March 30, 2012: Deliver Me from March Madness!

Julie’s been somewhat of a basketball widow this past couple of weeks, which gave her lots and lots of time to catch up on films!

 

Julie M:  B was working and watching basketball tonight, so I took the opportunity to watch Kashmir Ki Kali (Kali of Kashmir, 1964). It started out like a typical Shammi romp, where he is a wealthy, irresponsible playboy goofily chasing a shy, beautiful village girl, whom he almost gets until an impossible amount of drama in the last 30 minutes threatens their happy future together.

  

Jenny K:  Yes, I liked that one, too…it’s always been touted as one of his best. And of course, set in Kashmir…how can you resist?!?

 

Julie M:  Rajiv (Shammi Kapoor) is the reckless heir to a wealthyDelhi industrialist. One day Maa decides to pick him a bride so he’ll settle down; he rejects all the choices and flees to the family’s other home in scenic Kashmir, where he meets Champa (Sharmila Tagore), a poor flower-seller with a blind father. So as not to scare her off he pretends to be the homeowner’s driver (hm…where have I seen THAT before?) and chats her up, then finds numerous occasions to be with her and pitch adorable woo, mostly in song. This one was my favorite.

A particularly hilarious scene has him dressing up in a burkha so he can ride with her and her friends as they travel to a village fair, and there is a crazy sub-plot involving three comely lasses who have rented rooms in his home and are chasing his wealth (that part could have lifted right out as far as I was concerned). There’s also a wonderful dance number at the above-mentioned fair, full of ethnic goodness, although what a Punjabi folk dance is doing in a Kashmiri village is beyond me.

Since I had already seen the disarmingly similar, An Evening in Paris (1967), also with hammy Shammi and Sharmila, I kept having flashbacks–or flash-forwards considering it’s a later film. Though clearly typecast, Shammi is so silly and sweet that I forgave almost everything. Also, this film is worth watching because of the elaborate jewelry, second only to Paheli in films I’ve seen. Overall: fluffy, fun, a thrilling scene near the end with Shammi getting all dishoom on the bad guy and wrestling with him on an elevated rock transport system…what more do you want?

Kashmir Ki Kali available free on YouTube, with English subtitles.

 

Jenny K:  I, who never let basketball bother me, watched Bikini Beach today while getting some housework done. Ah, that Frankie Avalon, winning the fair Annette in a double role, as both himself and, as his own rival, Potato Bug, a goofy British hearthrob of a singer (a Chad and Jeremy type), who also drag races.  I just watch it for Eric Von Zipper. When EVZ likes someone, they STAY liked! In no way deep, but I’m a sucker for fluff, every so often. This may be why I was predisposed to like masalas.

 

Julie M:  I think the 1960s are the 1960s no matter where. I love how Indian films reflect the music of the time, all the while staying true to Indian mores and values.

[the next day…still during the basketball tournament…]

Julie M:  Saw Morning Raga (2004) tonight. LOVED it. It had everything–fantastic music, dramatic storyline (but not too), fabulous performances. Prakash…what a hottie, too bad he didn’t do more work. And Shabana “sang”! I loved that it wasn’t “mainstream,” that the pacing was perfect, visually stunning…I can’t say enough. Just my kind of film. Thank you, thank you for sending it.

Brief plot summary:  Swarnalata (Shabana Azmi) and Vaishnavi (Ranjani Ramakrishnan) are best friends and musical partners, singing traditional carnatic (South Indian) pieces in the privacy of their homes (this piece is the opening of the film).

Swarnalata convinces Vaishnavi to perform publicly with her, but a tragedy en route changes the lives of both families.  Twenty years later Vaishnavi’s son Abhinay (Prakash Rao), an aspiring musician, returns to the village and encounters Swarnalatha, and wants to incorporate her and her music into his band.   Swarnalatha, still blaming herself for the tragedy, refuses.  Can their mutual passion for music overcome the horrors of the past?  And what role does Pinky, Abhinay’s new girlfriend, play in the story?   Click on the Youtube logo, bottom right, if it doesn’t play.

 

Jenny K:  Morning Raga was all part of my minifest “movies about playback, and concert, singers”.  It was a nice little movie…but, Shabana didn’t sing any of it herself, you know. However, all the reviews I have read said they thought she had studied a lot to get the whole set of performance mannerisms right and the lip synch just so. Quite a feat!

 

Julie M:  Yes, apparently she did study, for months, as did Prakash learning to play the violin (even though it wasn’t his playing in the film). I admire that kind of commitment.

And…I was listening to a library CD on my walk this morning and a fusion song came on that had long bits of carnatic music in it, and now I know what it is! 

Morning Raga is available free on YouTube. It’s mostly in English, and the small bits that aren’t English are subtitled.  Part I is here.

 [a few days later..still more basketball…]

Julie M:  Saw Maqbool (2004) tonight. I was really leery of seeing it because of the gangland setting and I kind of wish I had listened to myself, because despite the excellent performances (Irrfan was fantastic!) it was really bloody and violent.

I like how it played with the parallel characters from MacBeth: instead of two sons Abbaji (the King Duncan character) has a daughter, which set up a whole other dynamic re the succession. Lady MacB is not a wife but a mistress, the mistress of both the King and Maqbool, again upping the drama quotient and changing her motivation from ambition for her husband to simply getting rid of a lover she does not love to exchange for one she does love, while still keeping her position. This scene, where she holds a gun to Maqbool’s head and forces him to call her “my love,” is key to her twisted psyche.

Jenny K:  That’s what bothers me the most about Maqbool, when they make Lady MacBeth the mistress, then in this film, Maqbool’s whole motivator is sex, not power and greed as in MacBeth. That bothered me more than, say having “Emilia” [spoilers] not die in Omkara, but in the end, flip the Shakespeare on his head and have her kill her Iago. Shocking, but less fundamentally a change to the plot.

 

Julie M:  I also loved this quwwali song at the gangland funeral.

And I loved how the “witches” are brought together in the single person of the soothsaying cop (Om Puri) and his jovial sidekick (your boy Naseeruddin Shah).

The visuals were good and I suspect would have been better if the DVD had not been mastered from a bad VHS original. Still, all that blood and shooting really soured what could have been a really satisfying drama. Overboard, to my tastes. 

This was a welcome light moment, at the engagement-party festivities for Abbaji’s daughter.

Jenny K:  I’ve always liked Omkara better than Maqbool of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Shakespeare adaptations, primarily because Maqbool is soooo dark.  I thought as you like Irrfan so much, it was important that you see it. It may not have been his first film, but it was one of the first two that really put him on the map, cinematically. The first was The Warrior by Asif Kapadia. I haven’t seen it, but it has great reviews.  I can’t believe that he didn’t “hit” until he was about 40. He still looks so great and as busy as ever at 50!

Julie M:  Omkara certainly gets my vote, too, for the better of the two. It  was nice to see Irrfan and Tabu act together again. I loved the two of them in The Namesake (2007), which I saw first, but I can’t help but think that their casting in Namesake was inspired by their undeniable chemistry in Maqbool. Excellent, mature actors serious about their craft. LOVE to see that!

 [the next night…isn’t that tournament over yet?]

Julie M:  Saw Kairee (Raw Mango, 2000) tonight. Very indie, very good.

A young city girl (Yogita Deshmukh) arrives in a rural Marathi village to live with her beloved aunt Taani (Shilpa Navalkar) after the tragic death of her parents. At first she is happy in her new life, since she gets to spend a lot of time with her aunt in the beautiful setting. But soon she must go to school, which is taught by an incompetent master and where she is the only girl. She is made to feel bad but is cheered by her aunt’s standing up to the master and getting her transferred to another school where the education is better, the master  is friendlier (a stuttering Atul Kulkarni) and there are more girls. But, gradually she finds out that things are not what they seem in her idyllic new life.   [Sorry, no subtitles.]

It was a very beautiful movie visually, with excellent performances by Shilpa (such an expressive face, especially when she laughs!)  and Atul (good to see him NOT be a villain for a change), and a cameo by Sonali Kulkarni (of Mission Kashmir and Dil Chahta Hai) as the grown-up girl. 

Lots of cryptic references to finding the local peacocks (which the girl never gets to see:  I’m not quite sure what the symbolism is, maybe happiness?) and eating raw mangoes fresh from the tree (which I believe represents perfection), a favorite treat of Taani’s which the girl also never gets to experience.  

 

Jenny K:  Atul is one of my favorite character actors.  He’s given some great performances in Rang De Basante, Chandni Bar, Khakee and this one.  And all so different.  Amazing.  He never just “phones it in” as they say.  Definitely you’ve picked some wonderful basketball distractions. Two points…swooosh!  Into the hoop!

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March 21, 2012…“A Fine Romance, and Two Hitmen…”

Julie M:  Your long post put me in the mood for a romance, so I went with Alaipayuthey (Pouncing Waves, 2000). Mani Ratnam and A.R. Rahman should always work together…even though the second half was WAY too overwrought for me, I thought overall it was pretty decent except for the music, which was AMAZING, and the visuals, which reminded me a lot of Dil Se (duh) and were therefore stunning.  Since this was the original Tamil film of which Saathiya (Life Partner, 2002) was a remake, and I’ve never seen Saathiya except for the number you indicated as one of your Valentine’s Day romance songs, you’ll have to clue me in on which you thought was better.

  

Jenny K: Oh, I’m always going to think that Mani Sir directing his own screenplay is going to be the better…not that I didn’t find loads of things to like about Saathiya (can you say Rani…so cute you could eat her up!) but I liked that not everyone in the Tamil version was so gosh-darned well known.  It felt like I was getting to peek in on someone telling their own love story…very intimate and endearing by not being  so slickly produced.  I also had a bit of a problem with Viveik bouncing around in the fields with his color-coordinated backup dancers…that was not as blatant in Alaipayuthey.  Just my opinion.

 

Julie M: Alaipayuthey is the story of two people who fall in love, get married and then wonder what happened. Karthik (Madhavan) sees Shakti (Shalini) at a wedding in her part of the city, and instantly decides she is the one for him, dreaming of her all the time.   

He woos her all over town, stalking her commuter train and professing his love for her until he eventually wears her down and she admits she loves him too. 

Unfortunately, their parents do not hit it off due to class issues so their desired marriage is forbidden—of course they get married secretly, and vow to tell their parents “when the time is right.”  Shortly thereafter Shakti’s older sister Poorni (Swarnamalya) gets an excellent proposal and the groom’s father offers his younger son to Shakti; panicked, she spills the beans about the secret marriage and the groom’s family calls off the match.  The couple’s parents kick them out and they take up illegal residence in a partially-demolished, charmingly decrepit apartment building that they fix up and are blissfully happy in…for a while.  This number (the original from the “Aye Udi Udi” one in Saathiya) is so cute, and I really love the backwards-film trick.

  

Jenny K:  I wonder if it’s a Ratnam thing, or if it’s his cinematographers preference for this backwards filmwork?  Not that I don’t like it, but he seems to use it a lot. Dil Se had it, too in “Satrangi Re” (yellow dress at2:50 in this video).

 

Julie M:  Then they start to fight about little things, and when Shakti’s father dies before she can reach him she blames Karthik.  Eventually they become strangers to one another, and to keep some type of contact with her Karthik arranges to bring Poorni and her ex-groom-to-be back together.  Shakti sees Poorni and Karthik together and misunderstands Poorni’s grateful embrace, and she runs off.  [Spoilers follow. Highlight to reveal.] Once Poorni explains the truth to her she tries to get back to Karthik, but on the way to the train station is hit by a car.  As he waits for her train, then roams the city looking for her, he flashes back to how it all began and how much he loves her.  He eventually finds her in the hospital where she is unknown and unconscious:  his presence rouses her and she professes her love for him too.  They realize that although marriage is hard, their mature love will help them make it through. [end of spoilers]

The movie had me in the palm of its hand right from the opening number, where Shakti and her family are getting ready for the wedding: 

Like I said, the second half was overly dramatic for me, but the first half was sweet and the music (with the lovely picturizations) totally made it all worthwhile.  And this was Madhavan in his debut film, after already being known for TV work. I really like burly-ish men and he’s so cuddly and sweet in this.  He really is one of my filmi crushes. I read online that he re-watched this film and was amazed at how skinny he was back in 2000—to me, he’s only gotten more handsome (he was great as the dad in Kannathil Muthammittal, too)!

 

Jenny K:  And didn’t you love Arvind Swamy’s guest appearance at the end there? His scene with his wife was so moving.  He seems to have been one of Mani Ratnam’s go-to guys, using him in Roja and Bombay, and even in early ones like Thalapathi (that I haven’t seen yet…no subtitles).  He was even in that Kajol/Prabhu Deva film, Minsaara Kanavu (Hindi dub – Sapnay).  This one was his last screen performance, though, unless he’ll be doing Mani Ratnam’s next film, as rumored.  He gave up films and went into business.  A loss for us, he really had a gentle presence. 

 

Julie M:  I love the fact that in Tamil films, they cast actresses who look like human beings rather than pretty models.  I was not a huge fan of Shalini, or, rather, her character Shakti, who was pouty and hard to please even though she was supposedly in love with Karthik. And totally no backbone for standing up to her family even though she was supposedly spunky. Sorry, didn’t work for me.

I also didn’t like this number, a beach party with friends where Shakti expresses her displeasure with Karthik.  I thought it was too much pandering to pop culture, although it’s not as bad as the Saathiya analogue song, “Chori Pe Chori”. Eccch.  

 

Jenny K:  Then we’ll just link to them, rather than showcase them.  No need to needlessly distress the readers.  Warning: Go further at Risk of Exposure to Pandering!  LOL

 

Julie M: My final peeve was [Spoiler] the assumption that an accident will instantly bring about mature wedded love. [End] We all know (well, those of us who’ve been married for two decades) that it’s the day in, day out of being with someone and relying on them that makes it happen.  But, it’s a movie, and overall I thought it was pretty good although Saathiya won all the awards.

 

Jenny K:  Now do you know that for sure?  The Filmfare Awards have a separate show, entirely, for the Southern film entries…I know Rahman won one of them for his score, and it didn’t win best picture that year, but, it did pretty darned well from what I can tell on the international filmfest circuit.  Mumbai isn’t everything, after all.

 
Julie M:  So, which is better: Alaipayuthey or Saathiya? I can tell you, I’d much rather watch R. Madhevan than Viveik Oberoi, and Rani Mukherjee than Shalini. But otherwise they seem nearly identical. So why remake? To gather the Hindi audience who doesn’t speak Tamil?

 

Jenny K:  You hit it on the head…I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken with desi audience members who speak Hindi (or Punjabi or Bengali) who tell me they will never go to see Tamil films because they’d have to read subtitles (assuming they have them!).

Nowadays, Mani Ratnam tends to film both films simultaneously in Hindi and Tamil to combine, save money and still retain creative control (Yuva, Raavan, etc). And almost without exception, I prefer the Tamil versions. Less polish, more grit always makes it seem more realistic, even if they do keep bursting into song.  And though it’s a close thing, I think the Tamil lyrics “fit” the Rahman music better than almost any Hindi they put to it (sorry Gulzar, no disrespect intended). It just seems to flow a bit easier, as if it’s written with the Tamil in mind and then the Hindi is made to fit, and so it’s a touch more awkward. Could be just me, but I’d bet money the Tamil lyric always comes first.

[a day or so later]

Jenny K:  New Vidya Balan flick out this weekend…Kahaani (Story, 2012)…looks like an eerie psychological thriller…sounds just up your alley! The last shot…very creepy….

Julie M:  Oooooh. It’s here in my local, too. Unfortunately, spending $10 at the movies at this time is not in the cards. I’ll have to wait for the DVD or online streaming version.

 [Later in the week]

Jenny K:  Gosh, I’m sorry you won’t be able to see this on the big screen.  Kahaani is what Hindi cinema has been aiming at for a long time, in that it’s as polished as any Western suspense film, but maintains a very vivid, convincing sense of itself and the country that it springs from.  I was completely drawn in.…It’s sort of  a Hitchcock suspense film, with bits of John le Carré or Graham Greene thrown in for the politics and paranoia.  Who’s the villain?…I mean, are the villains??….Wait, are there villains?  Or am I crazy?  Where’s Kim Novak in all of this?  Or Jimmy Stewart?  This feels like a classic in the making, full of ambiguous motives and danger galore.  And the ending succeeded in surprising me!  Imagine that…Wonderful.

The plot is fairly simple, Vidya Balan plays Vidya Bagchi, a talented computer programmer who has come to Kolkata to find her husband, Arnab, who’s gone missing after two weeks of working there on another computer project.  Vidya is very, very pregnant, and is determined to not let the red tape of Bengali police and politics keep her from finding her man.  She’s a tough lady under her everpresent maternal glow, and no police official can ignore her, or if he does, it’s very unwise.  She’s befriended by one particular officer,  Inspector Satyoki Rana (an endearing Parambrata Chattopadhyay) who aids her search, even at the risk of losing his job…and his heart to her.

Vidya seems to be going as quickly backwards as forwards in her search.  No one seems to even know her husband was there.  One person thinks that Arnab looks just like one of her ex-employees…but why is he “ex”?  No one knows who or where he is, either.   If Vidya finds a lead, the next thing she knows, that person is dead.  Who is killing them?  It can’t be that harmless looking man from India Insurance, can it?  Bob Biswas (Saswata Chatterjee) looks too much like Jim Broadbent to be evil, surely?  Is it the master manipulator A. Khan, who is so mysterious that he has no first name?  Or might the big boss, Dhritiman Chatterjee, (ooh, I loved him in 36 Chowringhee Lane, and Black, too) be blocking her hunt for political reasons? Well, let’s just say that the red herrings flow as fast and furious as color on Holi.

Kahaani is a sensual experience.  The cinematography envelops you in the city of Kolkata, so that you can almost taste it.  The shots of the Durga Pooja alone are worth the ticket price.  The music by Vishal/Shekhar is interesting, diverse and juxtaposes the past and the present seamlessly.  No real production numbers, yet the edgy quality carries the plot very well, as in this song. 

Vidya’s performance is masterful, as expected.  She plays with the camera like a virtuoso, and keeps all her mysteries to herself while making her character very identifiable at the same time.  How does she do that?

But the newsmaker in this film is Nawazuddin Siddiqui who plays A. Khan, a government higher-up who really steals your attention every time he’s on screen. He was good as the young reporter in Peepli Live, too, but I didn’t recognize him from it until I looked him up. I may now have to find a copy of Patang, as well, to watch him in it. Sigh, it’s an indie film, it’s going to be a difficult “get”. Here are two short articles on him, in the Times of India and the Deccan Chronicle, the latter is better.   

 

Julie M:  Peepli Live is on my list of recent movies to find and watch.  The very LONG list!

 

Jenny K:  You might even call it…wait for it…a Hit List!  But please don’t.  I’m still looking over my shoulder….I may never sleep quietly again, at least not in Kolkata.

March 8, 2012: Goin’, Goin’…Gone on Prem Kahaniyan

Jenny K:  It seems all that I’m drawn to recently are prem kahaniyan, or in the gori vernacular, love stories…granted, not traditional romances, but in theaters or out, that’s what I’ve been watching. Here is my take on three of the most recent winners in the “luv stakes” races.

First was “in theater”…three weeks back, some of my Hindi Movie Pack and I went to see the latest Imraan Khan film, Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (One Me and One You, 2012). It was an almost sweet, not-quite-meet-cute, shot at romantic comedy that has Imraan depicted as an NRI “good boy” whose life ambition is to get along calmly and with as few disruptions to his life  (and his parents’ wishes) as he can deliver. He has gone into his parents’ chosen field for him, architecture (they own a construction company) and is now serving his lowly intro-level years at a prestigious firm in Las Vegas.

There he meets Quirky Free Spirit, hairstylist Kareena Kapoor at a shared psychiatrist’s office, and she disrupts his life plans (and ruins his haircut!) forever. In the course of trying too hard to prove himself “not boring,” they tie one on and wake up married in a handy Las Vegas wedding chapel! The rest is how they wend their way out of this mess.  This is the first anti-shaadi film I’ve ever seen.

I find it interesting that in the trailer they begin with those really early era graphics, because all through the film I kept being reminded of early Cary Grant films, you know, the ones with Kate Hepburn leading Cary around by the nose into one crazy scrape after another, and doing some of those almost patented double-takes, that Imraan seems to be born to wear, too. No, seriously, it’s also a physical resemblance…the height, the dark hair with the widow’s peak, the dimple in the chin…go check the old still pictures from the 1920’s and ‘30s!

Not that Kareena is quite a Kate Hepburn, but I found, as the film unrolled, that I was interested in how their lives would untangle and if, indeed, they would end up together. No, I won’t say. Just that I enjoyed the ending, and didn’t want to scream at the screenwriters. Nice change. Also liked this number, where the action has moved back to India and the whole family (hers) has gone out to an “old fashioned” New Years Eve celebration at “the club,”dragging him along. I’m still in mourning for his Cary Grant-ish haircut.

Julie M:  I love cute rom-coms too, and have been craving one.  Last one I saw and really liked, unequivocably, was a while back, Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha.  And one of my favorite rom-com genres is “got married too soon,” (made famous on TV by Dharma and Greg). I missed it in the theater, but EMAET is one I will watch for as a library DVD. Kareena did not annoy me in the trailer–let’s hope it’s as enjoyable as Jab We Met (my fave Kareena rom-com). And was Farah Khan the choreographer for “Aunty Ji”? because it’s just her style.

 

Jenny K:  Not Farah…she’s really only directing now, and choreographs for her own films, and Shah Rukh’s occasionally. This one was a guy named Bosco Martis and another one named Rajeev Soorti is listed, too. Bosco is definitely in this making-of video.

 

Julie M:  My research reveals that one of the location shoots was in Pataudi…the home princeship of Kareena’s intended, Saif Ali Khan.  Hmm…

 

Jenny K:  So, next on my oddball romance mix, was Dil Bole Hadippa! (The Heart Says Hurray! 2009) which put the balls in oddball…cricket balls, that is. You wouldn’t think that a cricket romance would be too unusual in Hindi film, Lagaan, right? But this one adds a cross-dressing twist.  Rani Mukherji plays a cricket-mad Punjabi girl from Amritsar named Veera, who has always had a dream to be able to play on a national team but her gender stops her, despite her proven “mad skills” on the cricket field.

One day after being turned away from tryouts, yet again, she goes back to her home with the troupe of wandering players she lives with and has to do a “trouser role,” off the cuff, if you’ll pardon the pun, to stand in for an actor who is falling-down drunk. Translated lyrics are under the original Youtube post.

That she pulls this off successfully leads her to hope that with a little more work she can fool the newly arrived, London-bred son of the team owner who is now coaching his dad’s team. Shahid Kapoor plays Rohan, the tough-to-please coach who fails to recognize his newest phenom, “Veer” as the girl he’s both fighting with and romancing at the local fair; he thinks she’s “Veer’s” twin sister. Ah, the things we swallow for a fun romance with lovely big dance numbers like this one.

I think that this is the most attractive persona that I’ve seen Shahid wear yet. Maybe because he’s not trying so hard to please, as Rohan’s natural disposition tends toward cranky. He sure can dance, though, and even delivers a convincing performance throughout the culminating cricket match where he gets to exercise those impressive biceps, and even does a creditably cute DDLJ Raj impression for Veera.

Julie M:  Again, another difference between us.  I don’t mind Shahid at all, and he’s proven he can do Punjabi-milieu, dance, comedy and romance, in Jab We Met (a seriously underrated film in this genre).  Dil Bole Hadippa! is another on my list of “to watch” given my insane fangirl admiration for Rani; however, since it hasn’t hit my library yet it’s not gonna. Guess I’d better find a place I can pay $3 to stream it. And you know you got me with Shahid’s dancing, and all the bhangra beats.

 

Jenny K:  Well, you don’t have to look far…Yashraj Channel at Youtube, $1.99…

The final leg of my romance trifecta, is an old one, Aandhi (Storm) from 1975. My pal Jayesh loaned me two films, and this was the first one that I got to, and boy was it unexpected. One of lyricist Gulzar’s directorial efforts, this must be his best to date. I’d seen his atmospheric ghost story with Vinod Khanna and Dimple Kapadia, Lekin… but haven’t actually finished it. I always thought that it was a bit too lyrical for my non-poetic soul. This one, on the other hand, was delightfully mater-of-fact for a romance. And it is telling the tale of a mature couple, Suchitra Sen and Sanjeev Kumar, who find each other again after years apart, all wrapped up in a story of political aspiration and machination. Extra bonus!

The story begins with Artidevi (Suchitra in her second to last film) as a political force who is facing a troubled reelection campaign. Her campaign managers don’t know how she, a Ghandian pacifist, is going to fight her rivals who control the newspapers and the funding of the business elites if she insists on fighting a clean, honest campaign. She goes to another town where a rally is to be held and moves her headquarters to a hotel there. She feels oddly at home there, and finds that the manager of the hotel is none other than her estranged husband.  She left him years ago when her desire for political office couldn’t be sated with a simple home life as a wife and…egad…mother! Surprise number one.

Aarti has lots of trouble fighting her growing attraction to her ex, J.K. (Sanjeev Kumar, who I just loved as the Thakur in Sholay) and more trouble winning back her troubled constituency, especially as they are spurred on to discontent by the opposition, headed by Chandrasen (a deceptively mild-looking villain played by Om Shivpuri). Here’s that scene, with one of the best songs in the R.D. Burman score.  No subtitles, but the main lyric is a tongue in cheek refrain paraphrased as “Here come the high-muckety-mucks carting along their many blessings for us. Let’s see what they’ve got.”

The story goes on unfolding slowly in both the present and the past, letting us know the history of our couple, how they met (the best meeting I’ve seen in any Hindi film, surprise number two), how they married against the wishes of her wealthy, powerful father, and how they came to a decision that they couldn’t stay together. Surprise number three, no one is truly happy, but politics is a stern bedfellow, and asks a lot of one.

 

Julie M:  Wow, a romance with grownups. Or, rather, grownup actors playing their age, in a world that somewhat resembles reality.  God bless the 1970s.

 

Jenny K:  Supposedly loosely based on the life and troubled marriage of Indira Ghandi, this film was banned for a year or two, until her death allowed the clearance to come through. Available, free from Shemaroo, on Youtube, with subtitles you can turn on, I’d highly recommend it.

March 5, 2012: Politics, Poetry, Prose ~ A Filmi World-Serious

Julie M:  Watched Hey Ram (2000) tonight. I am officially in love with Kamal Haasan, who although he is not as good looking as Aamir Khan, is, I think, the better actor. The film was gut-wrenching and absolutely excellent, the story of an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary times, doing things he thought he’d never do as he searches for his convictions. Supporting turns by SRK and Rani Mukherji were likewise excellent (although SRK really overplayed his character’s death scene, what a ham!), and it took me a while to recognize that it was Naseeruddin Shah playing Gandhi, he so completely inhabited the role.          

Jenny K: I know what you mean, but it’s hard to miss that highly identifiable nose.  He’s cute even creaky, old and in a dhoti…I’m so far gone…

 

Julie M:  Haasan plays Sakhet Ram, a Hindu archaeologist in the 1940s who gets along well with the British and is vehemently opposed to Partition and the idea of Pakistan.  Shah Rukh Khan is his friend and fellow archaeologist.  A personal tragedy involving Ram’s wife (Rani Mukherji) radicalizes his hatred towards Muslims, and he becomes an anti-Gandhi activist.  There’s quite a bit of violence and political back-and-forth, which was a little confusing, but a bit of research straightened things out for me.

This review/analysis does more than I ever could to unpack the layers of the film.  I had to read it several times and it only confirmed my opinion of Kamal Haasan’s incredible talent as writer, producer, director and actor.  And I really liked this German compilation of clips to music (not from the film).

Thanks for including this one in the box: amazing. You can tell how much I liked it by how speechless I am.

 

Jenny K:  I should read the article thoroughly and then watch it again… Glad you liked it, though Rani’s final scene gave me the heebie jeebies for a while afterwards the first time I saw it. If you like Kamal Haasan that much, I’ll send you VeluNayakan, that Godfather film the next time I send a package. I know you don’t like mob films much, but it really is one of the best of his that I have seen, plus, it has Mani Ratnam directing it.

 

Julie M:  So I watched the first hour of Pyaasa (Eternal Thirst, 1957) and was thoroughly bored. Unsuccessful poet Vijay (Guru Dutt—who also produced and directed the film, coincidentally like Kamal Haasan!) is turned out by his family, is appreciated only by a prostitute, and meets up with his ex-girlfriend who, as it turns out, is married to someone who can get his poems published.  What to do? Who to choose? Bleh. Snore. Great songs, though, and Mala Sinha is (was) so stunning as Meera, the ex. Didn’t find Waheeda Rehman (as the prostitute) particularly mesmerizing, though–but I understand her big part comes later in the film.  Worth continuing to plow through it?

 

Jenny K:  Wouldn’t have sent it if I didn’t think so…a different kettle of fish from Raj Kapoor’s Awaara, but just as well known, and also classic.  I think the tension builds as it goes on. It’s a bit more along the lines of Devdas in the tortured poet thing, but I found it easier to take. The last scene in the lecture hall is wonderful, and where he is silhouetted in the doorway, it’s almost messianic in its imagery…and the song is fabulous.

But, of course, you must decide for yourself.

[the next day]

Julie M:  I took your advice and finished Pyaasa. Thanks for encouraging me to push on; glad I did.  It actually made more sense to me than Devdas, maybe because I understand the artistic temperament more than I understand stupid boys too weak to claim their love for themselves. I understood why he rejected those who were only willing to acknowledge him once he proved himself financially desirable, because I would have done exactly the same thing. And about the messianic thing, I know it’s Hindu but I found lots of Christ-like imagery (hanging out with prostitutes, “you will deny me three times”, the Christ on the cover of the magazine Meena is reading when she learns that Vijay is dead, etc.) except, of course, this has a much happier ending, we are led to assume.

 

Jenny K:  Some things are universal in their appeal to the human psyche, aren’t they? Whatever your religious point of view.

 

Julie M: Wonderful music, very interesting and poetic lyrics.  I particularly liked this one, where Waheeda’s character is flirting with Vijay thinking he’s a potential customer, but all he wants is his poems back, which she had bought as scrap paper. 

This one was cute, too. The massage-wallah is talking about how great people will feel after he works on them. 

I also liked the call-back to Awaara‘s dream-sequence with the dream sequence in this film. 

At first I thought that Rehman, who played Meena’s evil husband, was Dev Anand–if you take off the glasses they have a similar look. Or maybe it’s just the period–a lot of male actors looked alike.

 

Jenny K:  I thought Rehman reminded me of Prithviraj Kapoor crossed with tiny bits of Shammi (in his quieter moments)…

 

Julie M:  My other weekend viewing was Aarakshan (Reservation, 2011), the one I missed in the theater. This was the film starring (sigh) Amitabh Bachchan as the principled principal Prabhakar Anand, staunchly defending his view that education should be available to anyone from any caste and a reservation (aka quota/affirmative action) system acts to ensure access.

Saif Ali Khan co-stars as Deepak Kumar, a member of one of the low castes whose education was facilitated by Anand’s beliefs and who regards Anand as a mentor. Deepika Padukone plays Poorbi, Anand’s daughter and Deepak’s girlfriend, and Prateik (sigh) is Sushant, a college student and Poorbi and Deepak’s good friend. The villain is Manoj Bajpai, and Yashpal Sharma is a helpful stable owner. Hema Malini makes a cameo appearance at the end, although her photo is seen throughout the first half.

 

Jenny K:  Yeah, I read reviews about this one and thought it sounded too dry to have me spend my hard-earned pesos on it, even given the good intentions of the theme, and Amitabh’s presence.  Was the story interesting?

 

Julie M:  The plot involves Anand, the longtime head of the renowned private college S.T.M., who has a practice of giving a “leg up” to lesser qualified but very promising applicants from backward castes. This enrages the trustees and the upper-caste parents whose children score higher but are rejected because there are no places. Things come to a head when a government minister’s son is rejected, and he installs the evil Mithilesh Singh first as a trustee, then as vice-principal, in an attempt to find a way to oust Anand.

Singh also runs a private coaching school for high-caste students as a very profitable side business. When the government formally adopts a 27% reservation system for public education and employment, the situation blows up both around the country and at S.T.M. Deepak (a S.T.M. instructor headed for the US for his doctorate) and Sushant are on opposite sides of the issue and have a violent confrontation; Anand fires Deepak and expels Sushant. Deepak flees to the US and Sushant disappears. Then Anand loses his job over some comments he made to the press and the family leaves town for a while.

When they return they find that their house has been taken over by Singh’s coaching school and they have no legal way to stop it. Anand puts his principles into action by starting a rival coaching school, for free, in the stable across the street, where he takes all comers, aided by Deepak and Sushant, who have since returned and are buddies again.  This school becomes so popular that Singh seeks to ruin it. You can pretty much guess that he fails; at the end Anand is vindicated and S.T.M.’s founder, played by Hema Malini, funds a new coaching academy with Anand as the principal and chief trustee.

 

Jenny K:  Oh, that Manoj Bajpai! He’s such a delicious villain…I’ve seen him in very few films that he wasn’t indulging in lots of moustache twirling fun. I remember first hearing of him when he was full of sour grapes that he hadn’t been asked to do Devdas rather than SRK. Not sure I can see it. My favorite one with him is still the very over-the-top-and-loving-it Aks with BigB. My winner for Best Psychopath Serial Killer in Hindi films…if not for accuracy, then for sheer audacity. Rather creepy, though…lots of rather unhealthy imagery. Can’t say it’s a true thumbs up.

 

Julie M:  The first half of the film is what you’d expect: plenty of dramatic speeches by various characters on both sides of the reservation system issue, with personality-developing scenes for the main characters. Some people would find the speeches tiresome, but my love for issue-driven film and lack of real knowledge of the issue made it fascinating for me. The second half delves into the family drama and exposes the true evilness of the villain, with inspirational scenes of Anand’s influence on his young students and a stirring climax where the scrappy stable school resists the might of the corrupt government and profiteering private school system. Although it was all somewhat predictable, I was nevertheless quite entertained.

There was one big dance number that was very out of place, however, I liked much better this number from early in the film, introducing the Deepak/Poorbi romance.

This was about as romantic as it got, since they ended up fighting and then separated for most of the rest of the film, never really getting back together.

 

Jenny K:  Were you really expecting romance in such a blatant issue film?  Well, with your favorite, Saif in it, you probably had your fingers crossed.

 

Julie M:  I hated Saif’s mustache and the fact that he was OBVIOUSLY way too old for Deepika’s character (he was supposed to be a recent college grad, she was a college student who somehow had all day-every day free to hang out at her dad’s school). I kept rooting for Poorbi to throw Deepak over and get together with Sushant, because they were a much cuter couple. Alas, she fought with Sushant, too, and after they were out of the action she had nothing else to do except throw tantrums at her parents and narrow her eyes when she was in the presence of the evil Singh.

Overall I liked it–good issue and decent writing and drama. Three stars, would have been 3-1/2 had it not been so darned predictable.

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