my co-viewer that day, that the fight choreography looks much more convincingly done, even making it seem plausible when the often physically smaller SRK gets the drop on his larger combatants, however, it is pretty much relentless. I’m hoping Shah Rukh has finally exorcised his Jackie Chan fantasy, and can get it out of his system.

The thumbnail synopsis has Don being singled out by the European drug tsars for a hit, because he’s so dangerous to their business…so Don develops a very convoluted plan to turn himself in to protect himself from their reach and secure himself with immunity for his past crimes by providing the authorities with names, dates, etc. in their quest for these other drug dealers. Seems he’s “tired of his life of crime”…oddly, the powers that be (returning in their roles as the police investigators, Om Puri and Priyanka Chopra) don’t really buy it and toss him in prison.

Ah, but that’s all part of the plan…Don always has a plan…far-fetched or not…and always assayed with consummate style.  SRK is at the top of his game in style, slickness, suavity and any other S-ettes you can think of, but I find I’m hard pressed to be engrossed in a caper film of almost three hours long, when the “hero” is so enormously ethically challenged. He’s ruthless, he’s a player with girls and lives, a major egomaniac, and he has the largest custom fitted designer wardrobe ever sported by a recently released jailbird.

 

Julie M:  Since I’m still recovering from a cold, and it’s snowing like crazy, and I’m back to work tomorrow, and this seems like a typical Hollywood-style action crap-fest, I will skip an attempt to see Don 2 in the theater today. If it’s still around over the weekend I’ll consider it, but if I don’t get there, I’ll just wait until it’s out on DVD. I’ll get my SRK fix another way.

 

Jenny K:  Definitely not a “crap-fest” but… He’s The King, as everyone in and out of the film constantly tells us.   And HE’s BACK!  And THE CHASE CONTINUES…and continues…and continues…as I dozed…once…in the seemingly endless set up to the caper in the bank. Which wasn’t too bad, given the sheer lack of sleep I’ve had for the past two weeks of holiday run-up. Needless to say, Kathy disagrees with me on almost every point of this assessment. She loved it. Eh, it may just not be my type of film.

However, the most fun I had with Don 2 was watching this promo reworking one of the songs from the earlier film to get us into the theater for the new “adventure”. Shah Rukh looks amazing in it, and looks like he’s having a great time…and is a bit tongue-in-cheek in his swaggering here, which is something the movie as a whole could have used more of, as does Robert Downey, Jr. in almost any of his genre films.

 

Julie M:  WOW.  So ishtylish. If the whole movie were like that I’d go, but since you say it isn’t, I’ll wait for the DVD and I can fast-forward through the dishoomiest parts.   SRK looks kinda gaunt underneath the perfectly-fitted leather jacket, though. If he looks that skeletal in the entire film, ugh. Get that man some parathas, stat.

 

Jenny K:  If you fast forward through all the dishoom in Don 2, you ‘ll have about 22 minutes left…hehehe… and as to his look, almost all the outfits were stylin’. Lots of leather. And no odd tie/shirt combos like in the last Don film. Priyanka and Boman looked very well groomed, too.

All my style issues were with Shah Rukh’s hair. In about two thirds of the movie, I think he looked pretty good, even with occasional “leftover Ra.One hair moments”, Kathy’s phrase. The long hair phase was about twenty minutes or so, and was too girly for him, especially pulled back at the top  (even with the shotgun)…however, I liked the facial hair that went with it, and thought he should have kept it for a transitional phase, but he didn’t.  At the end, he rides off on a motorcycle with his Ra.One  “South Indian” curly locks blowing in the breeze.  Very fetching.  End of SRK Hairscaping. Glad you liked the video clip…I had to watch it more than once, myself.

 

Julie M:  And did you notice that in all the Don 2 publicity shots, Farhan’s muscles have gotten way out of control?

 

Jenny K:  Haven’t seen any of them…show me what you meant. Would be a shame if he wasted that sexy boy-next door thing he has going.

 

Julie M:  Oh, gosh. Here’s one.   And another.  And here’s a possibility as to why the new physique.

 

Jenny K:  Hmmm.  Here’s the older article about Mehra’s casting ideas on this film.  Farhan’s pushing it a bit playing 22, and he’s much better looking than Milkha Singh, but, if they’ve decided to not go with an unknown…Farhan is better than most, but I think I might go with that kid from Udaan first, Rajat Barmecha. He’d be almost the right age now and had quite a lot of potential in that film.

 

Julie M:  Whoops, so much for an unknown. Oh, well, something else to watch Farhan in.  By the way, you need to send me Rock On! and Karthik Calling Karthik.  Because I just did my first official Indian film re-watch, of ZNMD, and I need more Farhan, and I know you can hook me up.

 

Jenny K:  Now, I don’t buy everything he’s in…almost, but not everything.  I can send you Rock On! but I don’t think I bought KCK.  It was good, but spoiled itself a bit with an added-on, unnecessary happy ending, IMO.

[a couple of days on]

Julie M:  While lying around today trying not to be sick, I watched Kachche Dhaage (Raw Threads, 1999). I thought it was a decent action movie with a gratuitous couple of love stories, without which it could have been a great action movie. Check out this “making of” feature, which does not spoil the film but serves as a good trailer.

 
Aftab (Ajay Devgan) is a minor criminal in a Rajasthan village, engaging for his living in a bit of cross-border smuggling of goods, occasionally including arms, from India to Pakistan. He is trying to marry Rukhsana (Manisha Koirala), whose parents won’t agree because he is illegitimate. Dhananjay (Saif Ali Khan) is a citified yuppie, a broker of financial deals with a contemporary lifestyle and a knockout wife, Ragini (Namrata Shirodkar). The two find out that they are half-brothers over their father’s deathbed and instantly hate each other, exacerbated by the fact that one is Moslem and the other is Hindu.

When a circumstance forces Aftab to call on Dhananjay for a favor, it sets off a series of events involving the both of them escaping from arrest while chained together, corrupt border enforcement officers, a clueless attorney, a runaway train and lots and lots of shooting of various weapons. While on the run together the two of them learn to rely on each other for their lives, and by the end they have forged a true brotherly bond as they collaborate to bring the bad guys to justice.

I am a big fan of good action films and buddy comedies. This is a buddy action film that hinges on the audience believing in the growing relationship between the two heroes, which only truly comes into play in the last quarter of the film. Ajay is suitably glowering as the resentful Aftab and Saif is a proper angrezi [English/Westernized] figure, which means his effete mannerisms are laughable and his wardrobe completely inappropriate. The roles were not particularly challenging for them, and they pulled them off competently.

The love stories are completely irrelevant to the film and to my mind could have been ignored without affecting the storyline. Some other device could have been introduced to reinforce Aftab’s illegitimate status, and another kind of deus ex machina introduced to effect their escape from the runaway train–it didn’t have to be Ragini driving up in a jeep. But it does lead to this amazing stunt sequence, done entirely by Ajay.

 

Jenny K:  Of course Ajay’s stunt scene would be good. His father is a stunt man and Ajay got his start by doing crazy far-out stunts.  Someone has collected some clips of his best “entrances” on Youtube.

 

Julie M:  The love songs were merely OK, nothing special. The big dance numbers were 100% gratuitous, although fun, particularly this item number, which occurs at the point where the two escapees have lodged for the night at a small village. Despite its flaws the movie is a lot of fun and a good one to see on DVD.

 

Jenny K:  I haven’t seen it in a while, but most of your remarks had me going “yeah, I thought so, too”. I did like their eventual chemistry together, and watching it grow. It sort of felt to me a bit like a lesser version of Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin’s chemistry as they trekked across country, handcuffed together in Midnight Run (1988).

 

Julie M:  I had forgotten about Midnight Run: I’ll have to watch it again. It was probably deliberate on the filmmakers’ part, the allusion to the earlier film, with the typical Indian twist that they are not just opposite character types, but also half-brothers.  Here are some cute clips. 

[Editor’s Note: Lots of use of the “F” word…very New Yawk.  Be warned.]

 

Jenny K:  I don’t think it’s close enough to be a copy, what with the bail jumper/bondsman pairing that it is. It’s at best an homage thing…I just thought the feeling was similar. MR still has the best helicopter stunt ever done, in my opinion, when DeNiro’s character shoots the rotor out of the pursuing copter’s tail and so it spirals out of control and into the hillside, exploding. First believable use of handgun vs. big flying object I’ve ever seen in the movies. Stuck with me ever since…gives all those action directors (from both countries) something to shoot for, literally!

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