April 25, 2012: India saves publishing?

I haven’t done a book review for a while, mainly because I’ve been working through Paul Scott’s The Jewel in the Crown in order to determine if I want to make The Raj Quartet my summer reading project.  I’m halfway through and still haven’t made a decision.

Meanwhile, I came across this article, by Neha Thirani of the New York Times, about the huge growth in English-language publishing in India.

A bookstore in Mumbai

“With the printed word considered an endangered species in much of a rapidly digitizing world, India now represents one of the best English-language book markets in the world…As the India publishing industry matures, a rising number of literary agencies are emerging that are cultivating a new generation of writers in a wide range of genres.”

I find that exciting, since some of my favorite English-language writers are Indian, and I would love to discover new ones.

But the article then throws a bit of cold water on this rosy picture, mentioning by name the Chetan Bhagat phenomenon and ending with this:

“If anything, the industry’s biggest problem may be producing mediocre books in the race to feed such a fast-growing market. ‘There are some publishers who are happy with the growth in the market, but some are concerned about what this will mean for literary writing,’ said Ms. Malhotra of Full Circle Publications. ‘Is it all really about the sales and figures?’ ”

Check out the article and be sure to read the comments.

April 23, 2012: Silk Screenings Galore!

It’s that time of year again in Western Pennsylvania to wallow in a superabundance of amazing Asian American film offerings.  Harish Saluja and his friends, in the know on all things cinematic, especially of the international variety, are putting on a very friendly event called the Silk Screen Asian American Film Festival this May in beautiful downtown Pittsburgh, PA.

I had a chance to attend the first year of this program, six years ago, and even in it’s infancy, the films were great, the guest speakers were wonderful, and the crowd attending was particularly warm and friendly to out-of-towners like myself.  I particularly remember enjoying the chance to chat a bit with Konkona Sen Sharma when she was presenting her film Amu, what an enjoyable film!  And also, getting to dance at the opening night party with the star of Man Push Cart, Ahmad Razvi…guaranteed to give even the most jaded of us “aunties” a girlish thrill!  If you haven’t seen the film, you definitely should, here.  Enough said about past glories…here’s what’s on for this year!

The festival runs from the opening gala on May 11th through the closing on May 20th.  The films they showcase span many nations and cultures, all of Asian American heritage.  The films listed in the Festival Guide cover the cinematic globe from Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Korea, Vietnam, Japan and, of course, a few from India!  I’m in heaven! 

Those of you who have heard us rhapsodizing over Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Peepli Live, Kahaani) and Tannishtha Chatterjee (Road, Movie and Brick Lane), knows I’ll be there for Mangesh Hadewale’s Dekh Indian Circus, the story of a mother’s love for her children and the struggle to get them a rare trip to the circus.  And I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll be able to attend Prashant Bhargava’s Patang, as well. 

Trishna is director Michael Winterbottom’s (A Mighty Heart, The Trip–a hysterical film with Steve Coogan) update of Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” into the contemporary Rajasthani countryside.  It’s a story of two lovers torn between different castes, plus a conflict of tradition versus the newly educated poor.  Frida Pinto of Slumdog Millionaire stars.

Another one that intrigues me is Shala from director Sujay Dahake.  It looks like a very cute coming of age story set in the 1970’s during the Emergency.  School crushes rule destinies, in every country, it seems.

Delhi in a Day looks intriguing, too…though it’s not on a good day for me.  Starring Lillete Dubey (KHNH, Monsoon Wedding) and Kulbushan Kharbanda (Lagaan, Monsoon Wedding) as the heads of a very wealthy nouveau-riche Indian family who rule over their household of very disorderly servants.  Their world is turned upside down when the money of a naive British visitor (Lee Williams) disappears and they have to replace it. Directed by Prashant Nair.

And there are so many others…I wish I could catch them all.  Hope I see some of you there, as well!

April 18, 2012: The Wah!-Wah!-WayBack Machine

Since the local Hindi cinemas have been stuck in Houseful mode since Kahaani left town (and I have to draw the line, somewhere!) Julie and I have been digging back, on dvd,  with our own “WayBack Machine” to see what we could have been watching in our elementary school days, if we had known what we were missing…and had been in Bombay.  Wah!  Wah!  Wonderful!

 

Jenny K:  I finished watching Namak Haraam (1973), the second film that Jayesh loaned me, and he didn’t steer me wrong!  You and I are both an easy sell on Amitabh Bachchan films, and this has the bonus of being a classic Indian Bromance (aren’t they all!) opposite Rajesh Khanna.  I  hadn’t seen Rajesh in anything except cameo appearances in more recent films (Aa Ab Laut Chalen, the huge group number in OSO).  Add to this a very, very young Rekha (practically didn’t recognize her without her now patented glamour look!) and well, what’s not to like?

The basic plot is predictable, but the performances make it well worth watching.   Somu (Rajesh) is the poorer half of two best buddies in Delhi.  The rich half is Vicky (Amitabh).  Both have lost parents at a very young age, and the boys “adopted” the other’s to fill in the gaps.  Vicky calls Somu’s mother and sister “Maa” and “Behen,” while Somu sees Vicky’s father as the hard-boiled business mogul he never had.  They’d both gone to law school and were clerking at the same firm, until one got fired, so the other quit in solidarity.  Vicky, despite his wealth, is a bit of a lost soul, and keeps turning to the bottle, drinking and going to see the nautch girls (in upscale joints, of course) and dragging Somu along with him to try to keep him on the ragged edge of the straight and narrow.

The trouble ramps up when Vicky’s father has a heart attack and asks Vicky to take his place as the head of the family millworks.  He agrees reluctantly (too much like actual work) and leaves for home.  Somu can’t handle being away from his Bro for more than a week or two and comes to join him.   Vicky doesn’t know how to handle the union boss, Bipinlal (the omnipresent AK Hangal) and insults him, not realizing the union will go on strike.  To end it, his father forces Vicky to apologize to Bipinlal, in public, advising him to revenge himself in secret, after the mill is operational.  Somu offers to go undercover and undermine Bipinlal’s position from the inside…getting Vicky’s revenge by humiliating the older man.

It goes fairly well, until soft-hearted Somu finds “seeing how the other half lives” can be a profoundly affecting experience.  Vicky had no idea what life-changing results would come of his seemingly harmless plans.  Will they even still be friends at the end???  On Youtube for free…

Julie M:  I’ve really gotten a taste for these heartfelt, 1970s “best buds” movies.  It’s a part of Indian culture that I find very sweet, and something that’s just not explored enough here.  Maybe because in the US there’s no way to talk about this kind of bond without bringing either sex or disgusting bodily functions into it.

 

Jenny K:  Don’t speak of such things!  Shudder

The performances were good, as one would expect from a gifted “actor’s director” like Hrishikesh Mukherjee (Abhimaan), and our heroes made the twists rather touching, if not exactly surprising.  Rajesh comes off a bit better, because he isn’t presented as a confused juvenile in an extremely long three piece suit.  You never doubt Vicky’s feelings, but often doubt he’ll ever grow up. Somu definitely does. Spoilers in this video, but you see what I mean…

My favorite actor in a lesser role is Raza Murad as Alam the poet.  Six foot three, with the rakish grin of a young Clark Gable when we meet him careening down a dark street, spouting his ghazals.  Somu is attracted to him immediately, and so was I.  The scene where he’s defending his neighbor’s wife and his final scene are both very touching, and I mean to keep a look out for him in some of his other films (over 270!).  What a great voice and why haven’t I seen him before? 

Julie M:  Wow.  Great performance in that clip.  I’m glad you are getting into the glory that is Rajesh Khanna.  We already spoke about how much I loved Anurodh, and tonight’s feature was Ajnabee (Stranger, 1974), a typical romance/thriller of the era starring lots of garish costumes and Rajesh Khanna’s perennially bad hair. No bromances, though—just good-old-fashioned thwarted lovers.

Rohit Kumar Saxena (Khanna) is the night stationmaster at a remote rail outpost, when his sleepy duties are interrupted by a young woman Sonia (Yogita Bali) rushing to get to Bombay. She misses the last train and he offers her his apartment, rather than having to sleep on the platform overnight. She agrees, giving him her attache case to hold in his safe: it is filled with jewelry given to her by her estranged mother. In his apartment she remarks on a painting; he tells her it was painted by his wife, from whom he is separated.

This disclosure prompts a lengthy flashback to the meet-cute between Rohit and Rashmi (Zeenat Aman), a young, attractive heiress. They accidentally re-meet at his cousin’s wedding, and he entertains the gathering with a story of how he met a girl that day (shades of Anurodh, 3 years earlier!).

Of course they fall in love. She is being pursued by her deceased sister’s widower Moti (Prem Chopra), who wants to marry her to keep his grip on the family’s fortune. Moti runs Rohit out of town but at the train station Rashmi catches up to him, and they elope to Bombay.  

Wedded bliss ensues, but she soon grows bored at home and starts a modeling career to Rohit’s dismay. A tragic misunderstanding estranges the couple, Rashmi runs back to her father and Moti, and so Rohit takes his stationmaster position.

Back in the present, Sonia has turned up dead in Rohit’s apartment, and he’s charged with killing her to steal the jewelry. The case against him seems solid: will Rohit be convicted and never see Rashmi again? If not Rohit, who really killed Sonia and why? Will Moti succeed in his plan to get Rashmi and her money?

I found Ajnabee quite enjoyable. Khanna and Aman had great chemistry and made a very convincing couple-in-love.  He rocked some awesome leisure suits (complete with pit-stains, chee!) and her wardrobe of flashy chiffon saris sometimes made my eyes burn, but I overlooked all that because of one number called “Satrah Baras Ki Chhokariyan” where she gets high on bhang and imagines herself in a particularly saucy dance performance. The thriller aspects are quite effective even with the horribly tinny soundtrack, and the pacing, quick. I’m growing an appreciation for Rajesh Khanna…Ajnabee is definitely worth a watch if you run across it.

 

Jenny K:  Sounds like fun, even if I’m not overly fond of the Seventies ooh-ooh-ouvre.

 

Julie M:  Oh, but you HAVE to love Zeenat.  I haven’t seen her in much, but this has her all over it.  By the way, this film shouldn’t be confused with the 2001 thriller by the same name, starring Akshay Kumar, Bobby Deol, Kareena and Bipasha. The newer movie has a character named Sonia who is mysteriously found dead and the lead character (Bobby) is accused of her murder, but that’s where the similarity ends. It’s not a remake. But the 2001 one sounds really cool, I love Akshay in thriller-mysteries, and I’ll have to try and find it. Or maybe I’ll just watch this video over and over.

Jenny K:  I saw the 2001 Ajnabee and it’s a remake of Consenting Adults (1992).  Let’s just say that Akshay (even with his oh-so-charming smile), Bobby Deol, and Kareena Kapoor can’t hold up to the original cast: Kevin Spacey, Kevin Kline and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. With their combined acting chops, the earlier cast made even a fairly salacious film idea palatable. Consenting Adults  is on Youtube, in pieces, for comparisons.

 

Julie M:  I never saw Consenting Adults, but Kevin Kline…one of my faves.

Adding one more old movie to the list…I watched Teen Deviyan (Three Beauties, 1965).  It must have been quite the sensation when it came out…but more on that later.

Plot summary: handsome Dev (Dev Anand) is an amateur poet who has just taken a job as a clerk in a music store and rented a room in a big house. As he is moving in he meets Nanda (Nanda), a feisty, attractive secretary who also has a room in the house, and they start a very close friendship.

Next, he has an automotive encounter with another woman, who turns out to be the glamorous and fun-loving actress Kalpana (Kalpana Mohan).  They begin to see each other.

Then, on the job, he delivers a piano to the wealthy and sophisticated Simi (Simi Garewal), who takes an interest in his career and sponsors him–and they fall in love. As Dev’s fame as a poet grows, he continues to see all of the women and his relationship with each becomes more intense. Although he is happy seeing all of them, and they all know about each other, he feels that it’s not right to string them all along: he must choose.

 

Jenny K:  Does Simi Garewal always play the wealthy and sophisticated girl who the hero doesn’t end up with?  That could have been her character description as Manisha in Namak Haraam, too.  Such a small, thankless part (the girl Amitabh’s father wanted him to marry) that I didn’t even bother to include her.

 

Julie M: Poor Dev.  Equally in love with three beautiful women, and he can’t decide which one to focus on. So what else is there to do but see a hypnotist, who helps Dev look deep in his soul and find the girl his heart desires the most. I’m going to leave that part a mystery, but let’s just say it’s kind of predictable.

The thing about this movie is that nearly all the DVD copies leave out a key scene, the one at the hypnotist’s, where he sees what his life would be with each of his potential mates, that helps him makes his decision. Although the rest of the film is in black and white, this scene is in full color. My DVD did not have the scene: I’d love to find it, because as it played out it was kind of choppy–he is at the hypnotist, looks into a crystal ball and then BAM, he’s rushing out of there to find his true love.  Everyone who’s seen it says that it’s freaky, amazing, and sufficiently weird to have caused a few social issues among the viewing public.

The most groundbreaking thing about this film is that it has NO FAMILY DRAMA AT ALL. No parents–all the characters are independent, modern grownups–and family considerations don’t even play into their decisions. Everyone is quite contemporary and urban, and the women are all forward and very sensual with no moral judgment implied for being so. Again, I can see why it caused such a sensation when it first came out.

I found the songs boring (except for one village scene where Kalpana lets loose and dances her heart out,  and another where she wigs out at a party), but the relationships he has with each woman are fairly interesting.

The film is available free on YouTube but not with English subtitles.  You’d have to pay $1.99 to get those, but it’s worth the expense to see this classic.

April 11, 2012: Abhay, Aisha, and Crap, on the Road

Jenny K:  I don’t know…the world must be coming to an end. I watched Delhi Belly the other day and didn’t hate it near as much as I thought I would.  Yes, it’s disgusting and gross, just like I thought…practically a Hindi Dumb, Dumber and Dumbest. However, it was pretty tightly scripted for one of those things, and the cameo appearances were good. I especially liked Vijay Raaz (Monsoon Wedding) as Cowboy the thwarted drug baron. He was really evil in a very charming way.  And, even covered with plaster dust, Imraan is always Imraan.

Short synopsis. Three slacker friends live in one incredibly dirty apartment in Delhi. Taashi (Imraan Khan), the semi-normal one, has a very rich girly fiancee, Sonia (Shenaaz Treasury). Sonia smuggles something into the country, as a favor for a friend. She has no idea what she’s carrying. She passes the delivery on to Taashi, who is very busy trying to be a “real reporter” not just a gossip journo, and passes it to his photographer and roommate, Nitin (Kunal Roy Kapoor), who has eaten something dangerously bad (any roach-riddled thing in their kitchen!) and is nursing the worst case of Delhi Belly on record. His bowels play the actual soundtrack to the film. Almost not kidding.

Due to his frequent emergency dashes to the loo, Nitin passes the delivery on to their other roommate, Arup (Vir Das) an unassuming cartoonist, silently seething in incipient anarchy against his boor of a boss. At the same time, he’s to deliver Nitin’s stool sample to the doctor’s office, and, of course, mixes up the two packages and delivers the crap to the drug baron. The whole rest of the movie is the plotting that goes on, trying to trade the drugs for hostages, money, etc. And it’s pretty fun, if gross, to watch. And yes, Aamir’s cameo at the end in “Return of the Disco Fighter” is fun, but not really necessary.

Julie M:  I’ll watch for it at my library but the out-and-out Indian comedies tend to make me squirm, and I’m not a fan of extended poo jokes. I can barely stand the comic-relief characters in more serious movies. Yes, I’m looking at you, fat guy from Bodyguard. But having said that, the trailer looks fun. Unless it’s one of those situations when the trailer shows all the good parts and the rest is just bad.  Like almost every Judd Apatow movie.

  

Jenny K:  No, it’s definitely better than those…trust me.  I’m not a full-out slapstick fan, either.

 

Julie M:  My recent film was Road, Movie (2009) with (sigh) Abhay Deol, who I had wanted to see more of every since Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, my first experience with him.  Road is a great “film festival” type film, full of finely drawn characters and beautiful cinematography, a main character who finds himself during a journey, and plenty of heart. Here’s the trailer.

Vishnu (Abhay) is a young, middle-class city dweller who yearns for more out of life than slotting into his father’s barely-there hair-oil business. When his uncle needs to transport his old mobile-cinema truck to a museum on the other side of the country, Vishnu jumps at the chance for a solo road trip and maybe some adventure along the way.

He picks up a young runaway (Mohammad Faizal) who is his complete personality opposite, and when the truck breaks down an elderly mechanic (Satish Kaushik) bails him out for the price of a ride through the Rajasthan landscape. They get lost and wander without food or water, get picked up by the cops for having no papers, meet a gypsy woman (Tannishtha Chatterjee) on the run from an evil water-lord (Yashpal Sharma), conjure up a carnival and, like Sheherezade, find that they constantly have to show films in order to live for another day. By the end Vishnu learns to appreciate friendship offered with no strings and realizes what being a man really means.

In addition to lovely, quiet performances from the stellar ensemble cast and constant, very lush visuals (including Abhay Deol), Road, Movie has some great stuff to offer the Bollywood film fan. I counted clips from no less than five classic films I had seen including Deewar, Umrao Jaan and Pyaasa plus many others I have not yet seen. In fact, hair oil as a theme and metaphor pops up throughout the film, not in the least of which is through the wonderful song “Sar Jo Tera Chakraye” from Pyaasa, which gets a pop remix in addition to showing the original number. Here’s the music video.

The film moves fairly slowly and the camera lingers on the landscape and Deol’s sweaty, dusty frame far too often—I mean, often enough for me but maybe too much for someone else—however, I would recommend it for a nice change of pace away from romantic comedies and gangster shoot-em-ups. And it’s only about an hour and a half investment of one’s time.

Road, Movie is available free on Youtube, unfortunately without subtitles.  

 

Jenny K:  I watched Road, Movie on Netflix and it was an unusual one.  I loved the dreamy, almost surrealistic quality of the road trip, with the women with the water pots on their heads appearing every so often, from nowhere without notice.  I liked Abhay Deol and all the leads, especially Satish Kaushik as Om, were very good at their roles.  The visuals were mesmerizing, with the director, Dev Benegal and the cinematographer, Michel Amathieu painting color-drenched murals behind the silhouetted truck.  Remind me never to go to that endless plate of sun-parched salt where the mela “appeared”…I shuddered just looking at it.  Why would I want to go there?  Why would they? 

That is, in a nutshell, what the problem with this film is for me…dreamy as it is to look at, it didn’t make much sense.  And the nonsensical quality wasn’t whimsically charming, as perhaps what they were going for, it just interrupted my “suspension of disbelief,” so often it became mildly annoying.  

Why was Abhay’s character so clueless?  He didn’t seem actually stupid, yet seemed set on alienating all of those best placed to help him on his trip.  Why, if he’s so self-absorbed, would he agree to keep driving for what seemed like days at a time, aimlessly into the desert, until they were all but dead from dehydration?  And in the middle of nowhere…where did those carnival folk come from, and go to?    Were they there at all?  Who knows?  Oh, dear.  I’ve never liked magic realism much…

Julie M:  I guess that’s another difference between us.  I was perfectly willing to suspend my disbelief and just enjoy the scenery (including Abhay), and let the possibilities wash over me.  I’m not even 100% sure the carnival was real—it might well have been a thirst-induced hallucination—and I felt that the dry, endless desert represented how Vishnu perceived his life, dull and devoid of joy, and these other characters were personifications of lessons he had to learn in order to bring himself back into balance…the filmmaking technique certainly could lead one to think in that direction.

I have to interject at this point, briefly, that after Road, Movie I saw Brick Lane (2007), also with Satish Kaushik and Tannishtha Chatterjee, this time as a Bangladeshi immigrant couple living in London with their children.  Here’s the trailer.

Brick Lane was a dazzling showcase for Tannishtha’s talents, and both of them acted extremely well and almost entirely in English. Overall, though, I found it not nearly as fascinating as the book.  A.O. Scott from the NYT agrees with me.    And that’s all I’m going to say on that.  It’s available online, for $2.99 on YouTube.  

[after a few more days]

Jenny K:  Pat and Kathy and I tiptoed through my Netflix queue the other day and gave into Pat’s not-so-secret crush on Shahid…we put in Kismat Konnection (2008), and only lasted about fifteen minutes before she herself was screaming for a change. Part of it was, I will admit, the Netflix subtitle cut-off problem on my tv. However, the plot was so weak, that I’ve blocked the whole thing out of my mind.

  

Julie M:  I found it on YouTube, free, subtitled, in parts.  Maybe this will solve your subtitle issue, but not the screamingly bad issue. So you’re saying that I should nix my own Shahid leanings and avoid it, eh?  Pity.

Jenny K:  Well, you seem to be willing to overlook his weaker movies, if he’s cute enough…so, you might still like it.  We ended up ditching Shahid in favor of Aisha (2010) also starring our boy, Abhay Deol. It’s an adaptation of Emma, the novel by Jane Austen…or rather, it’s a remake of Clueless (1995) which was a better adaptation of Emma.

The star, Sonam Kapoor, was less absent than she was in Mausam (but still as giraffe-like) as our rich girl Emma, I mean Aisha, gleefully filling her idle hours as a matchmaker to her shy, lower caste friend Shefali. It wasn’t obvious to a non-desi like me what was so low-caste about her; Shefali seemed nicer and prettier than our Emma’s crabby best friend Pinky (Ira Dubey), and so we lost a critical bit of the plot motivator, IMO. And because her father was not a stay-at-home recluse, why didn’t Aisha want to get married herself? No clue. 

Abhay played their version of Mr. Knightley quite well, but wasn’t really old enough to convey the “surprise” element of their romance. He wasn’t any kind of guiding/restraining hand for Aisha as Knightley was in Emma. They still fought cute, but you were mighty good and ready for them to realize their mutual affection, well before the end. Most of the supporting cast members were interesting, if not earthshakingly so. I particularly liked Arunoday Singh as Druv (the putative Frank Churchill) who was not nearly as reprehensible in his behavior as FC in the novel. Arunoday was quite buff and dapper with his red shirt and the spiffy Panama hat he wears in the dance number below. He has a better looking Gregory Hines thing going on.

So, I liked Aisha, on the whole, as I like most BollyAusten remakes (Bride and Prejudice, Kandukondain Kandukondain), but thought it could have made the connections a bit tighter and therefore clearer. I can’t even fathom how a plan to fix up Shefali with her “Mr. Elton,” Randhir (Cyrus Sahukar, who isn’t as big a dud as he should be), could consist of stranding the two of them alone at a hotel and making overnight reservations for them…in INDIA? WTHeck was Aisha thinking would happen???? Nice kids, they walked home, understandably tired and grumpy about her treatment of them. Clueless, indeed…

  

Julie M:  I have to come clean and admit here that I am SO not an Austen fan and have never read Emma. I did see Clueless, though, so am somewhat familiar with the story. I have tried to get through P&P at least four times and not made it past the first few chapters, and perish the thought of anything else like Sense and Sensibility (although the recent version that adds sea-monsters might be more to my liking). So anything Austen, or twists on Austen, whoosh right over my head at least in their comparison to the original.  I loved B&P, loved KK, and maybe I loved them more because I had absolutely no expectations.

  

Jenny K:  Not like Austen? Are you sure you’re a girl??  Does B know???  That sea-monsters comment is a dead give-away, BTW.  Next you’ll be asking for zombies in Devdas!

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