Sept. 22, 2012: Imraan/Ranbir ~ Glory & Hope for the Future

Jenny K:  What is wrong with most romantic comedy writers these days!  I find it hard to FIND any romance in them.  No lightness, and very little sweetness.  I feel old…”I remember when I was a youngster, and I walked fifteen miles, Uphill, IN THE SNOW! to see that cute little Meg Ryan or Kajol girl win over that adorable wisecracking goofball…they knew how to strum a viewer’s heartstrings…”  Harrrumph!

This mood started when I went back into the Netflix queue, and watched another stupid fluffy Indian themed English language romance today, When Harry Tries to Marry (2011)…completely useless. The two leads were tolerable, but the script was so bad, with so many holes in it, that it isn’t worth the effort. And in this one, not only were the lions-share of the gori actors completely wooden, as usual, but most of the desi ones were wooden, too! Bleh. Fooled by a pretty trailer, again! Actually, the film looks good…it just doesn’t deliver any sort of coherent plot, and so it’s a waste of time.

Julie M: Pass-adena.  Even the leads looked generic.  Bleah.

Jenny K: The mood continued, without my expecting much, but I bravely tried again, picking Break Ke Baad (2010), starring Deepika Padukone and my current favorite flavor of youngster eye candy, Imraan Khan. And then, just a few lines in, I remembered why he’s always able to cheer me up…he’s his uncle Aamir, back before he became Angry-Earnest-Man-with-a-MESSAGE.  And yes, with Aamir, message has to be in all caps (Taare Zameen Par, anyone?  Yes, we know he has a learning disability….Noble, but stop screaming at the boy’s parents, that won’t make them listen!).   Maybe Imraan will end up just like AK, but for now, he’s still got the innocence and sweetness in droves.  I could just watch him for hours!  Even if he doesn’t feel the need to try as many new things.

Julie M:  I don’t know, I like Imraan’s acting OK but for youthful sighs and decent acting I’m still going to stick with Ranbir Kapoor and Ranvir Singh.  And Prateik… not for acting because he’s so hit and miss, but just for looking at.  But Imraan has the heritage and the role model:  one to watch, for sure.

Jenny K:  Break Ke Baad takes the same format that we’ve seen Imraan shine in, in half a dozen films since his debut, but if Baad ain’t Broke, why fix it, na? The recipe is simple, take a bit of Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Naa, a touch of I Hate Luv Stories, a skosh of Mere Brother Ki Dulhan and quite a bit of Ek Main aur Ekk Tu, and stir wildly. But basically he’s the good boy, the sweet kid, probably a bit mistaken in the degree of his devotion to a rather undeserving girlchild, but with no reason in the world that these vixens should overlook/undervalue such obvious hunkitude. They don’t deserve him!

Plotwise, it’s as follows: Abhay Gulati, also known as Gelato, also known as Sunita (these kids go too far on multiple nicknames for my ID-clarity) is played by Imraan. He’s been in love with Deepika’s character Aaliya Khan, alias Al, alias Shahrukh, since they met cute in a movie theater when they were roughly eight and ten. They bonded over love of films. She was to be a diva of the screen while he would run his father’s cinema chain. A perfect pair, so they both thought.

Until, Aaliya applies for a scholarship to a university in Australia’s Gold Coast, somewhere, and goes off for a year long “break” from her overprotective mother (Sharmila Tagore) and her boyfriend, both. Here’s a scene before she gets the idea to leave which shows their standard dynamic…she’s the goofball adventurer, always pushing the envelope, and he’s her anchor, keeping her safe. Very cute scene.

Julie M:  So weird, but when she said “I’m Shahrukh Khan” she actually looked like him a little. I’m sort-of impressed she can do the impression.

Jenny K:  OMG!  Did you forget OSO?   They must have spent a good length of time together on that one.  But you’re right, her acting chops are getting sharper.

However…when she goes off to Australia, her inner voice has her almost immediately jump the rails, taking acting classes against her mother’s wishes, moving out of her aunt’s house and into a beachfront playpen of a place with other kids, all of whom party way too much to be good for Aaliya’s already wild temperament. Abhay jumps on the next plane to be sure she’s alright, and just succeeds in fighting with her and forcing her to break up with him. Does he listen? Nope. He moves in to the beach front, too. Will they get back together? What do you think? Here’s the trailer, no subtitles to this one, however. Sorry, but you get the idea. 

I thought Deepika was much more competent than I usually find her, acting-wise. And she’s always breathtakingly beautiful (especially walking up from the ocean in her bathing suit). Perhaps she has a natural affinity for playing a stubborn B…h. I’m not sure why Abhay even wants her back, but he does, and I have no willpower to say no to this sweetie-pie, even if his heroines seem to have no problem doing just that. Check it out if you have a chance.

Julie M: I’ll keep it in the list…but lately these cute-kid romcoms just aren’t attracting me anymore.  It’s not that it’s a romance, which I don’t mind and actually even like, but they are so YOUNG.  And it’s clearly done for an audience that thinks they invented romance.  EMAET, which I have not seen yet but I’ve read all the reviews and seen all the trailers, is a bit more up my alley…

Jenny K:  Well, it was cute, except for Imraan’s second act haircut…in depth analysis, of that film, here.

Suffice it to say my will to live was so rejuvenated by BKB, that I even went out to see another of the young guns, Ranbir Kapoor in his new comedy, which is still in the local theatres.  I’m not going to give the title yet, just going to start with the trailer…I just can’t say it…because, for an American audience, it’s probably one of the worst titles ever chosen. 

Julie M:  ERGH.  But being that it’s Ranbir, I’m all ears!

Jenny K:  I know, I shouldn’t have let a few little letters set me against a film, but what with the vomitous title and the prospect of an evening with slapstick and silent movie shenanigans galore, I hadn’t started out the evening wanting to see it.  The film I went to the theater to see, Ustad Hotel, a Malayalam film, chose to come into my local theater with, you’ve guessed it, NO SUBTITLES! Too bad. So, regretfully, Kathy and I chose to go see B****! which I still can’t type out, and what do I get?…over two hours in a dark theater with almost no subtitles, because we didn’t need them! Go figure.

Awash in all the good feeling that The Artist spread over the international cinemascape, India has dropped this little gem into our laps. It has Ranbir Kapoor channeling his granddad, Raj Kapoor in full “Little Tramp” mode, plus Roberto Benigni, and perhaps a bit of vintage Jimmy Stewart, to give us our rather adorable deaf -mute hero.  He was originally named Murphy by his parents, but due to his inability to pronounce his own name, he’s saddled with…with…the name you saw in the trailer. I can’t say it…maybe I’ll get over it by the end of this critique. What I will say is that Ranbir has a definite gift for physical comedy. Doesn’t say anything throughout the whole film, yet you almost always know exactly what he is trying to say to the people in his life. Extraordinary job, and I tend to hate silent movie shtick.

Julie M:  He does move spectacularly, doesn’t he? Sigh.

Jenny K:  He plays a young man from Darjeeling who has few visible aims in life and he falls for a lovely girl, Shruti (Ileana D’cruz turning in a delightful performance in, I believe, her first Hindi film) who is, unfortunately already engaged to a run of the mill cute rich guy from Kolkata. Now, she’s a bit bored by her absentee fiancee who says all the right things and could give her everything her parents could want for her, but Bbb…Ranbir, a man of no words, gives her spontaneity, adventure and a single minded focus on her that wins Shruti’s heart eventually. Yet despite all of this charm and good-heartedness, she eventually gives in to her parents’ practical view of love vs. marriage, and goes back to Kolkata to marry.

Brf! is heartbroken, and to top it all off, his father is laid off of his job as a chauffeur to the rich Singh family who live in the mansion up the hill. He has known the family and their autistic daughter, Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra) practically all his life. When his dad falls ill and needs an operation, and Mr. Singh won’t agree to a loan, well what’s our literally tongue-tied hero to do but try to arrange to kidnap Jhilmil and hold her for ransom…but plan as he might, it’s no good at all kidnapping someone who’s been already kidnapped an hour beforehand. SO…thwarted as a kidnapper, he tries to rob a bank…now try doing that without being able to say “stick ’em up” or being able to hear the cops behind you. Hilarious.

Well, nothing goes as he’d hoped, and somehow he can’t seem to get the money or give the girl back…he and Jhilmil are thrown together time and again, and a lasting bond ensues. Priyanka does a wonderful job playing Jhilmil in an understated, yet eloquent portrayal of autism. She looks distracted, about 14 years old, yet still manages to be fetchingly gamin under that crazy curly mop. Here’s a song showing a bit of their developing relationship. 

Julie M:  I’m shocked, SHOCKED, that Priyanka seems to have done this competently. . ..The last few movies I’ve seen her in (cough-AGNEEPATH-cough), she really stunk up the place.  Not accurately autistic though—more like she’s playing developmentally disabled, to my eyes.  Directorial discretion, I suppose.

Jenny K:  Awww…I thought you liked her in 7 Khoon Maaf?  Remember?   I thought there was progress there, too.

But, summing up, in spite of my predisposition to pooh-pooh, I really rather liked B…b…Barfi! The only thing I could wish is that writer/director Anurag Basu had dispensed with the older age framing story. It just added a layer of confusion that I didn’t need. When you’re not going to spell things out with lots of words, then simpler is better. But I do predict there will be quite a number of best acting nominations at the next Filmfare awards, and maybe a few wins.

And all I can do is thank the Second Gen Twosome for rescuing me from my “Why-Don’t-They-Make-‘Em-Anymore” Blues.  It seems the future has a much brighter aspect than I had hoped.  I’m even looking forward to the Diwali film releases, again!

September 18, 2012: Samrat, Next Role?

Jenny K:  The summer’s been slow for writing about film, but not, thank goodness, for the viewing.  Though I blench to admit it, I’ve succumbed to the national fascination with downloadable films.  I want to see it, and I want to see it NOW!!!  Patience is a thing of the past and Netflix is my main enabler.

I watched four films in an embarrassingly short amount of time, and though they were not all Indian language films, they were all linked by the presence of one desi actor, Samrat Chakrabarti, so I thought this week merited a full Samrat-centric post.

Julie M:  I’m afraid of Netflix.  I’m afraid that my life will no longer be my own if I had immediate access to anything I wanted to see!  But back to Samrat.

Jenny K:  Now I knew who he was.  I’d even met him before at a film festival in NYC when he was promoting one of his films.  But until I saw The Waiting City (2009) at my buddy Pat’s insistence, I had no idea how versatile an actor he was.  And he’s practically chameleon-like, he so disappears into any role he takes.  The Waiting City is about an Australian couple (played by Radha Mitchell and Joel Edgerton) who go to Kolkata to adopt a little girl, and hopefully in doing so save their marriage…though neither of them were admitting that they were on the edge of collapse when they left Oz.

The paperwork involved in the transferal of little Laxmi from the orphanage takes (shock!) longer than they had been led to believe, and the two are left in the capable hands of Krishna (Samrat) their cab-driver-and-jack-of-all-trades.  I couldn’t believe the credits; I didn’t even recognize Samrat as the same light comedian who deftly beat-boxed his way through Loins of Punjab Presents.  But it was  more than the obvious change of hair and wardrobe; Samrat slipped so easily into the cadences and mannerisms of a working-class guy in the city, filled with the gentle wisdom of a simple man, that he rapidly became the hero of the piece for me. This one’s definitely worth a watch.

Julie M:  I find it weird that the trailer doesn’t even credit him, and only really highlights his voice at the beginning, for all that you say he’s an important part of the film.  But I really enjoyed the way Kolkata becomes a character in the narrative…at least it seems so from the trailer.

Jenny K:  Well, he’s not, technically the focus of the story, but these two Aussies are babes in the woods in Kolkata, both in matters of bureaucracy and communication.  And I don’t mean just with the adoption board…he becomes the facilitator for many of the ways that these two people come to relate to each other.  Sort of their guru for this trip, in a way.

Julie M:  I meant to watch a film tonight, myself, since B is out of town, but got caught up mid-afternoon preparing a lecture and before I knew it, it was midnight and I still hadn’t finished. Darn! Well, once it gets cold out I will stop exercising outside and switch to the indoor bike, and will start watching films in 1/2-hour installments again to entertain myself. But I did see Kahaani  courtesy of my lovely library and LOVED it.  I’m a thriller nut anyway, and this was satisfyingly mysterious, thrilling and twisty.  Vidya Balan is my favorite leading actress right now and I can’t wait for her next release, which apparently is not until next year!

Jenny K:  Well, you’ll just have to go back and watch her in Parineeta with Saif, from 2005.  You haven’t seen that yet, have you?  It was her first film.

The Waiting City led me to IMDb to find out what else Samrat had done, which linked to his website and his show reel. Pretty cool…proves my observation that the performances are so different, that it looks like the work of different men!  Afterwards, I began to scour Netflix and Amazon download in earnest for more examples of Samrat’s work.

First up was one of the light comedies that he seems to specialize in…Kissing Cousins (2008) a ninety-eight-minute fluff piece that gives you a reverse Hitch, with Samrat playing a professional break-up guy on the LA scene, hireable by those too cowardly to break up with their significant others in person.

This job has soured him on romance in the extreme and his all too “coupled” friends think he will never get his own healthy dating life. He is rescued by accident on an impromptu trip home to visit his folks in SanFran that involves a reunion with his feisty cousin Zara from England (Rebecca Hazlewood of NBC’s late, occasionally lamented Outsourced) who goes home with him to sightsee in LA. Hilarity and confusion abound when she spontaneously steps in as his pretend girlfriend, allowing him to save face with his friends.

Samrat’s acting is smooth here, with a nice light comedic touch, and a much more stylish avatar than in TWC.  Now, I realized, sort of after the fact that I should have been a bit shocked with the subject matter, at a drunken heavy groping session between relatives, et al, but, I wasn’t, perhaps due to the deftness of these actors’ portrayals.  Plus, the film itself wasn’t completely predictable.  It didn’t end in either the way the trailer teases you it will, or the way I expected it to.  So, verdict: nice timepass, albeit with a bit of crudeness here and there between the guy-pals that I could have done without. On Youtube, here.

Julie M:  Didn’t his redheaded friend look just like a white version of Samrat?  Or am I just tired? 

Jenny K: Hmmm…could be exhaustion, I didn’t pick up on that resemblance.

Kissing Cousins had a much better role for Samrat than the other comedy that I got from Amazon, The Wedding Weekend (2006), where he was certainly competent, but it was definitely not designed to be “his” picture. Just one of the attractive crowd, so I won’t bother to profile it here…I am going to hunt down more Reg Rogers movies because of that film, though. I have a definite weakness for cute Jewish guys who sing that well…oh, dear…

The final film in my Samrat Trifecta was Bombay Summer (2009).  We’re back in a serious mode again, with Samrat playing a young yuppie writer struggling to find his voice in his first grown-up apartment, away from his parents. However, he spends less time writing and more time canoodling with his girlfriend Tanishtha Chatterjee (finally in a film not set in the country!), who is just as compelling as I’ve come to expect. 

Julie M:  I’m a huge Tannishtha fan.  Loved her in Road, Movie and Brick Lane.  This film seems a bit self-indulgent for me to truly enjoy (a writer writing a film about a writer with personal problems…spare me!) but I’d watch it for her performance alone. 

Jenny K:  Don’t write it off on that impression, because it is definitely more than that.  And if it’s autobiographical, the writer in question (also the film’s director) Joseph Mathew doesn’t cut himself very much slack. His character, Jaidev, doesn’t come across as particularly endearing.  In fact, all of the characters in this film have their grey areas, and it gives layers to the film that really enrich it.

Tannishtha plays Geeta, a young woman who comes from a very affluent family, but who is supporting herself as a publisher…she is hiding her relationship with Jaidev from her father (or trying to) while Jaidev is doing the same thing with his parents. His mother is desperate to get him to come home to Mummy and Daddy who would love to smooth his way into authordom for him.

Meanwhile the spoke that is stuck into the wheel of their relationship is a lower-caste artist, Madan (a quite charismatic Jatin Gaswami) who applies for a job doing covers for her publishing firm. Tannishtha takes him under her wing, and the three of them start hanging out together, the Three Musketeers, visiting Madan’s idyllic village and his lovely mother, taking photos together, visiting inspiring ruins and beaches, etc…They get so close, in fact, that disaster must happen.

And it does…as in 2010’s Dhobi Ghat: Mumbai Diaries, Bombay Summer paints a very interesting and involving story of a city and three mismatched modern Mumbaikars, struggling with dreams of success and art, love and lust, philanthropy and patronism…and does it a bit more successfully than does the Aamir Khan starrer. Perhaps it’s just that the stories in this earlier film are more closely linked than in Dhobi Ghat which, at least in the first half of the film seem almost an anthology of separate life stories. More is spelled out here, except perhaps, in details at the very end…where it leaves some things hanging a bit more than I’d like.

Everyone involved in this one did a great job. As I mentioned before, Samrat played his character without vanity, not needing us to like him, just to understand him. Tannishtha gave a lovely, delicately emotional performance. And Jatin is someone that I’d like to see again. Very charismatic. This may motivate my next mini-filmfest! Only two films in his IMDb list…but the one that is coming up, Baromas, looks just up your alley…serious Cain and Abel thing goin’ on complete with politics and protests…and Seema Biswas! How can it miss? It’s coming out later this year.

Julie M:  Oh, yeah, Baromas is definitely on the “anticipated” list now. Thanks for alerting me!  Too much to see, too little time…!!!

Jenny K:  And thank you Samrat Chakrabarti, for doing what you do so well with such skill, honesty and heart.  In any type of role he takes, he’s going to give us 110 %.  I will look forward to whatever comes up next.

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