February 23, 2012: Of Variety and Spice, Part 2

Jenny K: Continuing our progression through the wonderful variables of Hindi film, we now veer into the comedies.  I had been twisting between curiosity and dread as to what Julie would think of Khalnayak, with Sanjay Dutt at the height of his long-hair glory, paired with Madhuri Dixit in one of her least predictable and most varied roles to date.  No sweet domestic goddess here.

But to justify myself a bit…even with all the positive things I said about some of the performances, the dancing and the amazing music, I never whole-heartedly recommended it.  The film is all over the place stylistically, and I didn’t think it was in Julie’s preferred genres in any case, yet, I’ve been wrong before in second-guessing her…Pardes for example?


Julie M:  Per your suggestion I watched Khalnayak…love love love the “Choli Ke Peeche” number, both the original and the male gangster parody!

But overall Khalnayak struck me as a very old-fashioned film–even though it was released in 1993 it has a 1950s vibe. Through a series of circumstances a boy goes bad and turns into a gangster (Sanjay); a police commissioner (Jackie Shroff) becomes obsessed with catching him; the commissioner’s girlfriend (Madhuri), also a police officer, goes undercover to track the villain and bring him in; a mother’s heartbreak; a bit of Stockholm Syndrome to up the drama quotient; and the villain redeems himself in the end. Too melodramatic for me. I don’t know, maybe in black and white with other stars that aren’t Sanjay Dutt in bad hair it would have been better. And Anupam Kher plays the fool, which I never like to see.  Overall: meh. Madhuri Dixit was the best thing about it.


Jenny K:  Like I said in an earlier post, Sanjay’s sex appeal, especially with the long hair is an acquired taste.  And the film, itself is a mixed bag. You are right;  the main reason I remember Khalnayak fondly is Madhuri.  I loved her dance numbers, and I loved her spunkiness while she was “in character” as the bad-girl-dancer-on the run.

I’d love to show a clip of that scene in the restaurant where she was playing that song lyric game while trying to enthrall Sanjay’s goondah cohorts. (I can’t remember its name…Pat loves to play it. You sing a song that starts with the letter of the first letter of the last song sung, or something like that. Looks like fun if I spoke more Hindi.) But what I was saying was that I wouldn’t have even recognized Madhuri in that scene if I had seen it out of context. So different from her usual persona. And aside from the bad hair I liked Sanjay in it. The odd long stretches with him all but chest-butting Jackie in the prison were all but intolerable in an uncut form.


Julie M:  Yeah–two LONG fight scenes with Jackie/Sanjay were too much. And I got tired of Sanjay looking out with one eye from greasy bangs. Eccch. Eventually I just watched it on double-speed and slowed down when Madhuri came on the scene.

[Two weeks later, romantic comedy…]

Julie MMujhse Dosti Karoge? (Will You Be My Friend?, 2002) was a tear-jerker of a romance film that doesn’t break any new ground. That doesn’t mean, however, that it isn’t a satisfying film for those who like the genre.

Here is part one of the “making of” featurette that introduces the characters.

Raj, Tina and Pooja are childhood friends (about 8 or 9 years old) when Raj moves to Englandwith his parents. Raj has a kiddie crush on Tina. They promise to write through the “new” medium of email (more on this later), but since Tina doesn’t have a computer, he addresses his letters to her in care of Pooja. Tina is immediately bored with the prospect of a long-distance friendship, so for the next 15 years Raj (Hrithik Roshan) and Pooja (Rani Mukherji), in Tina’s name, correspond and fall in love. When Raj comes back for a visit, he starts wooing Tina (Kareena Kapoor) in person while Pooja looks on in hurt disappointment. Although eventually Raj realizes that Pooja really wrote the letters, he has already started an important relationship with Tina.  A tragedy and a couple of engagements bring the situation to a head.


Jenny K:  Every time someone refers to this film, I’m not sure I have seen it before…then I look at the clips and say, “oh yeah, I did see it…I must have forgotten.”  Sort of sums it all up for me, I’m afraid.  More of the same-old same-old.

Julie M:  The three big stars all do their jobs well (Kareena being her typical annoying self), and it’s clear that the Yash Raj producers wanted this to be an emotionally-equivalent follow-up to K3G (2001), which had included all of them. Hrithik doesn’t dance as much in this as one would want, but there are lingering shots on his handsome face and he definitely brings the moves. The action was definitely soap-opera-ish and the songs fairly forgettable, and even bringing Uday Chopra in for an extended cameo as Rohan, Pooja’s intended, doesn’t revive it. But, again, for fans of long, drawn-out, post-interval melodrama, it works.


Jenny K:  Now, let me get this straight…you think of Uday’s appearance as a film-saver?  Have you been spending time with Kathy behind my back???  Finding him endearing is really the exception to the rule, for me.


Julie M:  Well, he is a filmi-child…but I don’t think as badly of him as you do.  He was a cute comic sidekick in Dhoom and Dhoom 2, and he really can dance.  He can’t help who his family is. Give the poor guy a break! (But still, not upset that he’s retiring.)

The high point is definitely the song medley performed at Pooja and Rohan’s engagement party, featuring classic film numbers that have lyric subtexts appropriate to the MDK plot and reproducing the original choreography (in so much as was possible).

Hrithik’s aping of the “dance” stylings of Amitabh Bachchan in the “Pardesia” number was spot-on, and the medley shamelessly called back to the defining songs of each of the star couple’s breakout films: Kaho Na…Pyaar Hai (Hrithik) and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Rani). It was so good that I returned to it after the film to re-watch it–no kidding–four times.

I also thought it was a crazy inside joke the way they named the characters. Calling Rani, who played the Tina character in KKHH, Pooja and calling Kareena, who played the Pooja character in K3G, Tina, was bound to elicit either squeals of joy or, in my case, groans of disgust, from fans. And this song, which introduces the grown-up Raj character, starts out JUSTLIKE his entrance in KNPH:

Finally, here’s my rant on the email plot device.  The film takes place in 2002, right? Which means, the first scene, when they’re kids, takes place 15 years prior, in 1987. Email in 1987 was very rudimentary and, unless you were a government professional or included in a business network, practically unavailable. Eudora, the first mass-market email program that made email easy to read and send over PCs regardless of what network they were on, was not introduced until 1988. So unless the families were extremely cutting-edge (Raj’s father seems to have been, because the reason for them moving away was to start a high-tech company in the West, but the others make fun of him for jumping on what is essentially unproven “fad” technology), they really would not be emailing to each other. But when does reality matter in these films?


Jenny K:  Oh, dear…didn’t I warn you about slamming your head against continuity/reality issues in Bollywood films?  You’ll just give yourself a headache and ranter’s cramp in your typing digits.


Julie M:  Verdict: watch MDK if you like the actors, appreciate cute inside jokes and love dramatic true-love-with-obstacles film plots. It wasn’t a waste of my time (watching Hrithik never is!) but it wasn’t necessarily a prime use of it either. The film is available for $2.99 on-demand on YouTube.

[and to wind us up, the next week…back to a sweet surrender, sorta…]

Julie MSorry, Bhai! (Sorry, Brother! 2008) is a pretty and low-key family drama with an unexpected ending. Boman Irani and Shabana Azmi play the modern parents of a small, close-knit family that includes two sons, stockbroker Harsh (Sanjay Suri) and scientist Siddharth (Sharman Joshi). As the story begins it is Siddharth’s wedding day, which occasions a flashback to 11 years previous when the family has traveled to attend the imminent marriage of Harsh to Aaliyah (Chitrangada Singh) on the island of Mauritius, where they both live.

As preparations are being made Harsh is involved in a work crisis, which throws Aaliyah together with his family, particularly Siddharth. As Mom struggles to learn to like her future daughter-in-law, Siddharth and Aaliyah fall in love. Once the triangle is out in the open, how the family deals with the revelation is the true heart of the film. The ending is warm and emotional without being maudlin (yes, I did mist up).  This song from the film serves as a good teaser. 

While I am not generally a fan of this type of story, I found myself gradually falling under its spell. It’s slow to start (I was nearly comatose during the first 45 minutes), but the depth of feeling between the characters builds to just the right amount, and the gorgeous Mauritius scenery was perfect for the winter blahs. The best part of the film, however, is the charming marital jodi of Boman and Shabani. They are completely adorable together and make the perfect couple. I couldn’t decide if I wanted Irani’s character more as my life partner or my dad.

If you like not-very-dramatic, realistic stories about sweet, romantic love, you’ll enjoy this film. I liked it well enough—2/5 for me.

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

[about a week later]

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

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

 [a week later]

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Feb. 18, 2012: Smacking it Over the Net

Jenny K:  Recently Julie and I got the rare treat of watching an Indian film…

Julie M:  Not SO rare, since we do it several times a week around here!

Jenny K:  Well, let me finish…the rare treat of watching an Indian film, not in our local cinema, but getting a behind-the-scenes look at the work of a new filmmaker, Hemant Gaba, and his first feature film, Shuttlecock Boys, before it reaches the multiplexes.

Filmmaker Hemant Gaba

Julie M:  And we didn’t have to eat one kernel of stale popcorn to do it.

Jenny KShuttlecock Boys is quietly making its way around the international filmfest circuit, hitting New York, Chicago and Seattle along with home festival venues in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi and Shimla, finding its audience city by city.  I found it through Facebook…of course, where else?

I home in like a guided missile on anything on the net tagged India and Cinema, and when browsing one day, I found mention of Shuttlecock Boys and was delighted by the sweetness of the trailer.

The difficulties that they faced getting it made at all, as chronicled in an article on dearcinema.com, were daunting.  I was won over by this “Little Engine That Could” style of film promotion, and was determined to catch the film when it was shown in New York last fall at the Gotham Screen International Film Festival…until work got in the way, again.

Thankfully, Hemant didn’t let it rest there.  When I wrote to ask where there would be other chances to see it, he wrote back and told me that he could let me, and Julie, too, check it out for ourselves…

Julie M:  So glad we were too, because it was a real treat to feel like such a film insider, at least for me, who rarely goes to film festivals.

Jenny K:  The premise of the film, not to give anything away that’s not in their trailer, is a classic dilemma with a unique solution.  Four friends who have grown up together sharing their hopes and dreams, usually while batting a badminton shuttlecock around in their neighborhood streets, decide that their only hope to escape their uninspiring, middle-class fate is to become a team off the court as well.

All of their individual strengths are needed to achieve their seemingly hopeless dream of opening a corporate catering company.  One of the young men is a talented, if currently unemployed cook; another is a student accountant with no interest in passing his CPA exam, but who manages to keep the group’s finances balanced.  One is the “face,” handsome with quite a gift for dealing with the public due to his full-time call center job.  And the fourth, the man behind the plan, can’t see himself selling credit cards for the rest of his life, so decides to take the plunge into his future, dragging the rest of his dosti with him for the ride of their lives.

It is a quiet film, as I’ve said, almost too quiet on occasion, and the lack of a continuous soundtrack disoriented me a bit and made me think it was too rough, but as the film rolled out its story, the very lack of so-called polish gave it a bit of the cinéma vérité feel of the director’s background with documentary work.  The same is true of the young, unknown actors.  Without traditional star pull, the story had to stand on its own, no item numbers, no high gloss, on just the heartfelt performances of these young men.

Julie M:  The characters are supremely engaging, particularly so when we get glimpses of each of their individual lives and tribulations without going into too much backstory. Contrary to my co-blogger, I thought that the folk-rock background music, used very judiciously, was absolutely pitch-perfect in creating the mood.  Wouldn’t have wanted any more.

Jenny K:  The mainstream and highly entertaining rom-com Today’s Special, starring Aasif Mandvi and Naseeruddin Shah (my DVD finally came!), flaunts polish and charm galore while giving us a restaurant success story that glosses over the actual work that goes into this kind of project.  In contrast, Shuttlecock Boys paints the trajectory of the boys’ almost painfully naive business plan with heartbreaking detail.  What were they thinking of?  How could they have gone into this with no preparation, on a wing and a prayer?  No one would expect them to succeed…and so you’re held on pins and needles as to what the outcome will be. Happy ending or cold reality?  Perhaps a bit of both.

Julie M:   And the ending was perfect given all that went before.

Jenny K:  We all know how hard it is to get a film launched, particularly in an industry like India’s where there is such a tradition of “Filmi-Family only” membership, that it’s a huge wall to climb to get your picture seen.  However, with new filmmakers like Mr. Gaba and his compadres at Pennywise Films in the picture, if they are all as engaging as Shuttlecock Boys there may be reason to be hopeful that more and more new independent films will find a home. Check out the audience reactions at the festivals.

Julie M: In short, if you have the chance, go see it.  And if you feel inclined, “like” them on Facebook and check out their web page.  Write them a note of support as well.

February 17, 2012: Your Chetan Heart

“I have so much love from my readers that other writers cannot even imagine it. However, I don’t get literary praise. It’s ok.”  — author Chetan Bhagat

A few weeks back I was reading all the news about His Awesomeness Salman Rushdie’s absence from the Jaipur Literary Festival (in person and virtually) and I came upon this article about the fiction writer Chetan Bhagat, India’s best-selling author writing in English.  He’s a literary rock star in India, and apparently the more popular he gets among the country’s readers, the more critics and other writers hate him.  I figured it had to be more than just sour grapes, so I set out on a quest to learn why.  I opted to read his first two (of five) books because both had inspired mainstream Bollywood movies, one of them being one of my favorites.

Five point someone:  what not to do at IIT was Bhagat’s first book, published in 2004 when he was just 30 and after years of writing on the sly.  Bhagat had attended IIT Delhi from 1991 to 1995 and majored in mechanical engineering, just like the three protagonists of FPS, Hari, Ryan and Alok. They meet on their first day at IIT and instantly bond.  IIT (Indian Institutes of Technology—a national series of independent institutions, each specializing in specific curricula) is a pressure-cooker where grades are everything–they literally determine your future. The closer your grade point average is to a full 10 points, the more success you will find in life. Or so goes the common wisdom. Our anti-heroes find, to their horror, that after topping all their high school curricula and mugging (grinding) as much as is palatable, at IIT they can manage no better than a five-point-something. So they decide to roll with it, and proceed to have as good a time as possible in their college years without flunking out. Although there are some amusing incidents, overall things go from bad to worse as they cut classes, drink on the roof, pick up a girlfriend (Hari), ignore their homework in favor of a personal research project (Ryan) and prioritize their family’s happiness over their studies (Alok).  They fight with each other and have repeated run-ins with their department head. Will the guys pull things out by graduation with their friendship intact? Or will their eagerness to have a good time ruin their lives forever?

The book is written in a breezy, colloquial style with a slang-y Indo-English flair that I found charming, and I thought the characters of the three heroes were well-drawn.  I learned a lot about IIT’s place in India’s cultural consciousness.  However, I found it lacked that certain out-of-control-ness that makes popular fiction truly fun (American authors who have mastered this are Carl Hiaasen and Janet Evanovich), and at times the wackiness he seemed to be striving for came across as forced. Several entire segments of the boys’ lives were skipped over—whether as a deliberate literary device or because he didn’t feel like making up more story, we’ll never know—but I really felt the interruption.  And the novel’s technique did nothing more than just get the action from scene to scene; it was strictly utilitarian. Apparently FPS was rejected by the first nine publishers to whom Bhagat submitted it, and judging by the immense amount of money the book is earning for the publisher who accepted it, they are likely kicking themselves and looking hard for an appropriate copycat author.

Five Point Someone was the inspiration for the phenomenally popular (and one of my personal favorite films) 3 Idiots (2009) which had the same basic premise—three slackers at IIT—but went far beyond it, turning it from a college-antics novel into a strong bromance with a rom-com thread and megawatt star power.  Aamir Khan played the Ryan-analogue character, called Rancho, an unconventional thinker with surprising technical gifts.  Kareena Kapoor played his out-of-reach love interest.  Sharman Joshi and R. Madhavan also starred, with Boman Irani playing the nemesis-professor and a fun cameo by Javed Jaffrey.  The book was not followed closely although certain key events in the novel did reach the screen more or less intact, and each 3 Idiots character seemed to have attributes of all three of the FPS protagonists as well as quite a few original aspects.  Suffice it to say that one can safely read the book without spoiling the movie, and vice versa.  For a point-by-point comparison, check out this article.

3 Idiots was, like the book, monstrously successful in India; unlike the book, which took a while to circle the globe, 3 Idiots was even more of a juggernaut abroad and they’re now talking a Hollywood remake.   Bhagat was upset after its release that the credit to him and FPS appeared in the end credits rather than the opening ones, and expressed shock that so much of the book was used in the film, which he was led to believe contained mainly original material.  My feeling is that although 3 Idiots acknowledges FPS as its source, and Bhagat was paid for the film rights to his book as if it was to be a faithful adaptation, the film is completely different in tone and intent.  No matter—to my mind the film has rightly become a cultural touchstone and, as Bhagat is the first to admit publicly, so has the novel it was based on. Nobody should be unhappy here, but Bhagat remains bitter.

At this point I moved on to Bhagat’s second book, One Night @ the Call Center (2005).  As can be expected from the title, the novel’s entire action takes place in the course of one night shift, and all the characters work in the same group at a call center in Gurgaon.  All are in their early-to-mid 20s and each has unhappy aspects to his or her life, which they all feel they are powerless to change.  Numerous flashbacks illuminate the backstory of the romantic relationship between two of the characters, and pop-culture references abound in the exposition during the first two-thirds of the novel.  Amid all of this young-person rhona-dhona a “defining incident” happens, and the Voice of God (!!) comes to the characters, inspiring them to believe in themselves in order to change their fates.  The last third of the book has them doing just that.

In contrast to Five Point Someone, which I at least enjoyed despite its flaws, I found little to enjoy in One Night…  I thought it was more than a little boring, and Bhagat’s attempts at philosophy failed preachily for me. The vociferous anti-American sentiments were cute at first, but then got vicious and lost my sympathies.   Nevertheless, it remains as popular a read in India as Five Point Someone, if not more so because of the call-center setting.

If Bhagat’s goal at the start was, as many say, to create books that Bollywood movies could be based on, he succeeded.  In 2008 the film Hello* was released–before 3 Idiots, it should be noted–and Bhagat wrote the screenplay.  Not surprisingly, the film follows the book almost exactly and even has the same 3 Idiots actor, Sharman Joshi, as the narrator/main character.  I found Hello equally as boring as I found the novel, with low production values, comatose acting (with the exception of Sohail Khan as the volatile Vroom; Joshi’s valiant attempts at main character Shyam were obviously hampered by the inadequate script) and cheesy pseudo-philosophy. Obviously lots of people agreed with me, because it did terrible box office and was uniformly panned by critics who called attention to its weak script. Everyone learned something, particularly that writing a novel and writing a screenplay are two very different things.  Maybe that’s why 3 Idiots was the bigger hit—Bhagat’s role was limited to script approval, which he gave wholeheartedly, and I think having that emotional remove allowed the professionals to do their job.

Chetan Bhagat—a former investment banker based in Hong Kong, now a full-time author living in Mumbai—is not as terrible a writer in English as the critics would have us believe, although he certainly isn’t literary. But that’s beside the point.  People like me are not Bhagat’s target audience, and neither are the literary critics. He does a good job writing for those for whom he is writing–the youth of modern India–and they respond. The critics are used to dealing with someone who is writing for them, and writing also for older people educated in a different time when the use of English was a social marker. Bhagat is not out to improve everybody’s English literacy, he is out to reflect what’s going on now.  I have satisfied my goal of figuring out why they are so popular:  they incorporate the lives and experiences of the vast majority of India’s young people who are fluent English speakers and enjoy the toys and values of a very contemporary lifestyle.  If theirs is the “New India,” Bhagat is both their mirror and their standard-bearer.

So if Bhagat has aspirations to penetrate the youth consciousness of India (and if you read interviews with him, he clearly has those aspirations), he should continue to write his immensely popular books and the shorter newspaper commentaries and do his college lecture tours, and let someone else make them into films that people will go to see. Last year’s Rascals paid tribute to his cultural impact by naming its comic lead characters Chetan (played by Sanjay Dutt) and Bhagat (played by Ajay Devgn).  And audiences will likely get at least two more opportunities to see a novel of his adapted to film:  his fourth novel, 2 States:  The Story of My Marriage, is in the works with Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions, and his fifth, Revolution 2020, has been picked up by UTV.

*Hello is available free on Daily Motion, in parts, with very confusing English subtitles

February 14, 2012: Isn’t It Romantic?

Julie M:  So it’s Valentine’s Day.  What do you think—a “Top 10” list of our favorite Bollywood love songs?  You pick five and I’ll pick five.


Jenny K:  Oh, don’t give me a hard task or anything!…My Five Favorite Bollywood Love Songs??  Dear, dear, me. Well, the best I can do is try to pick some that I like, off the top of my head that perhaps you haven’t heard yet. Let’s see how I do…

Here’s “Chal Chal, Mere Sang,” a favorite from Astitva with Tabu getting the moves from the sexiest music teacher, ever, Monish Behl. Whooo Baby…can that Sukhvinder sing! And it’s his own composition.

Julie M:   Love it! (the song, not the bad pun)  How could she resist…I melted just watching it.  And speaking of melting, here’s my first offering:  “Tere Mere Sapne” from Guide. A little cheesy, but really, wouldn’t you like to have Dev Anand singing this to you?

“Just like flowers are meant to bloom in the spring, your heart and mine were meant to find each other.” 

Jenny K:  Guide is such a wonderful film, and Waheeda is the picture of a romantic heroine, so lovely…and that song is so sweet, I can see why you chose it.

My next one is a bit spicy, as Bollywood offerings go, but definitely romantic.  “Aye Udi Udi” from Saathiya, an authorized Hindi remake of Mani Ratnam’s Alai Payuthai, with Rani Mukherji and Viveik Oberoi. They are recent secret newlyweds, honeymooning in their partially finished apartment. It’s Adnan Sami singing AR Rahman’s wonderful music. No subtitles, but the lyrics are translated in the notes beneath the originating Youtube video.

Julie M:  I knew Rahman would be in here somewhere.  That’s a pretty hot one, both music and picturization.  I have one from him, too but I’m going to save it for a bit.  Instead, I offerPehla Nasha” from Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander, a sweet ode to first love. She loves him, but he loves someone else.  Apart from the fact that anyone would want Aamir Khan singing this about her, I like that it starts with a great keyboard riff instead of strings, and this line: “He gave me dreams in a thousand colors.” 

Jenny K:  Ah, Aamir was my first Bollywood love, too.  Brings back memories!  One thing that I thought was funny, though, was that it seemed like that love song was her dreaming about him, but he’s dreaming about that vapid hottie he was chasing. So whose dream was it?

Julie M:  I think they’re dreaming separately.  The irony of the juxtaposition is supposed to temper the sweetness a bit.

Jenny K:  Now, what’s a Valentine’s Day list without Shah Rukh? And since we’ve posted all the songs from Dil Se at one time or another, I think, and “Suraj Hua Madham” from K3G is almost a “given” by now…I’m going with “Main Yahaan Hoon” from Veer-Zaara. It’s a whole lot of SRK yummmm in the middle of this run-of-the-mill movie, with Preity daydreaming that her lost love will interrupt her arranged marriage. Udit Narayan singing, of course, as all the best ones are!

Julie M:  Man, I was going to go with “Suraj Hua Madham” but you’ve shamed me!  For my SRK tribute I’ll pick “Tujhe Dekha To” from Dilwale Duhlania Le Jayenge, the moment when they are reunited after thinking they’ll never see each other again. Cheesy and cliche, maybe, but it makes my heart go pitty-pat every time.  “My life is yours, my breath is yours…sit before me so I can look at you always…”

Jenny K:  Now, I didn’t mean to dis “Suraj Hua Madham”…it’s just that everyone picks it…I know it’s one of my favorites. But your choice from DDLJ is classic, too.

Here’s a lovely, sad love song from Raja Hindustani, with Aamir Khan singing about how Karisma Kapoor promised to love him and never leave and she’s doing just that.  Lyrics go something like “Oh foreigner, foreigner, don’t go away”. Karisma’s not unaffected by his song with the gypsies; and who would be?! Udit Narayan and Alka Yagnik singing. Love the gypsy costumes!

Julie M:    If we’re talking sad song, fab costumes and Rahman, I’m going to have to go with “Jashn-e-Bahaara” from Jodhaa Akbar.  He’s realizing that he loves this woman he’s married for political reasons, but she’s not displaying similar feelings for him [yet]. The music is so pretty and there’s a lot of attractive alliteration in the lyrics.  If you translate the lyrics they don’t make a lot of sense because it’s all poetry, but the gist of it is “It’s spring, but I can’t enjoy it because I don’t know if she loves me–we are so far apart.”  Whenever this song comes on my homemade compilation I play it over and over again. 

Jenny K:  Now, that is lush…Mr. Gowariker, the director, must have cornered all the best historical sites…gorgeous images and music.

Last on my list, but certainly not least, Sukhwinder Singh singing his own “Ghar Aaja” from the album Nasha Hi Nasha Hai. I’ve played it hundreds of times by now and never tire of it. I have no idea what it means, maybe “Come Home, Now,” but I don’t care about exact translations…just how it makes me feel. The perfect heartbreaking love song. And yes, I know you’ve heard this one in that first batch of songs that I sent you last year, but it’s still the sexiest song I know.

Wish “Ghar Aaja” had an actual video but it’s not from a film. And all the other videos I found of it were rather odd visual animations and photo montages set to the song. Thought that this still picture was better than confusing imagery, close your eyes and let it just soak through you.

Julie M:  You and your Sukhwinder…the very first video you recommended to me was “Chaiyya Chaiyya” from Dil Se, and you went on and on about his voice.  He doesn’t hit me the way he hits you, but that’s a great song.

For my last offering I’m going to go with “Tum Se Hi” from Jab We Met. “Every breath I have, every day that dawns, is from you…wherever I go I’m never far from you.” I like the guitar, Shahid Kapur’s performance in this film is probably his best, and it’s another pretty one. 

Jenny K:   Actually, Jab We Met is the film that made me take a more serious look at Shahid and the Shahid/Kareena jodi in general.  I began to see what others were talking about.  Charming film.  Similar in sweetness to Katrina and Imraan in Mere Brother, speaking of Valentines.

Looking over what I’ve picked, it seems that I really relate to the sad, lingering, lonely love songs, and songs with male vocalists. Oh well, perhaps because I’m single, they ring really true for me, and, of course, my imagination does best when I have the hero singing to me. Really puts me in the mood.

Julie M:  I like male vocalists too, but my tastes are a bit more traditional.  I don’t like the solo instrumentals and shy away from the swelling strings (generally). I don’t groove to the lonely “she done me wrong but I still love her” songs: I like the ones that praise my unique qualities and express undying mutual affection, or say “I love her (him) passionately, does s/he love me as much as I love her (him)?” Or songs that talk about how wonderful being in love is. And it’s always nice to have a guy express that he’ll wait forever until I feel the same way.

And if we had room for an eleventh song, I bet we might both pick “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.”

Jenny K:  Think you’d lose the bet unless you were referring generally to a song from KKHH, and not the title one. The moment from that film that speaks most to me and holds the film in my memory is this song “Tujhe Yaad Na Meri Aayee” and the scene that leads up to it…again, an achingly sad love song, and yet more gypsies…I sense a theme there…

I think what I react to is strong emotion (why I turned to Bollywood and away from American films, in the first place) in a song, one that make you feel right along with the singer.  The happy love songs just effervesce into a fizz of love and float away…hard to pin them down, but the sad or questioning ones hit you right where you live, where all of us have been at one time or another…and they linger there for a long time.

Julie M:  No, no, way too sad.  I was thinking of the title song, but the reprise in the gazebo, which is hands down the most romantic scene ever.  Shah Rukh and Kajol, the evergreen couple!  Even though it’s the “swelling strings” that I said I hate, it’s excusable. 

Jenny K:  Okay, as long as it’s not version amidst the Scottish castles…too schmaltzy.  I like the one in the gazebo, too…yet she’s still crying a good bit here, both before and definitely after. Kajol is a very weepy girl in this film. But she makes us feel her love in every frame of it. And I stand by my choice for this being the most memorable sequence in the film. “Rifat B! My first love is unspoken!”   It’s what makes the end result so wonderful!

Happy Valentine’s Day, Everyone…enjoy our Top Ten, sorry, Top Twelve!

February 13, 2012: The Warmth of Midwinter Flames

The bleakest part of winter comes after the joy-filled holidays, and all you want to do is hibernate, curled up with a warm cup of chai, a bowl of popcorn and your favorite cinema guys.  Julie and I did just that recently, in front of our own separate hearths to stoke the fires with some of our favorite Old Flames.


Jenny K:  My viewing last night was Aladin (2009).  I decided I had to watch it after finding that delicious BigB rap clip I put in the earlier post after LittleB’s rap in Dum Maaro Dum.  I am glad I decided to rent it from Amazon rather than buy it on DVD (though the price was fine). I didn’t like it enough to own it, but it does continue my desire to see all of the later Amitabh Bachchan performances that I can get my hands on.  I do like his old films, but I think it’s something about the gray hair, and the extra-milage twinkle in his eyes, that has given him bonus appeal for me.

The best thing about Aladin was that it provided a really larger than life part for Amitabh, something he could really sink his teeth and sense of humor into. I love him in his comedies even better than his dramas. This wasn’t quite as good as Bunty Aur Babli  for him, but a real lot of fun. He stars as a “real life” genie named Genius (such a stretch by the screenwriters!) who emerges from the lamp rubbed by our hero, Aladin Chatterjee, played with a shy, wistful appeal by Ritesh Deshmukh.


Julie M:  I need to see more of Ritesh.  The only thing I’ve seen him in was Bluffmaster! and I really liked him there.  Too bad he mostly stars in silly comedies like Double Dhamaal, the likes of which I don’t even watch in English.


Jenny K:  Aladin is fully aware of the incongruity of his name. He could hardly not be, as he is daily chased and tormented by a group of bullies at school, led by Kasim (Sahil Khan, who resembles a musclebound Rob Lowe in his St. Elmo’s Fire days…which could have soured me on him right there, but it didn’t).  These tormentors insist on Aladin rubbing every lamp they throw at him to find “the magic”. Aladin’s parents died on a hunt for that very lamp, because they believed in the magic, too, and baby Aladin was raised by his grandfather. Now, grown up, he doesn’t want magic, all he wants is to fly under the radar and be allowed to live in peace…until the new, beautiful exchange student comes to his school, Jasmine, played by beauty queen du jour, Jaqueline Fernandes.

She’s lovely, sweet, and not a bad ingenue. And everyone is in love with the new girl from America, including Aladin’s arch enemy, Kasim. Now, Aladin definitely needs help winning her heart, and one of those lamps finally produces it. BigB emerges magically and immediately gets the party started at the school mixer.

Julie M:  Kind of reminds me of the school dance scene in Main Hoon Na; still one of the best Grease rip-off scenes ever.   


Jenny K:  Well, the rest of the movie involves various schemes to make this romance come out true. Amitabh hams it up, delightfully, all over the place, changing clothes as much as any good Bollywood Item Boy, trying to get Aladin to use his three wishes so he can retire from his genie occupation, for good. He steals the show. Here’s that rap number again. I love the wig. Long hair looks great on him, though it’s a little too banana-curly in the back in one or two shots.


Julie M:  Here’s where we part ways.  I really don’t like him in long hair.  I think it makes him look like a crazy person.  Case in point:  Jhoom Barabar Jhoom…OK, he’s actually pretty cool as a character that keeps popping up to wink at the action, but he LOOKS crazy.

Jenny K:   I must just like his “crazy” then…the only reason I bought JBJ was for that particular look on Amitji.  Too each her own, I suppose.

The main negative for this film is in the completely unnecessary subplot of The Ringmaster, an evil, all-for-himself ex-genie, trying to find the lamp so that he can end his earthly exile and become a genie once again…it’s all tied together with the reappearance of comet that is due to fly right over Aladin’s town (during the annual Student Ball, of course). Sanjay Dutt plays this villain with way-over-the-top gusto and the wardrobe of Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter on steroids.

The CGI fight to the death of the genii is a snorefest in the extreme…sort of like the way the sword-fighting CGI scene at the end of the Tim Burton/Depp Alice in Wonderland hit me, too…

I really could have done without. Amitabh’s charm alone could have done it for me, and does, so I’d give it three cups of chai out of five, for a warm-up factor, on that alone. Here’s the Cyrano-esque wooing scene to leave us with (Aladin temporarily has no voice because he’s been karate-chopped in the throat, and has to use his best playback synch skills).

Julie M:  Ha!  Freeze that video at 0:49 and he becomes Long-Haired Crazy Person again.  But I like that he’s often cast in non-Dad roles now where he can have some fun.  Maybe he’s making up for all that “angry young man” work earlier in his career, where he didn’t get to smile much, even in fun roles like Amar Akbar Anthony.  And how much are you looking forward to seeing him in The Great Gatsby later this year, even in what is little more than a walk-on?  And I need to see Zanjeer.   They really don’t make them like him anymore. 

[a few days later]

Julie M:  Had to get an Akshay Kumar fix, so I got 8 x 10 Tasveer (8 x 10 Photograph, 2009) from the library. If you haven’t seen it, it’s available free on YouTube   or here

Jenny K:  Though he’s not one of my favorites, I give Akshay much more credit when he’s in dramas rather than his action or comedy roles. Except for Waqt. Never going to like that one.

Julie M:  It’s a good-enough (but not superb) psychological thriller in the mainstream European/American film style. Akshay stars as Jai, a mild-mannered park ranger—or environmental monitor, it’s difficult to tell—in Canada with the semi-secret, supernatural ability to stare at a photo, go into a trance and see the scene from the photo subject’s eyes (yeah, I thought that was pretty ridiculous too, but you kind of have to accept this premise or else the whole movie will fall apart). When his estranged father (Benjamin Gilani) dies of an “accident,” Jai is convinced it is murder and uses his abilities to track down the killer.

He finds no dearth of suspects, possibly including his own mother (Sharmila Tagore), and his life is endangered on more than one occasion. There is a huge and highly satisfying twist about 3/4 of the way through, and the final 30-45 minutes are edge-of-your seat action and suspense–which sort of made the first 30 minutes or so worth it. A very bad rap song over the end credits made me think Akshay and Abhishek have some sort of competition going.

If you’ve not seen it I won’t spoil the twist for you.

Sharmila’s talent was pretty much wasted in this film except for one scene, but it was nice to see her acting again. Jaaved Jaffrey has a supporting role as the dead father’s former protege, a disgraced police officer with “Monk”-like OCD qualities, who helps Jai in his quest for the truth. As usual, Jaaved’s voice is marvelous but I found myself continually distracted by a bad redhead dye job and the worst haircut ever. Ayesha Takia plays Jai’s doe-eyed and adoring girlfriend.

And also as usual I was mesmerized by Akshay. Those looks! That smile! The stunts! He deserved a better script than the writer gave him, but he made the best of it, and as I said, the last part of the movie made everything before it worthwhile.


Jenny K:  I would be more moved to see this film if it didn’t seem to have Akshay playing Faye Dunaway in The Eyes of Laura Mars. 1978 isn’t so far away that us old folks don’t remember. It was a plot with Faye being a fashion photog who may be seeing the brutal work of a serial killer through his eyes, both at night, in her dreams, and while awake. It even begins to influence her work.  Just changing him to a park ranger doesn’t change the basic premise, does it?  Akshay does have a killer smile, though…I grant him that.


Julie M:  I sort-of remember Laura Mars and it’s nothing like it, although I grant you that there is a similar conceit. He sees through the eyes of photo subjects, whoever they are, and whatever they’ve done. Most of the time it’s benign. The fact that he uses a photo snapped right before his father’s accident to view the incident from the perspectives of each of the people in the photo (all of whom he suspects) is just his way of using his gift to figure out what happened. And the twist is the key. (No, it’s not Akshay who is the killer. It’s not Secret Window–oops, I’ve just spoiled that one for those pitiful few who couldn’t figure it out in the first five minutes…)

Coincidentally, B and I had just watched the very bad 1991/2 film Sketch Artist, where a police sketch artist takes a murder witness’s description and realizes he’s just drawn a portrait of his wife. He spends the rest of the film trying to figure out if his wife really is a killer or if he’s just obsessed with their ebbing relationship. Another psychological thriller, but one so cheesy and dumb so we were in the mood for a good one to take the bad taste away.  B watched 8 x 10 with me and thought it was decent. Not stellar (it wasn’t), but it worked.


Jenny K:  Now, I must say, you may have warmed up my interest in that one…February chills aren’t over yet, and one can always use new flames to go with those older ones!

Feb. 7, 2012: Hravished by Hrithik, Part 2 – Mission Kashmir & Guzaarish

Having survived Super Sunday, we are back with two more do-not-miss experiences with this month’s favorite hero, Hrithik Roshan that just wouldn’t fit into the last post.  Think of this as a post-tailgate party…and excuse the Super Bowl allusions, because Julie seems to have caught the fever, seeing as her city of residence is hosting it this year.


Julie MMission Kashmir (2000) was…WOW. So well done, I almost didn’t notice the excessive violence.  Here’s the trailer.

Brief plot: Sanjay Dutt is Inayat Khan, a police officer in Kashmir, which has been torn by civil war for decades. An evil revolutionary leader (Puru Rajkumar) has forced the city’s doctors to stop treating injured police and their families, and this prohibition leads Khan’s son to die after an accident. In his grief, Khan leads his troops to massacre everyone in the home where the revolutionary is hiding out, except for one boy, Altaaf, who Khan reluctantly adopts to please his grieving wife (Sonali Kulkarni). The boy learns to love the Khans but eventually finds out that Khan murdered his family, and runs away only to fall in with, and be raised by, a SUPER evil terrorist (Jackie Shroff).

Ten years later Altaaf (Hrithik Roshan) returns to his former home town with his terrorist cell to complete an operation called “Mission Kashmir,” and coincidentally get revenge on Khan, preferably by killing him. As part of the mission he meets up with his childhood best friend (Preity Zinta) and falls in love with her, then must choose between continuing on with his missions and stepping off for the chance for the life he thought he could never have.  Khan, meanwhile, must figure out exactly what Mission Kashmir is and stop it, while saving himself from Altaaf’s murderous intentions.

Jenny K:  I almost didn’t recognize Jackie in this one…malicious, evil eyes.  He’s almost comic-book evil in MK, isn’t he?  Not nearly so sweet as he was in Devdas or Yaadein…his Coke-can friend in that film wouldn’t recognize him.


Julie M:  Yes—his snarly, filthy hair really hid him—but he doesn’t hold a candle to the over-the-top cartoonish performance of Sanjay Dutt in Agneepath.  But I admit that one of the attractions for seeing Agneepath was the opportunity to see Hrithik and SD reunited as enemies, because they had such great and multi-layered chemistry in MK.  Excellent performances all around.  Here’s a clip showing a particularly tense moment, showing the quality of Hrithik’s muscles…I mean, the quality of the lead actors’ performances.

I also found, and enjoyed, plenty of what I call “beautiful-terrible” filmmaking, which I often find in director Stanley Kubrick’s work.  This is when terrible things are happening, but they are filmed so beautifully that I’m feeling several emotions at once.  Example:  in MK, there was much shooting but very little blood.  Unrealistic, I know, but it makes the viewer focus on the reasons for the violence and its implications rather than on the violence itself.  Very effective.   Agneepath, unfortunately, had a lot of terrible things that the camera dwelled on almost gleefully for effect, with no eye to the potential beauty.  For those so inclined, a serious analysis of the film can be found here.


Jenny K:  Maybe your attraction to the Cinema of the B-T explains why you like Mani Ratnam films…well, why both of us like his work.  Some of his films are a visual ode to violence and devastation.  Not that he’s justifying it, at all, but he is always recording something visceral and memorable about war, and how it changes and heightens everything it touches.


Julie M:  Mission Kashmir also had, surprisingly, a couple of great musical numbers like this one, when Hrithik’s character shows up at this TV studio he wants to take over as part of the terrorist plan, and discovers that his old friend, now a well-known TV personality, is in mid-performance.  Of course he just joins right in.

You’d think the songs would be out of place in a bloodbath film like this, but they are so well-integrated into the plot that they make a certain kind of sense, unlike the random numbers in Agneepath.


Jenny K:  I’m glad you mentioned the “Bumbro” number where Preity meets up with Hrithik again, it’s a classic.  MK is not my favorite film, but has some wonderful visuals. Did you see Shankar, Eshaan and Loy, playing their song in “in person” no less, at the back of the big group number?  Looked like an ad for India Disney’s Small World Show, if there was such a thing.  

Julie M:  Was that really them? I noticed that the camera spent an unusual amount of time focusing on the band and wondered if maybe it was some famous pop star, but this makes more sense. I thought that number was kind of odious and Hrithik looked sappy in it. (I also thought it was stupid the way his character was able to crash not one, but TWO dance numbers without anyone noticing.)  But I let it go, because it’s so wonderful to watch him dance.  And during the film he is often sweaty and flexy.  

I’d rate this a 4 star experience as a film, and a 5+ star experience with Hrithik.  If you’re following his career, this makes THREE films he starred in his debut year.  Between Fiza and MK, 2000 was a pretty intense year for a guy who debuted in something as silly as Kaho Naa…Pyaar Hai, which was a crowd-pleaser and may have made his name but doesn’t really show what he can do as an actor.

[the next day]

Julie M:  Saw Guzaarish (Request, 2010) tonight. Visually quite luscious, and as has also been my experience with all of the Sanjay Leela Bhansali films I’ve seen so far, a little on the slow side. Not as stylized and deathly boring as Saawariya, though.

The plot involves former illusionist (I refuse to use the term magician) and now quadriplegic Ethan Mascarenhas (Hrithik Roshan), who, on the 14th anniversary of the stage accident that crippled him, has decided he wants to end his life.


Jenny K:  Fourteenth?  News to me.  If you went by the flashbacks, I’d have said he hadn’t aged more than two or three years…testament to the anti-aging effects of Goan weather, I guess…hydration, ya know.


Julie M:  His announcement shocks everyone, particularly his nurse Sofia (Aishwarya Rai), because he has always been so lively, positive and inspirational through his popular radio program and his speaking engagements. Trouble is, euthanasia is illegal in India, so he engages his best friend (Shernaz Patel), an attorney, to argue the case for him. While the case proceeds, he also becomes mentor to a manic young man (Aditya Roy Kapoor) who wants to carry forward Ethan’s stage performances.

Aside from the beauty of the film, Hrithik’s performance (conducted easily half or more in English, and I read that more was performed in English but Hindi was dubbed into the final film for political reasons) was astonishing. And not just because he convincingly plays a quadriplegic, which I imagine is extremely difficult. No, for the first time I felt that he had really thought this character through and wasn’t just projecting a series of “types.” He was thoroughly natural, and as the character has a great sense of humor and wit, I felt that we were seeing Hrithik let go of being a movie star and finally become a real actor.


Jenny K:  When I first watched it, I had read it was a remake of Whose Life Is It Anyway? the stage play and later the film with Richard Dreyfuss in the lead as the paralized sculptor who can no longer practice his art.  Guzaarish definitely addresses a lot of the same issues, but of course, Bhansali feels the need to dress things up, extend them and take them out of the decidedly unglamorous location of the hospital room. 

Again, it’s disappointing that, in an Indian film, they couldn’t have the woman that Hrithik bonds with be his doctor, as Dreyfuss does with Christine Lahti in WLIIA?  The woman, in this case Aish, is demoted to his faithful nurse.  She’s also made the hypothetical love interest, unlike in the American film, where it’s compassion not love.  I don’t mean to detract from Guzaarish, I rather liked it, and as you said, it was much better than Saawariya, but I can’t help noticing this trend.


Julie M:  As usual, Aish and Hrithik have excellent chemistry.   This scene (no subtitles, but it’s half in English anyway) comes at the point where Sofia finds out that Ethan has petitioned for euthanasia but has not told her:  she gets all huffy and tells him that clearly he doesn’t think enough of her to tell her personally, so from this point forward she will be just his nurse, not his friend. 

Her clearly passionate Sofia, in love with Ethan but unable to express it except through her professional care for him, is finally released in this scene where she has a couple of drinks and is moved to dance.

And we also get to see Hrithik move and dance as Ethan flashes back to moments in his stage career, particularly in this dream sequence.

Jenny K:  I felt there was too little dancing and too much floating by HR.  But that may be just me wanting more of a good thing, when he’s trying so hard, and successfully, to do a dramatic role here.  Is it just me, or is Aish channeling her inner Rekha in this film?


Julie M:  Aditya Kapoor also does a nice job as the apprentice illusionist, although he could have used more screen time.  The DVD I saw had some deleted scenes that included a really nice one between him and Sofia, that I have no idea why it was cut because it’s greatly character-developing for them both. 

But the real star is the film’s look. The setting is Goa and 90% of the action takes place in a decaying old Portuguese mansion–a character in itself–lushly appointed with centuries of antiques, greenery and family portraits. Every time of day is captured at some point in the film–even the moments just before and at dawn–and the famous Goa beaches are also represented in a very moving scene where Ethan’s overwhelming stillness is brilliantly compensated for by juxtaposing a wide shot of him in his wheelchair with crashing ocean waves lapping at his feet. SLB is the master of gorgeous filmmaking and even if you aren’t a fan of heartstring-tuggers (and this one is definitely a weeper, albeit an upbeat one), you can easily distract yourself by admiring all the lovely cinematic technique: scenery, costumes, props, locations…and, of course, Hrithik.  A solid 3 stars from me.

And luckily it’s available free on YouTube here.  Sit back with your left-over Super Noshes, kick back and Hrelish it!

Feb. 2, 2012: Hravished by Hrithik – Part 1: Agneepath

Julie M:  So I saw Agneepath (The Path of Fire, 2012) this afternoon, as the third film of my Three-Hrithik Weekend (the other two films were Mission Kashmir and Guzaarish).

Warning: it is very violent, very bloody. All manner of shootings, stabbings, burnings, and hangings (attempted and successful) take place regularly and the camera dwells on their gory glory. Here’s the trailer (no subtitles, sorry): 

Jenny K:  I may be going to see it tonight. We’ll see. Seems a bit daunting, like I should wear my hip-waders if I’m going to be knee-deep in blood. Shudder


Julie M:  Better be prepared to take a virtual shower afterwards, as well. The scenes on theisland of Mandwa, which bookend the film and also one in the middle, are gray, burned-out, grimy and MUDDY.  And everyone sweats, a lot. 

The story starts in 1977, in a village on the island of Mandwa, off the coast near Mumbai. Young Vijay (Arish Bhiwandiwala) is a hotheaded 12-year-old, tempered by the soothing hand and wisdom of his father (Chetan Pandit), the local schoolmaster. Meanwhile Kancha (Sanjay Dutt), the evil son of the ineffectual village headman, comes home–we get the feeling he has been released from prison–and decides to enslave the island for his personal financial gain, just because he can.

Kancha cons the villagers into “leasing” him their land so he can build a salt factory, but what he really has in mind is to use their land to grow cocaine. Vijay’s dad tries to organize the villagers into instead supporting a salt collective to split the profits and it seems to be well accepted, but Kancha can’t stand this threat to his power and he organizes a situation to turn the villagers against the schoolmaster, resulting in everyone lynching him. At the same time, village rowdies who hate Vijay burn their home: Vijay and his pregnant mother (Zarina Wahab) barely escape with their lives.


Jenny K:  And that’s probably all in the first ten minutes!

It’s interesting to me that the title of the original film with Amitabh Bachchan, comes from a poem by the star’s father, poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan.  A real father-son project, in a way.


Julie M:  In Mumbai, Ma gives birth to Vijay’s sister and Vijay, mindful of his father’s lessons on how to gain and use power, does a favor for the local crime boss, Rauf Lala (Rishi Kapoor). Lala adopts him, Ma disowns him, and within 15 years Vijay has grown up to be a very clever and corrupt Hrithik Roshan, with a sort-of girlfriend (Priyanka Chopra), and is Lala’s right-hand man, and has had on his mind this whole time how to avenge his father’s death with Kancha. The plan is to draw Kancha close and then strike; but other situations intervene that Vijay must deal with. At this point things get very confusing, as all the sweaty gangsters look alike in the low light of the back alleys of Mumbai, and it’s hard to follow who is siccing whose gang on whom.  How Vijay’s revenge takes place (because you know it does) is the climax of the story–and it is quite brutal, also not a little unrealistic.

Hrithik uses pretty much one facial expression the entire movie, although in the 2nd half he does smile, briefly, in the one happy scene the film contains. Muscles are very much on display with plenty of flexing, which on Hrithik I always enjoy (cough—Fiza—cough). Not having seen the 1990 original (yet) I cannot compare his performance to Amitji’s, but I suspect it is more action-y. Hrithik does not dance except for maybe five steps during one dance number. Still, he’s good—better than good—to look at even though his acting was WAY better in Guzaarish.  And I must say, whoever was the fight choreographer on this did an excellent job, most convincing I have ever seen in an Indian film to date. 


Jenny K:  That’s what I was afraid of.  I always hope that we’ll get at least one dance number from him.  But the trailer left me in little hope of that. Criminal shame.


Julie M:  Speaking of dance numbers, they are gratuitous, spectacular, and totally out of place. Katrina Kaif’s item number, which takes place as Vijay has entered Kancha’s den for preliminary negotiations as Step 1 of his evil plan for revenge, is interesting although she makes three completely unnecessary (and unexplained) costume changes during the space of the 5-6 minute dance sequence (here’s the short version).  

Jenny K:  Three changes of the lead dancer’s clothes is absolutely mild for an item girl, restrained, in fact. I sort of look at these things as mini-fashion shows. The Indian audiences expect them, and I’d love to know how much actually filters down into Indian fashion, modified, of course.

Check out this masterpiece of overkill, a shipboard show from Humraaz. Amisha has at least four outfits and Akshaye almost as many. The questions I do have are, how does the dance troupe of, say ten, that you see auditioning for the job, early in that film, become the thirty you see in the show?  Secondly, they may have the actual time for the fast changes, but to get Amisha up into the flies to enter from the ceiling, as well as change into that skintight outfit, may be pushing credulity a bit. Fun watching Akshaye, though.

Julie M:  Wait until you see the Katrina number in Agneepath. You’ll agree, given the setting, that the costume changes don’t make sense. Yours is a shipboard show, which sort of means it’s expected. But I still don’t understand how they got her hair to go from straight to crimped in four seconds!! 


Jenny K:  I have seen the Katrina number on Youtube.  Looks par for the course.  Everyone uses “willing suspension of disbelief”, because no one expects realism. I particularly liked SRK’s dream bookending to the “Ishq Kamina” song in Shakti…that way everything’s explained by it being a dream.  It’s unusual that they offer an explanation of any kind, but it’s nice once in a while.


Julie M:  In Agneepath Priyanka Chopra’s dance number is clearly there to show off her body and doesn’t advance the plot at all. She gets one good scene but she mostly just hangs around the rest of the time.  

But that “Chikni Chameli” song is going to have the impact of the Beedi song from Omkara.  Super party song.  Remake (as all the cool songs seem to be these days):  here’s the original.     And Sanjay Dutt was just too evil to be believed.  Cartoon-evil, even. Although they tried hard to make him sympathetic—a pasted-on bit about mirrors—he just came off like a fat, slimy worm.  And I think his over-the-topness weakened the film considerably.

Overall–if you can stand the blood and are dying (ha ha) to see Hrithik, you could brave this film. On an objective level, yes, it’s more good than bad with high drama, melodrama and emotional content (if you like that sort of thing), but it definitely drags in the middle and I almost fell asleep. It’s clearly a love letter from Karan Johar to his father, who made the original 1990 version  [Available on Youtube, here’s part 1] that didn’t do so well box-office wise, and should appeal to the young adult males who seem to be its target audience. It is also SO not a family film; despite the U/A rating, my theater had a dozen or so small children attending with their families, including one little girl sitting in the row ahead of me who looked to be about three or four, and she was crying in terror at the ending. I think a lot of those children will need counseling and chicken soup tonight.

I almost wish I hadn’t gone, because it wasn’t that great a movie to have waded through all of that. I found the second half not as interesting as the first half, although Hrithik’s acting range was better in the 2nd half.  Solid two stars, and would gain another if Hrithik moved his face more and the rivers of blood were diminished by half.

 [three days later…]

Jenny K:  Sorry it has taken me so long to report in.  I was digesting, trying to find something to add about Agneepath…so, after having seen it, I’d say… 

Agneepath was a furious onslaught of fists and pheromones.  

Is that succinct enough? Maybe too…

Don’t be so hard on HR…there are definitely three distinct facial expressions here: dreamy/anguished, dreamy/angry-intense, and just plain dreamy.  I can’t explain my reaction; he’s not even my Bollywood “type” per se, but…Hrithik is just your non-garden variety gorgeous, and in Agneepath, I couldn’t take my eyes off him.

It’s hard to complain much about niggling little picky things like the repetitive quality of the mayhem and the sheer lack of thought-provoking plot when he’s such eye-candy. I have no idea if his acting is still progressing. It hardly needs to. I am blinded to any faults by his glorious person. Even his estranged little sis in the film was so smitten with this Godlike Bro that she wasn’t even appalled when he expressed his love for her by killing a man, or was it men, with his bare fists.  In front of her.  Strange?  Maybe not.  I’d probably forgive him, too, if he looked into my eyes with that special patented soulful gaze in his baby browns.  Accuracy to the wayside; “hazels” just doesn’t have the same ring.


Julie M:  Eye-candy?  More like eye-big-juicy-steak…completely wasted on Priyanka’s character–but then again, monomaniacal revenge-focused heroes like that don’t need heroines (not that she was a heroine by any means, just a distraction that he was man enough to marry for her happiness rather than his).


Jenny K:  I thought it was so odd that he gave in and married her at the end, when I’d been assuming all along that he wasn’t marrying her because he loved her and knew his days were numbered, and he’d be putting her in danger.  And he was right!  But that’s being way too logical for this scenic mish-mash.

I’ll give Agneepath a score of “four sighs.”  That is to say that for the normal heterosexual female, the masculine landscape of this film’s heroes (and I include Chetan Pandit, who seems like a throwback to a 1960’s Khanna/Kapoor style, delightful eyeful) will make the meat-tenderizing sections of this film that your date likes, bearable.

Sanjay Dutt’s new look won’t. Though the one thing I took away from SD’s performance was the thought that if they don’t rework the Mickey Rourke comeback vehicle, The Wrestler, for him they are missing a golden opportunity.


Julie M:  I found a “behind the scenes” feature—in two parts,  here and here that I recommend only if you’ve already seen the film, as they contain spoilers.

More of the weekend’s Hraptures to come…

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