July 25, 2012: Farewell, Kaka

Julie M:  As a fitting tribute to the romantic heartthrob of Bollywood…we chose Rajesh Khanna in his award winning role, Anand (1971).

 

Jenny K:  His passing last week leaves a large empty place in the Bollywood pantheon that will take a lot to fill.  His work in this film garnered him the Filmfare Best Actor award for that year, and it was really deserved.

Julie M: Anand is not a romantic role for him; although there is a somewhat tragic romance in the back story, it gives Khanna the chance to show his dramatic range and boy-next-door good looks to advantage.  For a 15-minute overview (sorry, no subtitles), check this out. 

Plot summary: After winning an award for writing a novel, Dr. Baskhar Banerjee (Amitabh Bachchan, in his debut lead role) tells, in flashback, the true story of the man who inspired the book. Banerjee is an oncologist, a very serious man, and is disillusioned about how little he can do to cure people who live in poverty and can barely afford food, much less expensive medicines. At a visit to a fellow doctor to discuss a case he meets the doctor’s old friend, Anand (Rajesh Khanna), a jovial and chatty fellow who has recently arrived in Mumbai from Delhi. Banerjee is first overwhelmed, then charmed, by Anand’s energy and unflagging good spirits, particularly when he learns that Anand is in the final stages of an incurable cancer.

Anand gravitates to Banerjee, and Banerjee invites Anand to leave his nursing home and move in with him. Over the course of the next hour or so of story we watch the friendship grow, and Anand’s philosophy of making as many friends as possible, finding poetry in the everyday and living life to the fullest grows on Banerjee. Anand plays matchmaker between Banerjee and a former patient that he has a crush on, and delights in the budding romance; but he occasionally lets his more pensive side slip out. 

By the end of the film Banerjee has learned to love and to let go, and reluctantly bids Anand goodbye.

Rajesh Khanna is perfect as the bubbly Anand, and his small round form contrasts visually with Bachchan’s tall sober angularities. The bromance works because of this dichotomy, and Khanna’s beaming face totally charmed me.  And the songs are supposed to be among the most poetic and heartfelt of its era. 

Jenny K:  I agree that Rajesh Khanna lights up the screen in every scene.  He certainly put everything into it…and how young Amitabh looks! Soooo schweet, as the saying goes. Ah, Indian filmmakers do know how to do the male friendship right, don’t they? They always give us the most touching emotional scenes, and depict honest affection between guys, even if they aren’t relatives.  It’s nice to see that kind of relationship put out there without worrying about how it might come across.  Hint:  America…you could take a lesson or two! 

Julie M:  My feeling about RK is that he’s so innocent, his eyes are so soulful, and his forte seemed so much to be the “earnest romantic guy,” that seeing him in this bromance was a bit unexpected. I was kind of bowled over by the energy. He didn’t get to play off a leading lady here, and what was so wonderful about him was his chemistry with the best romantic leads of the day: Sharmila, Zeenat, even Simple Kapadia. We’ve talked about that side of him here in Anurodh and here in Ajnabee.

 

Jenny K:  Before I watched Anand I started to watch his first big hit Aradhana(Worship) (1969) with Sharmila Tagore that I had sitting in the pile near my DVD player for some reason. By the way, what is it with all his “A” titles? You’d think it was his lucky letter, like “K” is for Karan Johar! 

In any case, Rajesh was much more romantic and charming in Aradhana, blithely singing to his yet-undiscovered love, Sharmila, while she gazes from a train as he drives in his car next to it. The archetypal filmi hero.  I’ll update the post when I’ve finished the film, but it is chugging along, delightfully.

 

Julie M:  And in Anand, RK had great hair. That was what was so weird about him—in 90% of his films he had bad hair, and spotty skin, and a chubby face, and supremely bad clothes, yet the combination was irresistible.

 

Jenny K:  I thought Rajesh looked wonderful all through, different from BigB (always one of our favorite guys) but still quite attractive. He aged well, too, rather elder statesman-esque.  I enjoyed his cameo playing Akshaye Khanna’s estranged father in Aa Ab Laut Chalen (1999). 

I also liked some of our old standby character actors…Lalita Pawar playing the easily thawed hospital Matron cum Ma, who we saw as the principal in Shammi’s Professor. And Johnny Walker of all those Guru Dutt films, doing, for him, almost a straight dramatic role as Issabhai. Almost didn’t recognize him!

 

Julie M:  Didn’t you get kind of a reverse Kal Ho Naa Ho vibe off Anand? You know, cute charming dying guy puts best friend together with life partner before passing away? And the death scene was SO reminiscent of this one in KHNH. Is that a trope in Indian film or was KHNH deliberately calling back Anand?

Jenny K:  I don’t know if it was on purpose, but with the dying man changing the life of the ones he loves, though the sex is changed (Preity taking the Amitabh role, sort of), it really feels intentional. All the behind the scenes matchmaking, to get his friends and family taken care of before he goes, then little things, like the scenes in the kitchens, with Anand/Aman (note the similar names, too?!?) cutting onions, etc. cooking for the family, talking a blue streak, so much that it almost seems annoying as much as charming. And the late Dara Singh showing up in both films, too. Dara was very handsome in a large, oversized way, wasn’t he?

 

Julie M:  I’m sure it’s on purpose.  Too close not to be.

 

Jenny K:  Also, you have a few of the unfortunate parallels, too…like how healthy both of them look until moments before they die, actually, unbelievably so. And how they linger on until they have their last words with everyone concerned (either live, or on tape) and then check out, messiah-like, having taken care of everyone, he/they can now rest in peace. Yep, you’re right, both of those last scenes are weep-fests. 

Julie M:  Just for fun, here is the “chatty dying man has pensive moment” song from KHNH that parallels the one in Anand 

Jenny K: Though it isn’t my favorite Hrishikesh Mukherjee film, it was a nice one with good performances. It did a very thorough job letting us linger over the lesson Anand leaves us with…it’s not how early you go out, it’s how you live your life, and the grace with which you leave it.

 

Julie M:  Anand is available in whole form, free, with subtitles, on YouTube.    RIP, Kaka.

Gone but never forgotten!!

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July 6, 2012: Raincoat, Running and Rampal

Julie M:  It took many sessions on the exercise bike, but I finally finished Raincoat (2004). Such a pleasure to see Ajay out of action-hero mode, and amazing chemistry between him and Aishwarya Rai. Good performances all around and well-integrated music in the background. She managed to look lovely and sad and beaten all at once, and the performance seemed to foreshadow her role in Guzaarish.  A+, all around.

Plot summary:  Manu (Ajay Devgan) is an out-of-work millworker from a rural area who has come to the big city of Kolkata to try and drum up investments from friends to fund a new business venture.  On a whim he decides to visit Neeru (Aishwarya Rai), a former girlfriend who had dumped him six years previously to marry a wealthier man more acceptable to her family.  They spend a rainy afternoon together, discussing old times and their current lives (during which they shamelessly lie to each other without the other knowing), and a surprise ending recalls the famous O. Henry short story “The Gift of the Magi.”

 

Jenny K:  I loved their reminiscences of their past.  And Ajay was very good playing against type. No toughguy here, until the end, maybe.

 

Julie M:  Funny, but the way it was performed I thought it was originally a stage play, because it’s basically a one-scene piece. The part at the beginning and end with Manu’s friends seemed tacked-on; I could have done with just the two characters, but I guess there had to be a way to explain his life otherwise we would not have known.

 

Jenny K:  You’re right, it’s very suitable for the theater.  This was close on the heels of Choker Bali, both directed by Rituparno Ghosh, and was at the height of Aish’s “I can prove that I’m not just a pretty face” campaign.  Raincoat works much better for me than Choker Bali, which was glacially slow, if earnestly played.

 

Julie M: Raincoat is available free on YouTube, in parts.  Here’s Part 1.

 

Jenny K:  I had a productive (for the blog) night, last night…I ran an Irrfan Double Header! Thank God for art films, because it made a twofer possible, not often feasible in Indianfilmland, without a mid-afternoon start and serious munchie fortification.

First up was Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Paan Singh Tomar (2010) which I have been trying to see for quite some time, but it never made it to any of my local theaters. But now it’s on Netflix streaming!

As a film, you feel as if you’ve seen it before…familiar, yet with such odd mash-ups that the results are unique. At times it feels like Chariots of Fire, but set in the military…then there are bits of Sholay‘s Gabbar Singh in a rather Robin Hood kinda mood. Also strong Bimal Roy tinges of “what’s a poor self respecting farmer to do when life gives you a rotten roti?” And the answer seems to have been cribbed from the Bhagat Singh Handbook. Here’s the trailer.

The film is extremely watchable. Irrfan has such an expressive face, it’s a pleasure just to have him on screen. The story begins with a disclaimer that the plot is based on true people and incidents, but is a work of fiction and any similarities to real people are coincidental??? Is it just me, or doesn’t the first half of that statement preclude the second? Oh well…

The story is that of a peaceful, unremarkable young man from a village, who joins the military as his only escape. He was born under a wandering star, says his wife’s fortuneteller. But she knows that he’ll always come back to her, no matter how long the walkabout. While in the army, he signs up for the athletic program because he loves to run, and to get more food. He does have quite the appetite, does Paan Singh Tomar, and boy, can he run. All the way to being National Champion of the steeplechase,  and all over the world.

He seems completely happy with his military life, his racing and the occasional visits home to see his wife and kids…until…his cousin, Bahwar Singh (Jahangir Khan) steals his sugarcane crop. It seems Bahwar resents the local running celebrity just showing up infrequently and not doing any of the work around the village fields, so he takes what he wants from Paan Singh’s fields, too, which he regards as his due for not being the prodigal son.

When PST  asks for recompense, his cousin ignores him. PST goes to the police. They ignore him. He tries to call in favors from his army bosses…heck, he’s a national sports hero, after all! Well, they send in a mediator to try the case, and find in Paan Singh’s favor, but aren’t willing to enforce anything. Seems his clippings and medals get him only so much, and no more. Bahwar Singh just laughs and burns the cane, sends PST’s wife and kids running for cover, beats up his mother who stays to defend the house, and then destroys said house. What’s a law abiding man to do when the authorities don’t care? Become a dacoit, of course!

The plot sort of goes where you expect it to after that, however, the trip is well worth the taking. Irrfan and his supporting cast are wonderful, the atmosphere evocative, and the mood is increasingly more oppressive as the film unfolds. You know why Paan Singh does what he does.  He’s a rebel, not a dacoit, as he says, repeatedly, to any who will listen. If the following interview with surviving relatives is anything to go by, he did have no choice.

This film is on YouTube, too. In parts, here.

 

Julie M:  I love anything Irrfan Khan does.  You had me interested by just saying his name!

 

Jenny K:  The second part of the twofer was The Warrior (2001). Directing his first feature film, Asif Kapadia hits one out of the park on this film. A short film (about 90 minutes) this film is long on impact. It’s shot with practically no conversation, all in vibrant visuals. Taken from a tiny mention of a story of samurai life, writers Kapadia and Tim Miller along with DP Roman Osin, weave a mesmerizing story of a warrior who gives up his life as an official kingdom assassin, tired of what his liege lord asks him to do. Unfortunately, that decision costs him his home and everything dear to him. Here’s the trailer.

Lacfadia, the warrior, flees from his fellow enforcers who are sent after him to stop his escape, and having taken a vow to never raise a weapon against defenseless people again, his flight is a desperate one. Irrfan, practically silent, is even more expressive than he normally is with words. He takes up a few wanderers he meets on his seemingly aimless quest for spiritual peace. One of which, a petty thief named Riaz, played by Noor Mani, does an equally impressive job. Noor posted excerpts from his own performance here on Youtube, but it gives a nice cross section of the film’s tone.

This young man had been living a life on the street before he found an acting school set up by Mira Nair’s people when Salaam, Bombay! needed non-professional actors. Actually, most of the actors in this film were non-professionals, and the director, Mr. Kapadia, got some amazing performances from them. Great behind the scenes pieces on the DVD…almost as much footage as the film itself!

This one is definitely worth the watch. It felt a lot like Tarsem Singh’s The Fall with its eloquent silences and beautiful scenery, and also a bit like Road, Movie in the collection of oddly assorted travellers, that we reviewed earlier in our Abhay Deol Fest. The intimate interaction between relative strangers is there in all three films. Get it if you can…probably is a library choice as it won the BAFTA in 2003 for best picture.

 

Julie M:  WOW. I’m speechless with the quality of both of these films and of course with Irrfan Khan as the lead performer. I’ve got to get hold of them!  Library has neither. Bummer!

 

Jenny K:  Well, it is on YouTube, but no subtitles…I’ve watched some like that, but it can be frustrating…

 

Julie M:  Whew, finally finished Tehzeeb (Etiquette, 2003). Major EFD (emotional family drama)!  I’m still recovering.

Brief plot summary: Tehzeeb (Urmila Matondkar) grew up as the lonely daughter of famous singer Rukhsana (Shabana Azmi). Her character has been shaped by the witnessing, at age 10 or so, the murder of her beloved father (excellent cameo appearance by Rishi Kapoor) by her mother, a crime for which Rukhsana was acquitted; however, despite years of suppressed horror and rage, she still admires her mother and she is still the emotional center of Tehzeeb’s life. Tehzeeb, once an aspiring singer but now a housewife, is married to romance novelist Salim (Arjun Rampal, sigh), and they live with and care for her developmentally disabled sister, Nazneen (Dia Mirza). Here’s their great meet-cute scene.

 

Jenny K:  Actually, this is the first movie where I found Arjun attractive.  He does grow on you.

 

Julie M: One day Rukhsana announces that she is coming for a visit for the first time since Tehzeeb and Salim married five years ago; the prospect of this throws Tehzeeb for a loop. The next few weeks expose buried feelings and contradictions, rub raw nerve endings and lead to confrontations, disclosures and more.

It’s rare that I get to see an Indian movie that centers so strongly on complex female relationships. You’d think, with Bollywood’s preference to avoid niche marketing, that such a project would never be greenlighted unless it was liberally sprinkled with dishoom, or at least some scantily clad gori dancers. But all this female bonding, to me, was treated too superficially.

The schmaltzy background music was more suited to TV soap operas than a mainstream movie, and the requisite hospital scene near the end had me rolling my eyes.  Nevertheless, I appreciated the character conflicts even if they were handled in a daytime-drama way (from sets, costumes and staging through action and significant glances…is this Mumbai or Pine Valley?). “Tehzeeb,” in addition to being the name of the lead character, also means “etiquette,” and ultimately it is etiquette that kept Tehzeeb all these years from confronting her mother with her feelings, which could have avoided all this intense drama.

Yes, there were dance numbers, but they felt tacked on and gratuitous, particularly Arjun’s, seen here. It was completely wrong for the character, as he played kind of a combination of narrator, comic relief and token useless male (but he was gorgeous, especially in that black turtleneck sweater, and if I were to have a slightly cowed but very romantic husband I’d like him to be Salim).

Urmila, a decent enough actress, should never be allowed to dance. Everything I see her in she is clunky and robotic and looks like she is slightly in pain.

 

Jenny K:  Now, to give Urmila her due, I ought to put up one of her more acclaimed dance performances from China Gate.  Now, I’m not saying she’s going to threaten Madhuri’s queen-of-the-gypsy-numbers status or anything, but she does hold her own, here.

 

Julie M: And WHAT was up with the “creative” dance number for Dia Mirza??!!  The “move the action along” music was much better, except when it was intrusive, which was, oh, about half the time. The slow songs were lovely. And my favorite part was when Tehzeeb, entertaining her mother and sister, parodied famous movie numbers. Can’t find the scene online, though.

 

Jenny K:  That was always the scene that stuck in my mind, too.  She was really funny, and on-the-nose in her imitations.  Hidden talents!

 

Julie M: Overall…a solid B film, worth seeing if you come across it but nothing to go out of your way to find.

July 1, 2012: Charming con-men

Well, we’ve let another month go by without a post despite our best intentions.  Life has just gotten in the way. But we have been watching, just not discussing!  Here’s Part I of what we saw in June, which is without too many snarky back-and-forth comments because Jenny is caught in the East Coast power outage situation…both involving charming con-men doing what they do best.

 Julie M:  In my ongoing quest to see more of Abhay Deol, last night I watched Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008) Here’s the trailer:

There wasn’t much to the plot: Abhay plays Lucky, whom we first meet when he is caught despite being a very successful thief. We then flash back to his youth, where at 15 he started his life of crime, then work our way up to the present through more flashbacks, then we move forward again in “real” time.  A bit confusing but it works.  Here’s a great scene where the young Lucky is trying to convince his father to buy him a motorcycle, who pretends (up to a point) to go along with the idea:

All along we trace Lucky as he works for a crime boss (Paresh Rawal, in one of three roles he plays in this film), meets and romances a girl, and tries to go straight by funding a fledgling restaurant (restaurant owner also played by Paresh Rawal; the third role is as Lucky’s father). He moves around a lot, but his quest for respectability is thwarted at every turn.

A pattern develops: every time he is frustrated or feeling like things have gotten out of his control, he steals stuff. Not to fence or make money from (although he will sell a couple of things when in need), but mostly just to surround himself with. As the movie progresses you see his stash room getting more and more crowded, eventually pressing in on him until all he has is one chair (which he has also stolen) in the middle of towers and layers of STUFF. He gets caught a few times, manages to escape each time, and then the film abruptly ends after one escape with a montage of still images implying that he has married his girl and has gone straight…or has he?

OLLO has an indie feel in its plotting and cinematography, and resisted the impulse to go broad in its comedy, which I appreciated–but to me it never really got off the ground.  I kept thinking that there would be some defining moment for Lucky, some realization of why he steals that would cause him to stop, but although the reason is fairly obvious to us (a kind of crappy childhood with an overbearing father and a handsy stepmother, and a raging case of very low self-esteem, although he is handsome and charming as all get-out), he seems completely unaware. There are a few hilariously funny moments–like when he steals a tiny yappy little dog and then his face indicates that he immediately regrets it–but it’s not rollickingly funny, more of a “smart comedy.” His courting of his reluctant lady (Neetu Chandra) is sweet, though, and Abhay was the perfect choice to play Lucky. The best reason to see this film, though, is Paresh Rawal–three distinct characters, three looks, all fantastic.

There is music throughout as background, and its hip-hop feel works with the plot and action without seeming like a series of music videos, but this is probably the best song as a song:
   (sorry it’s a montage, they didn’t have the cut direct from the film)

So if you’re an Abhay Deol fan, put this on the “to watch” list.

Jenny K:  The things I do for Indian cinema promotion…Earlier this month I was looking for something to watch at the theater with Kathy and as I went through the list of my local Regal cinema, lo and behold, I saw a telltale title. Rowdy  Rathore. Now, it’s not a very promising title, I’ll grant you….I pictured lots of partying Punjabis dancing about to Daler Mendhi, which isn’t really my scene, but, I checked closer into it, and found the surprising fact that my local cinema was trying out Bollywood offerings once every two weeks. Hooray, I thought. I don’t have to go all the way to Falls Church for a fix! So even with Akshay in full-action mode, Kathy and I girded our lions for Punjab, metaphorically, and bought our tickets.

Julie M:  I’m shocked, SHOCKED, that you would voluntarily go for an Akshay action movie, but it’s been a long, hot summer, Indian-film-wise, so I understand the urgency…

Jenny KRowdy Rathore was all I expected and a bit worse. A twin plot…never seen that before…where Akshay plays a conman, Shiva, and his non-related twin, policeman Vikram Singh Rathore. I kept hoping for a teary-eyed maa-ji to pop up with a story about how she lost one of them at a Diwali Mela and hoped against hope that little Shiva had found a home and someone to love him, but no luck.

Shiva’s talent is at conning money out of strangers and occasionally his friends, too. He often uses the hypnotic talent he has for conjuring up a drumming rhythm which gets everyone dancing, whether they will or no. Here’s the first big dance number showing it.

I was really excited that it was Prabhu Deva’s first big Hindi movie offering as a director, and you know how much I love his dancing and choreography. Well all through this number, he kept making little cameo appearances, and I even got a tiny dance duo with Akshay at the end, but sad to say, it just succeeded in showing AK up, dancing next to PD. His choreography just works better on long-leggedy guys like himself and Hrithik, and just makes all-torso guys like our hero look short and a bit clod-hoppy. Not that he wasn’t trying his darndest, but it didn’t really work for me.

Julie M:  PINK PANTS??!! Really? (although after Akshay’s yellow outfit in Bhool Bhulaiyaa I shouldn’t be too surprised, the man does look kinda awesome in bright colors)

Jenny K:  Also, his leading lady Sonakshi Sinha was lovely, but seemed to be too young for our Shiva, especially at the beginning. She grew on me a bit as the long, long, long chop-socky fest went on. The plot had to do with Shiva being mistaken by one and all for the straight arrow lawman Vikram, who is being persecuted by the goondah element in his village for his stringent restrictions on their larceny. Even Vikram’s extremely adorable daughter, whose name I’ve forgotten already, thinks Shiva is her daddy. Shiva is saddled with the pint-sized charmer and must protect her from the onslaughts of the dacoits until the real daddy shows up to thrash the ever-lovin’ heck out of them. Lots of blood, lots of tears, lots of thwarted villainous gnashing of teeth.

Julie M:  Much as I love Akshay, that trailer would have totally turned me off.  Not a fan of endless thwacking of villains.  If I hadn’t heard your plot summary, I would have vowed never to see it.

Jenny K:  He uses that “mental rewind” thing really too often to be funny. Also, what’s with that horrible haircut and moustache?? Makes him look like Hitler on steroids! Well, Kathy and I have done our duty, and since then, the theater doesn’t seem to be making good on their promise of a new Hindi film every two weeks. Sad, but to be expected, when all they offer the general public is crazy, tongue-in-cheek slapstick fighting. I would have hoped they’d start with a popular masala film to get others hooked, but those are getting few and far between, these days, aren’t they? Oh, dear…

Julie M:  Nevertheless, I’m hoping RR comes out on DVD and into my library, because Akshay’s smile just gets me. True, he’s not the “dancing hero” type, but he has other charms that are not lost on me.

So, here are our bad-boy heroes together:  which would you rather have conning YOU?

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